booth with person giving email marketing career advice

Email Marketing Career Advice from Industry Veterans

Are you looking to land a new job or move up in the world of email? We’ve compiled some of our best email marketing career advice to help you make the right plan.

One of the great things about working at Email on Acid is the chance to collaborate with a team that knows email marketing inside and out. We have people who’ve dealt with many facets of the email industry and bring unique perspectives to the table.

I asked some of my colleagues and a few other people we’ve worked alongside to offer their best guidance to those building careers in email marketing.

Jump to a section to find the advice you need:

Jack of all trades or master of one?

Earlier this year, I contributed to a Kickbox No B.S. roundup on working in the email industry. My advice to their readers was to test out the waters and dip their toes into different aspects of email marketing. That includes email copywriting, designing and developing email campaigns, understanding email strategy, and learning how to dive into email marketing data for valuable insights.

Doing so allows you to grow into a well-rounded email marketer who works well with the rest of the team. Eventually, you will want to pick a focus, but trying things out won’t hurt your career. If you know how to code, but want to focus on data analysis, you are more appealing to companies that may want to hire you.

monica hoyer, email on acid marketing director

"Eventually, you will want to pick a focus, but trying things out won’t hurt your career."

Monica Hoyer
Marketing Director

Email on Acid Product Marketing Manager Amanda Bacher echoes the idea of building a base of email knowledge. She adds that getting to know other email marketers helps, too.

“Educate yourself on all sides of email: messaging, deliverability, segmentation, etc. Then network and put yourself out there.” Amanda says. “In email, everyone one knows everyone. People are very open and always happy to help make connections and educate each other.”

Starting a career in email marketing

Amanda believes a benefit of beginning your career with a focus on email is the way it provides a foundation for many other digital marketing tasks and careers.

“Email exposes you to and teaches you all the areas of marketing, including targeting, messaging, testing, analyzing, and measuring results,” she says. “It sets you up to move into a larger marketing role with an easy transition into other areas of a marketing team.”

Amanda Bacher Product Marketing Manager

“In email, everyone one knows everyone. People are very open and always happy to help make connections and educate each other.”

~ Amanda Bacher
Product Marketing Manager

Of course, it can also happen the other way around. Email on Acid’s Laura Horkey says that sometimes an email marketing career falls into your lap.

“The joke is -- you don’t choose the email life, the email life chooses you,” Laura explains.

Laura also agrees with the idea of trying out different areas of email marketing so you can find an emphasis that’s right for you.

“It’s one of those weirdly specialized jobs that still gives you exposure to so many different things,” she says. “So, you can find one of those areas you are really passionate about and go from there, building more knowledge and experience.”

Amanda and Laura point out that email marketing requires both creativity and technical knowledge. To be successful you must find a balance. Specifically, Laura recommends focusing on your copywriting skills while developing a solid understanding of marketing data and what it means. That’s because data helps you understand subscriber behavior, which in turn helps you write persuasive email copy.

“Hopefully you can get on a team that plays to both strengths since it’s rare to find someone who equally loves writing and analytics. Showing you can handle both extremes of the role will go a long way,” Laura says.

Becoming an email marketing specialist

Once you cut your teeth on email and decide to make it your specialty, you’ll need to show potential employers what you’re capable of accomplishing.

Want to be a successful email marketing specialist? Laura says you should keep a portfolio of your best work and become active in the email community. She recommends guest blogging to showcase your industry knowledge, attending conferences, and picking up a few email marketing side hustles too.

“Freelancing on the side with multiple clients gives you a wider range of experience and exposes you to different email styles you might like more than others: B2B vs. B2C, different brand voices, stuff like that.”

Laura Horkey photo

“The joke is -- you don’t choose the email life, the email life chooses you,”

~ Laura Horkey
Email Marketing Specialist

Beyond diversifying your skills, there’s a lot of value in learning to use as many email marketing automation tools and other tech platforms as you can. While there are similarities between most email service providers (ESPs) and customer relationship management (CRM) software programs, potential employers may look for experience with specific technology.

If you are applying for an email marketing specialist role, Laura thinks there’s one thing you must do before the job interview.

“Subscribing to potential employers’ emails is key,” she says. “That way, you can speak directly about their welcome series and ask questions about data in the interview. It shows you’re invested enough to subscribe and do some research, and it’ll spark good conversation.”

Email marketing career advice for developers

Nearly everyone who we asked for email marketing career advice mentioned the fact that email is always changing. No one understands that more than the email developers. From finicky email client rendering issues to learning the latest tricks of the trade to fulfilling outlandish requests from others in marketing – it’s not a job for the faint of heart.

Developing emails is quite different than developing software or websites. It’s a unique skill that is usually best learned by doing.

For new email developers

Every email developer needs a firm foundation in HTML and CSS to begin their career. Email on Acid cofounder and CEO John Thies was once a developer himself. He says being proficient in old-school HTML basics and learning how to use tables is important. He also recommends learning the intricacies of the most problematic email clients.

“If you really want to be a great email developer, I suggest focusing on the Outlook email clients because those are the ones with very limited support,” John says. “Once you learn to handle those, the rest of the clients will seem a lot easier.”

See our email client Tips and Tricks to get some development advice.

Using CSS in email campaigns is a good first step towards being able to code unique emails with content that subscribers will engage with – because you’re delivering something unexpected.

“CSS gets email out of that static nature,” John says. “When you can add some movement to campaigns with things like animated GIFs in emails, that’s one way to add some ‘wow factor.’”

John says there’s no point in reinventing the wheel as you learn to develop templates. Look for email-specific frameworks such as Bojler and MJML for responsive emails, or Grunt and Gulp for JavaScript tasks.

Anne Tomlin photo

“Do what you can for the people who can see it and ensure your fallbacks are flawless.”

Anne Tomlin
Email Developer, Emails Y'all

For advanced email developers

Anne Tomlin of Emails Y’all is a freelance email marketing consultant and developer. She says the best devs know how to do everything but hit the send button.

Anne acknowledges that it can be frustrating when certain email clients don’t support things such as ARIA tags for accessibility, AMP for Email, or dark mode emails. Still, considering such factors could be worth the effort, and that effort will set you apart from other developers.

“What you should be practicing now is progressive enhancement,” she explains. “Do what you can for the people who can see it and ensure your fallbacks are flawless.” Anne says dark mode is a great example of this approach. “You can customize dark mode for Apple Mail & iOS Mail, but nowhere else. Spend the 5-10 minutes to put in dark mode styles and give those that can see them the best possible experience.”

Another piece of email marketing career advice from Anne is that developers should learn the scripting language of different ESPs. The companies that hire her ask for help with this regularly.

“ESP scripting languages are used by small and large companies alike,” Anne explains. “Think of them as languages you must learn in addition to HTML and CSS to be the best email developer you can be.”

Some platforms use proprietary scripting languages, such as AMPScript for Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Zephyr for the Sailthru CRM. Anne recommends that devs start by learning Handlebars and building off that.

If you ever decide to break out on your own and use email development skills as a freelancer, Anne says you’ll be in high demand.

“There are tons of clients out there willing to pay top dollar for good, clean code.”

Email marketing career advice for managers

Smaller businesses often have an email team of one. However, if you find yourself working at an enterprise organization, you could work with a larger email team full of people with different skills.

If you pursue a role as a director or manager in email marketing, it’s likely you’ll have colleagues working in various time zones. There are tools for remote email teams that help you stay organized and in control. That includes Email on Acid’s Team Management features.

Leadership and email strategy

Sr. Email Marketing Manager Betsy Grondy leads a team here at Email on Acid. She says the best advice for leading colleagues is the same no matter the industry.

“I don’t look at it differently than any other team,” Betsy says. “Create an open space where feedback is welcomed and give folks room to be the expert you hired them to be. Having people who are cross-trained and multi-functional but are also experts in their main job function are your best bets to prevent burnout -- for both you and your team.”

Senior email marketers are typically in charge of a brand’s email strategy. Betsy says you’ll need to understand the inner workings of the organization to be successful.

“Map what programs, processes, people, and tools are in place. Find out who the owners are, how they integrate, and what the latency times are. From there, it is easy to find the gaps and the broken pieces. Then set your goals for your strategy. The tactics will fall into place under these pillars.”

Email on Acid Digital Marketing Manager, Trevor Rawls, adds that knowing your audience and building your email strategy around buyer personas is crucial.

“The best place to start is to put yourself in your subscriber/target market’s shoes and view your email experience from their perspective,” he says. “What type of emails does your subscriber base want to see? What’s valuable to them? Then you can start sketching out a program that will be relevant and interesting to them.”

betsy grondy photo

"Having people who are cross-trained and multi-functional but are also experts in their main job function are your best bets to prevent burnout."

Betsy Grondy
Sr. Email Marketing Manager

Email marketing for a global company

Betsy Grondy spent time working in email for a global technology company. If you’re moving from a small business to a larger organization, she says email marketing managers can expect some major differences.

“Coming from a smaller business there are lots of things to consider,” she says. “For example, how purchasing, budgeting, and procurement work. You’re less likely to be able to just put items on a credit card and will likely need an RFP in place and work out billing systems.”

Three other challenges Betsy says you can expect at global organizations: finding the right marketing technology, interpreting all the data, and dealing with different email regulations.

“How will you manage the volume?” she asks. “Some tools just do not work for large volume because certain ESPs cannot manage sending millions of messages an hour. Do you have a Behavioral Insights (BI) team that can help with reporting, and how will you integrate data from various sources?”

Betsy says international email marketing will stretch the way you think about strategy.

“Beyond learning all the different global email legislations, one of the biggest adjustments is understanding how email works in different countries. There is no global standardization on privacy laws. Plus, learning the nuances of culture and cadence is something that requires adjustment.”

Email careers and marketing agencies

Working at an agency is a great experience. Getting a foot-in-the-door usually requires at least one of two things: A connection to someone who works there, or a great resume with an impressive body of work.

To get noticed, you are going to need to push the envelope on what you are doing. If in your current role there’s not an opportunity to test dynamic content, then start your own newsletter and try it out for yourself. Show that you are an innovator with a good work ethic.

Choosing email as your focus could make you a very valuable addition to a marketing agency. Trevor Rawls calls email one of the most useful things in a marketer’s toolbox.

“Email marketing has been referred to as the ‘hammer’ in the digital marketing toolset, since it’s a very direct way to get a message in front of a prospect or customer,” he explains. “Specializing in email marketing in an agency setting gives you the ability to show your clients a bigger ROI for their spend, thus keeping them happier and you saner.”

Trevor Rawls photo

“Specializing in email marketing in an agency setting gives you the ability to show your clients a bigger ROI for their spend."

Trevor Rawls
Digital Marketing Manager

Starting your own agency

Ryan Phelan, CMO and co-founder at the agency RPEOrigin, notes that there are a lot of agencies that “do email,” but this doesn’t necessarily mean they employ in-house email experts.

If you’re thinking of starting your own agency, Ryan says specializing in a certain area of marketing is smart, but without in-house expertise, you should consider outsourcing email marketing services.

“If you’re starting an agency, then develop your niche and stay in that,” Ryan says. “If you’re in an agency that ‘does email’ then look to partner with email-centric agencies and outsource that work. It’s incredibly effective and advances your client's goals without harming the relationship with wrong choices or advice, which is one of the quickest ways to lose a client.”

ryan phelan photo

“Besides managing your utilization rates, you need to think about the size of the business in regards to approvals. The larger the company, the longer it takes."

~ Ryan Phelan

Speaking of agency clients, pick and choose them carefully if you have the luxury of doing so. Ryan says you’ll also need to determine the right method for billing based on the type of client, program, or services needed.

First, however, you’ll need a solid grasp on utilization rates, which is the amount of time an agency employee is available for work vs. the time they spend on client-facing projects (or billable hours).

“Besides managing your utilization rates, you need to think about the size of the business in regards to approvals,” Ryan says. “The larger the company, the longer it takes. As for the type of billing, retainer, hourly, and project-based have their pros and cons. What you look for is the propensity for the client to have scope creep and your ability to control that.”

Becoming an email thought leader 

Ryan Phelan is one of 21 people on Email on Acid’s list of our favorite email marketing thought leaders. So is Women of Email co-founder and sought-after keynote speaker, Jen Capstraw

Jen helped us kick off our Future of Email webinar series where we found out how she’s been working in email since campaigns looked like this. However, Jen doesn’t think you need a ton of years under your belt to be a thought leader. 

“The biggest barrier to positioning yourself as a thought leader is mustering the confidence that you have something interesting to say,” she says. “You don’t have to ‘pay your dues' to be a thought leader. You just have to find the courage to say something.” And Jen thinks everyone has something to say.  

“It doesn’t matter if you just sent your first email campaign, or your 10,000th. It doesn’t matter if you’re using an entry-level technology solution or the ultimate tech stack. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a Fortune 50 company or supporting your aunt’s craft business. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20s or your 60s or somewhere in between. You’ve had unique experiences and observations. You’ve seen the world through your lens. There’s a story in there somewhere. And you absolutely deserve to be heard.” 

Jen Capstraw photo

“You don’t have to ‘pay your dues' to be a thought leader. You just have to find the courage to say something.”

Jen Capstraw 
Keynote Speaker/Consultant
Women of Email co-founder

But if you do want to make your voice heard and create a name for yourself in the email marketing community, where do you start? Jen says drawing from personal experiences will help you produce something relevant, original, and authentic. 

“A great starting place is to consider your biggest successes—and biggest failures. What’s something you’ve learned?” she asks. “Something that surprised you? Something you’ll never do again? Something you’ll always do going forward? Something that might help other folks avoid the challenges you faced?” 

If you’re interested in public speaking, Jen suggests starting with industry panels. But she encourages anyone with a great idea for a solo talk to put a proposal together and “go for it!” 

Email marketing startup advice

Once you’ve paid your dues and spent years working in email marketing, you may have ideas for how to solve problems, improve processes, or make life easier for other email marketers.

That’s why John Thies and his sister founded Email on Acid back in 2009. They saw a need for streamlining pre-deployment testing with reliable email previews.

Making sure there’s demand and a product/market fit for your solution is undeniably important. However, John says there’s one thing he’d place a higher priority on if he could do it all over again.

“We were so focused on building the product and getting something out there that we weren’t really being intentional about company culture,” he recalls. “We were thinking about how to get the product to market and how we’d scale. But culture is everything in business.”

John Thies photo, Email on Acid CEO

“Culture is a journey. You never reach an endpoint because it’s always changing."

John Thies
Email on Acid CEO/Co-founder

John says a strong company culture that employees can get behind translates into positive results across the board, from product development to customer satisfaction. If the people working for an email startup care, that will come through in every aspect of the business.

John says to be clear about culture from the beginning but be prepared to adjust as your company grows.

“Culture is a journey. You never reach an endpoint because it’s always changing. But it’s so much easier when you start with intent as opposed to trying to create that intention later.”

Get email marketing career protection

One thing you won’t have to worry about with an email marketing career is your job becoming obsolete. Email is an essential marketing and communication channel with lots of room for growth.

“We’re just scratching the surface of what email can be,” says John Thies. “Email is not going anywhere any time soon. The more data we can leverage, the more complex things we can do.”

John points out that every smart device comes with one default app that every marketer can use … email. He also mentions how Facebook uses email to provide updates and re-engage its users. Even Slack, which once proclaimed itself an “email killer” uses email automation to notify you when someone joins a group or you miss a message.

Here’s one more piece of email marketing career advice. Once you land the job of your dreams, make sure you hold on to it by delivering email perfection with every send, to every subscriber, every time.

The Email on Acid platform offers an automated email checklist that smart marketers use to reduce email marketing stress and ensure everything works as expected. Job security is just one of the many reasons to test every email campaign.

Got questions about working in email marketing? Have some email marketing career advice to share with our readers? We’d love for you to leave a comment or question below!

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