4 dos and don’ts of a digital marketing apprenticeship

Internships are a staple of early-day careers. Most companies will expect new hires to have some sort of internship experience after graduating college. For the most part, internships do a good job of taking care of college students and entry-level working professionals.

Digital marketing isn’t always an obvious career choice for those who are not in the conventional time in their careers for internships. Setting up budding marketers at different stages in life requires a bit more of a dynamic approach than “for credit” internships.  

Apprenticeships need to be structured in a way that honors the experience the new digital marketer has from other professional and life experiences, while still ensuring they get the foundations right. 

Here are the dos and don’ts of structuring a digital marketing apprenticeship to ensure you and your apprentice get the most out of working together. 

1. Do compensate your apprentice for their time 

Internships allow companies to “pay” for work in class credit. This enables brands who otherwise could not afford to take on budding digital marketers. 

Adults in the working world typically can’t use college credits. 

It’s also unreasonable to ask anyone to work for free. This includes investing the time to learn the craft. Coming up with a stipend of any size (even as little as $500 per month) can go a long way in:

  • Building confidence in your apprentice that they are worthy and they can build a career in digital marketing. Knowing you are earning from day one can help new practitioners push through the initial learning hump. 
  • Cultivating loyalty between the apprentice and the brand. One of the biggest “risks” of new hires is investing the time into someone who leaves in under a year. Starting your working relationship off by honoring their time and skills goes a long way in building trust that you will do right by your hire. 

Structuring compensation for marketing tasks can take many different forms. Whether you go with an hourly rate or a flat rate, it’s important that the rate doesn’t’ cause an operational burden.

For example, when I work with an apprentice, I sell their services specifically. The client knows they are getting someone learning, and they also get discounted access to an expert strategist.

If you work in-house, break down the tasks that your team currently are working on by hourly cost. An established member of the team will be more expensive to assign “grunt work” tasks. Freeing up 5-10 hours per week at a more expensive rate will help bottom line margins, while also facilitating a new marketer to get hands-on experience.  

2. Don’t set unrealistic timelines for your apprentice

Just as it’s important to compensate your apprentice for their work, it’s also important to pace their learning and working timelines. 

Gaining mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours and assigned tasks should support the learning process, not create opportunities to fail. 

When an apprentice is first learning, empower them to do tasks that follow up on any certifications you might have them take. It’s easy to forget the learning curve of jargon and developing efficient workflows in tools. Set them up with tasks that give them opportunities to learn in the way they learn best. 

Let the first week be about learning and getting comfortable in whatever part of digital marketing you’re structuring the apprenticeship around. Honor whether your apprentice does better learning by doing, reading, listening, or watching. 


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3. Do allow for two-way candid feedback on progress

We all want to do well and getting words of affirmation can be really helpful in overcoming imposter syndrome. That said if an apprentice is struggling, telling them they’re doing well when they’re not will create a shaky foundation.

Be transparent with your apprentice about the milestones you expect them to hit and how they’re pacing against your expectations. 

When working with an apprentice who is falling a little short, ask questions about how the process could serve them better. When I was first setting up internships and apprenticeships, I struggled to pace the amount of knowledge I’d attempt to impart and actually shut down their confidence. They took longer to get into the workflows than they would have had I allowed them to dictate the learning pace.

4. Don’t accept anyone as an apprentice

It’s important to remember that apprentice programs need to serve the brand just as much as they serve the apprentice. The criteria you look for in new hires should extend to your apprentice. 

Digital marketing requires certain core skills to succeed:

  • Analytical thinking: Being able to dig into the why behind the how. 
  • Empathy: Understanding why people do and think a certain way and being able to adapt to those subtleties.
  • Communication: Being able to articulate what is happening and empower stakeholders to buy into your strategy.

Creativity is needed, but not as mandatory in an apprentice. By removing the pressure to come up with creative, you will allow your apprentice to organically cultivate that skill as they work with the more technical skills. 

If you take on an apprentice with none of the core skills, it invites friction. When I look for apprentices I look for folks who demonstrate the skills I value in unconventional ways. For example, many of my most successful apprentices play MMO video games (which require a lot of data analysis and team development). It also helps that there’s a shared personal interest, so the manager relationship is friendlier and more accessible. 

Takeaways

Apprentice programs can be powerful ways of doing well by doing good.

Going the apprentice road vs. the conventional hire will require extra investment from you to set them up for success. However, the long-term benefits of cultivating an apprentice can ensure you have a team member just as invested in your success as you are. 

Finding a good apprentice requires you to know what you want and be open to finding them in unconventional places. It’s rewarding to see them light up as they gain mastery, and their work will be a source of pride.

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