One of the most common questions I get asked by my friends, family, strangers in bars, strangers on the internet and chatty Uber drivers is – so how did you get a job that allows you to travel like this?
Answer: It's complicated.
Sometimes I get asked this question by people who are serious about doing it themselves, but unsure where to start. That used to be me. Early on in my career in marketing, I knew that I wasn't suited to strict routine, commuting, set offices and British weather. I also knew there was another way. I just didn't know how to get there, and it felt unbearably overwhelming. A friend of mine aptly described this: "the fear of how much unknown work lies ahead is paralysing me".
I used to spend my daily commute in an existential crisis, and it sounds like I'm exaggerating because I am, but also I'm not. I fucking hated it and everything it represented. Renting a house in a place I don't even want to live, to be closer to the office that I'll have to sit for 2 hours a day in traffic to get to, in a car that I only pay for to get to said office. You know the drill. Yes, I'm a millennial, don't @ me.
After several years of contemplating going freelance while keeping a close eye on this exciting new concept of a remote job, I finally made it. I spent much of that time feeling like I never would "make it", but I did. I managed to convince someone to take a chance on me – a chance that would go on to change my life (not exaggerating). A lot of this was down to my own determination and planning, and much of it was down to the help of friends and colleagues around me. I certainly didn't do it alone.
So, I've decided to share my thoughts about why and how to get a (good) remote job in marketing. This draws on insights from my own experience of landing my first remote job, as well as from hiring people to join my team and speaking to others who work and hire in this space. Hope you find it useful! 🦄
I wrote this for people who have a genuine interest in working remotely in marketing. I often write about travel as well - but the two aren't mutually exclusive. Working remote affords you a huge amount of lifestyle decisions that working in an office does not. Part of this process is discovering what those decisions are for you.
A remote job is a lifestyle choice
I've seen a lot of people saying that working remote shouldn't be your ultimate and most important end-goal. Instead you should look for the right role at the right company. While that would be nice, if working remote is important to you for [insert reasons*] then you'll need to approach it as such. Truly remote jobs still represent a small percentage of the job market, so don't feel bad for being rebellious and chasing a particular type of job. Just make sure you have good reasons for it!
*I've got reasons for you
We'll take a deeper look at how to apply for jobs in a competitive market in a moment. But first I thought it would be useful to go over some tips to identify where your desire to work remote actually comes from.
I love contradicting myself, here it comes: simply chasing a remote job because you think it will be, like, totally the most awesome job ever – is a terrible idea.
While it might offer some short-term wins, like no longer having to commute or no longer being trapped in an office – it also comes with sacrifice, responsibility and brand new challenges. Getting the job just for the lifestyle is like going to University just to get pissed for three years. Also, if you kinda hate your line of work, doing the same work remotely probably won't fix that problem.
Ditching your shitty commute makes you feel amazing for two weeks, and then you realise that you have no idea how to work from home full-time, and every time you join a meeting with your new team you feel anxious and nervous because you haven't even met them in person yet. Remote life blows the door of opportunity wide open, but that path ain't always an easy one.
If remote work is right for you, then you'll figure all of this out and it could prove to be the best decision you ever made (it was for me).
Just make sure you think about why. This is personal to you.
Do you want to travel more? ✈️ Enjoy working from home? 👩💻 Spend more time with your family? 👪 Work on some side-projects? ⚡Earn more money? 💰 Progress your career at a faster pace? 👩🎓 Open a cat sanctuary in your home? 🐈 Live on a boat? ⛵Work for a company with a specific set of values? 💚 Move to the countryside 🌳
Find out what your why is before you begin.
What does a remote marketer look like?
Similar to a non-remote marketer, to be honest, but there's probably some subtle nuance. Here's a by no means exhaustive list of qualities that make remote workers in marketing successful:
- Very strong communication
- Decision-making ability
- A strong desire to learn and be an autodidact
- Professional self-awareness(!)
- Able to prioritise and manage your own workload effectively
If you rock up with an attitude of just wanting the freedom of remote life, you'll be sniffed out and any good hiring team will thank you for your time. You need to be interested in the role and everything that comes with it, remote work being just one part of that. This is important for them at the point of hiring you, but mostly it's extremely important for you and your future.
On the flip side, you'll probably also need to demonstrate that remote work is something that you'd be suited to. It's not the perfect solution for everyone, so if you're gunning for your first remote role then it's a good idea to test the waters with side-projects, remote freelance work or working from home.
Especially if you're going to work for a startup, it's generally a good idea to have knowledge about a broad base of the marketing spectrum. Even if you land a job with a larger startup or a corporate company, being well-rounded never seems to be a disadvantage. Definitely some of my own bias in here, but this is how I've experienced it in pretty much every job I've ever had.
Some combination of the following skills is desirable:
- Email marketing
- General design and UX knowledge (including UX copywriting)
- Development (basic HTML and CSS at minimum)
- Strategic thinking (especially if applying for / aspiring toward senior roles)
You don't need to be a genius at everything, but a base knowledge of a variety of skills with a few areas of expertise is often a good fit, especially for a growing startup/remote company.
Start now and figure the rest out later
Applying or at least researching relevant roles as soon as right now is very helpful because you start to get a feel for what the job requirements are, what kind of roles are out there, and what the application process looks like. It's no easy task to do this on top of a full-time job, but it's possible.
It's also worth asking your employer if there is any opportunity take your current role remote - if you're happy in your job, you'll never know unless you ask.
Useful sites (you're welcome):
- Working Nomads
- Product Hunt
- Authentic Jobs
- Honest Work
- Design Modo
The truth is, hunting for a good remote job is quite a competitive place to be, despite the growth in popularity in the past couple of years. I've been on both sides of the remote hiring table and not only are there a lot of eager candidates, but by virtue of being remote, companies generally have to take their time to find the right fit. We're talking a month or more for a decent hiring process. This can include several rounds of interviews, trial projects and more.
When I applied for my first remote job at Jungle Scout I was required to submit a video (very trying times for a British person) instead of a resume, and complete a set of trial tasks. You need to be prepared for this, and when you find a job that you really want, you're gonna have to put the hours in.
Gain some experience
Being aware of where your knowledge gaps exist compared to the type of remote (or any) job you want to apply for is key. Through a combination of being self-aware and doing your research, you should be able to figure out what you need to do to stand out from the crowd. Write it down, draw a diagram, tell your friend – what ever works. Make a plan, hold yourself accountable to it.
If you're not having regular professional development meetings with your current manager (or if you are and they're not useful) then this is on you to figure out. You could also consider finding a career coach, or speak to your own peers and network with people that you look up to and trust. If you went to University, sometimes they offer career advice for up to 3 years post-graduation, too.
Knowing how to wrangle a spreadsheet and do a VLOOKUP is great, but it's also a good idea to get a solid amount of experience with using software products in a wide range of areas: CMS's, task management, email automation, analytics, communication, ecommerce, affiliate management, customer support. I've worked extensively with products in all of these areas and more in the past three years.
If your current job doesn't give you access to these kinds of tools, try and introduce one (I advocated the use of Trello in an old job, for example). You can also join some Slack groups if you're not already using Slack - Buffer and Unsplash both have communities on there.
Build your own site with a popular CMS, build a Shopify store, become an Amazon affiliate, create email automation for your own project, team up with a friend, or offer to help someone who needs a hand with their independent business. Of course you can also do freelance work on the side and get paid for it – that's classed remote work too 😉
Especially if your day job isn't giving you the experience you'd like, a side-project of this nature ticks so many boxes in showing that you can work on relevant projects remotely, that you have technical know-how, that you're actively interested in this type of work / fun. Some of the most impressive "resumes" I've seen have included a custom website to apply for a specific role, or where the applicant has an active side-project and is applying all of the values of a good marketer to it.
If you're applying for a job at a software company, make sure you've taken the time to actually use the software. If you're invited to interview (especially past the first stage) and they don't have a free trial, ask for access so you can do your homework!
How did I do it?
I was working in-house for a nice corporate-ish company that was in the throes of transitioning from being entirely print based (yes, I did catalogue production), towards digital and ecommerce. It was great experience to begin with, but then I felt my progress becoming hindered by the position of the companies own growth. I met some amazing women at that place which made it hard to leave, but I did what I had to do.
I already knew I wanted to travel more at this point so I started applying for remote jobs - but most of my applications were met with silence. Rejection hurts, but it's also a good motivator. I knew my experience wasn't quite there yet, and this process helped me to figure out what was missing. I needed more technical experience – a much deeper working knowledge of things like SEO and content marketing, which I'd only scratched the surface of. Finally, I needed more experience with working for different types of company/client.
I decided to find a new job at a fast-paced marketing agency to level up and get all of the above. I left my old job on good terms and got my head down for a solid year, before going in for a second round of remote applications and being offered a job I couldn't refuse. In my experience, agency work is a very good way to learn fast.
Not all remote jobs are created equal
The sweet spot of remote work is where the entire team is given the trust and freedom to manage their own lives, and bring their best selves to work. No company is perfect and gets everything right, but if you look for leadership that champions things like personal freedom, healthy work/life balance and asynchronous workflows - that's a really good place to start.
Ask questions to find out what the expectations are, how your potential future teammates manage their workflows and communication, and how project management works. Importantly, find out how they foster team morale: what non-work channels are in place?
All of this goes way beyond whether you get a company laptop or not. Here's some positive things to look for:
- Team retreats or stipends for getting together with co-workers
- Social activities or non-work channels to chat (online or offline)
- Encouragement and a stipend to use co-working spaces
- Internal training, skill sharing and personal budget for personal and professional development
- Healthy time-off policies, sick days and maternity (Remember, most remote workers are contracted rather than employed in any one country. A good remote company will have generous policies to ensure staff are happy, healthy and productive)
- Dedicated one-to-one time with your manager
- Open communication and feedback - fun fact: most remote teams have similar collective feelings of being isolated or lonely, and when there is an open and honest dialogue about this it helps to bring people together and discuss ways to combat it, together!
It's a really good sign if it is clear that the company has been consciously working on adapting and improving workflows, communications and team morale. It should be easy to identify whether this is the case by asking about it. If you're making good progress on an application you'll usually get to speak to more than one person who you can ask about this. It's in your best interests as much as it is in theirs to ensure a good fit.
Since remote work is on the rise, so too are the amount of eyebrow raising jobs being posted. I've seen all of these red flags when browsing job listings:
- Unrealistic compensation methods or suggesting that you should expect to earn less money because you're getting additional benefits from being remote.
- Expected to track your computer or time spent working (this usually means they don't trust their staff or how to hire the right people).
- Poorly written job descriptions that show a clear lack of experience or leadership.
- Confusing rules about what "remote work" really is - if they have specific requirements in place then they should absolutely own those requirements in the job description. For example, if the role is restricted by timezones or citizenship. Some listings won't tell you this until you've sunk several hours into your application, unfortunately.
- Unreasonable communication expectations - especially where timezones and synchronous meetings are concerned.
- A strong focus on being expected to "just get things done on your own" can sometimes indicate a lack of leadership and teamwork. It's not an instant red flag but something you'd want to ask about.
All of the above is based on my experience. This is very much the mindset I would use to apply for any remote job now. Not everyone will agree with what I've listed as a good thing to look for or a red flag. But hey, it's your life!
Be prepared for change
Since going remote my career progression has skyrocketed. I've been challenged more than ever before and taken on all manner of new interesting things. I've worked with some incredibly talented individuals, made a lot of friends and increased my professional self-confidence. All the while, I've been travelling the world, finding new spots to work from and embracing my deep fear of settling down. It's hard to imagine working any other way now.
Also not insignificant is that I bring my real self to work, including my weird sense of humour and excessive tattoos. This certainly didn't happen in my more corporate jobs back home where I spent each morning picking clothes to hide my arms.
It's been such a ride.
Other changes that often come with remote life are figuring out your taxes, health insurance and other boring but essential things, depending on where you live and what job you're taking. Most remote workers are technically full-time contractors, and that usually means you're going to have to start filing your own taxes if you aren't already. I'm not able to dish out advice for this because it varies so much. Just don't forget to factor this in to your salary negotiations and if you're stuck, speak to a professional (accountant, lawyer). Is this stressful? A little. But it's not insurmountable, and I'm a firm believer that controlling as much of your own life as possible is a good thing.
There's lots more change that happens when you transition to remote. While this article has focused on how to get a remote job in marketing, it doesn't touch on a wide range of topics related to remote work in general that you might be interested in researching before deciding to take the plunge. There's lots of articles out there about how to manage remote work, how to fight loneliness and imposter syndrome or distractions.
I've slowly adapted to all of these changes and discovered an incredible opportunity to grasp my own life by the horns. This type of lifestyle also comes with some sacrifices – a new set of problems to deal with. When I speak to people who have put in over 5 years of remote work, they're still working on it. But aren't we all? Now I can work on it while living my best life. Yeah, I'm cringing too.
Always happy to chat about remote work / marketing / cats – drop me a line.