The 6 Best Cheap Project Ideas for Learning Marketing

By Nat Eliason in Marketing

Getting into marketing isn’t particularly easy.

College is worthless for it. If you’re studying marketing or anything business related, I’d strongly recommend switching to a useful major like philosophy.

Books won’t do much either. They’re useful for picking up some concepts, but most people reading marketing books “to learn marketing” are procrastinating because they’re afraid to get started.

But if you can’t learn marketing in school, if books won’t teach you much, and you need some competence to get hired for it, how do you start learning?

The only good answer is “in the streets.” You don’t have to be completely self taught, but you do have to find your own projects and way into learning it.

My path was a little circuitous. In rough order: I started a blog about having good habits (destroyed by hackers, sadly), did some work with local startups, started a startup, shut down that startup, started this blog, subcontracted some work from Justin Mares, wrote articles for Zapier and HubSpot, interned for Zapier, did Programming for Marketers with Justin, and then I got hired by Sumo.

What should stand out is that there were a bunch of projects along the way. Projects are absolutely essential to learning marketing and becoming competent enough to get hired.

I’ve written about how to learn marketing before, but I neglected to include a list of ideas for projects you could work on. Here are some easy ones that stand out, assuming you don’t have much money to spend on learning marketing.

Thank you to everyone on Twitter who helped with this list.

Start a Blog

There really isn’t an easier, cheaper, quicker way to start learning marketing than to start a blog. Most people don’t think of themselves as a writer (I never did), but as you blog more and more it starts to feel natural to put your thoughts out onto the Internet.

The big benefit of a blog is that you can try out so many kinds of marketing with it. You can do social media, SEO, copywriting, email marketing, it lays the foundation for you to experiment and test out any kind of marketing you’re interested in learning.

It also gives you a portfolio to show when you’re trying to get hired for a marketing role. Your articles are examples of your dedication to learning marketing, and the results that you get from working on it are how you show what you’ve learned.

But I’d recommend that you do not blog about marketing. It’s always better to start blogging about something you’re already familiar with or have some competency in. It could be tutorials for a hobby, notes from books, commentary on some niche area you’re interested in, whatever is interesting to you.

And it might seem like you “can’t make money” blogging, and most people don’t, but I assure you it can be an extremely profitable use of your time. I don’t do this blog because it makes me money, but if I hadn’t started this blog, there’s no way I’d be where I am today.

Even if blogging won’t be the main way you learn marketing, start one to document what you’re learning from your other projects. Having some stories on this blog like the Fratboxes one were great for talking to entrepreneurs early on before I had any klout in the space.

So how do you start one? Go figure it out. That’s your first assignment. Just PLEASE don’t use Bluehost or any similar cheap hosting company.

Help a Local Startup or Nonprofit

A more established company won’t hire you because you don’t know anything yet. But local startups or nonprofits will be more likely to let you monkey around with their marketing since they need all the cheap or free help they can get.

A good way to get started with helping startups is to go to any startup incubators near you and tell the people running it that you want to offer marketing help in any realm, and that you’re just eager to learn. They might be able to introduce you to some of their companies that could use help.

This was one of the first ways I started learning marketing. Adil and I did some random marketing stuff for a local education non-profit, which led to me doing startup weekend, which led to my first startup that I ended up raising money for and working on the next year. Adil ended up going to Y Combinator with the company.

We honestly didn’t end up learning that much marketing stuff from it, but it was a great way to break into the local ecosystem.

Grow a Social Media Account

Don’t want to write a blog? No problem. Try growing some kind of social media account.

The most interesting ones to try would probably be YouTube, Instagram, or Pinterest. They’re good fits if you prefer doing visual work to written work, they’re great marketing platforms, and they haven’t completely shafted their creators (yet) like Facebook.

This is also a great option since your success will be very visible when you talk to people trying to get hired. If you can show them the account(s) you worked on, and they can see the follower count, your competence will be obvious.

Flipping

This might fall more into “sales” than “marketing,” but it doesn’t hurt to learn both. You can go flip things in real life (garage sales -> ebay, for example), or you can try flipping things online (ebay -> Amazon).

Even better if you have some skills you can use to easily increase the value of something before flipping it (buying phones with cracked screens and fixing them).

Affiliate Marketing

If you can’t work for a company to market their products, then your next best option is to find a good affiliate program you can sign up for, and then try to market that product in return for a cut of sales.

This is one of the main ways this site is monetized. Off the top of my head, I get payments or credits from Amazon, Digit, Athletic Greens, Kettle & Fire, Perfect Keto, Wealthfront, Personal Capital, Apple, Teachable, Coinbase, Webflow, Fomo… the list goes on.

Most products you can buy online have affiliate programs you can sign up for. Even Cup & Leaf has one if you want to try selling tea.

Then you just need to figure out how to drive sales. I’m very un-aggressive in how I do it on this site (I mostly just mention what products I’m using) but you can also spin up an entire site focused on pushing certain kinds of products.

If there’s a product you love that you want to try to be an affiliate for but you can’t find where to sign up for their program, you can always reach out and ask them if they have one. They might have an ad-hoc one they run behind the scenes you can tap into.

Offer Your Existing Skills to a Marketer

You should have some existing non-marketing skills you can offer someone.

If you can write, edit photos, shoot video, do basic programming, you can probably find a marketer out there who could use your help.

Reach out to them being completely transparent that you don’t really know what you’re doing but want to learn, and that you would like to help them with a specific thing you think they might need help on.

Do not reach out asking if they have anything they could give you to work on. That’s putting the burden on them to find something for you. Instead, have a really clear idea of how you can help.

For more on this, read Charlie Hoehn’s “Recession Proof Graduate.” It’s quick and well worth it.

Transition to Marketing with a Marketer ASAP

These are some ideas to get you started, but your goal should always be to turn these projects into working on marketing with a more senior marketer as quickly as possible.

You’ll learn much more by working with someone who knows what they’re doing, but again, you’ll need to show some initiative by working on your own first if you want to catch their interest.

Pick a project, get to work on it, and start talking to marketers (Twitter is great for this) and be on the lookout for opportunities to transition into working with someone who can mentor you.

Footnotes

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