Many times, I’ve felt like giving up, most especially in the early days. I chose to freelance because of my love for independence. In the beginning, I thought It was going to be easy, but it turned out that there were more digital marketers out there than I imagined. But staying consistent, as well as looking out to learn new things is priceless.
Issanatu Haruna has achieved what most newbie digital marketers struggle with - landing her first paid role without any professional experience. She taught herself the fundamentals of full-stack, completed various online certificates, sought out advice from others - in order to achieve her goals. She now works on a freelance basis, offering her digital marketing expertise to clients around the world. Find out how Issanatu did it, by reading our interview with her below:
Name: Issanatu Haruna
Location: Tamale, Ghana
Could you tell us a little bit about your background, and your career in marketing so far? What led you towards freelance work?
I first started digital marketing in 2017, after completing a 1-year Management Information Systems degree at NIIT. Currently, I’m a third-year student of the University for Development Studies, studying a BSc. in Development Planning. I chose to do digital marketing on a freelance basis because I’ve always wanted to be independent. To me, digital marketing is very exciting and it’s a way of showcasing my skills, such as good communication and writing. I first started with self-learning, reading blogs, and watching YouTube videos, before looking into freelance work.
What was your first job? What did you spend money on back then?
Getting my first job was hard because no one was willing to trust their online reputation to a newbie, with virtually no experience. Before I landed my first paid marketing job, I began practicing and offering my services for free to local businesses. One such job was to manage the social media page of a local boutique store. I ended up impressing the owner of the store, but sadly they were not willing to hire me, since they were not ready to invest money into their social media efforts. Moving forward, I joined digital marketing related groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. There was no job for me there initially but I gained so much knowledge in the field. In those groups, I answered and participated in group discussions, offering advisory services to newbies like myself, and finally landed my first job on the site. Talking about money, most of the resources I used were free, but I definitely spent money on digital certificates.
Prior to working at in a freelance capacity, you gained a considerable amount of experience at Greater Heights, working in a subject matter specialist role. What are a couple of key things that you learned from this role, which transfer over to your freelance work?
Over my years as a digital marketing professional, I have built on my communication and writing skills. Most of the roles I played were strictly remote, and so I’ve literally performed diverse roles in my career. I’ve been involved in social media marketing, content marketing, and strategy, digital advertising, to mention just a few.
Did you always want to work in marketing? What made you fall in love with the world of digital and pursue it as a career?
For me, being independent has always been my dream. The world of marketing is very promising and fulfilling. I have always dreamt of being in sales and marketing because I want to be a part of a growing brand or startup. I'm a detail-oriented person, and pursuing a career in marketing brings out that trait in me.
What’s the best marketing advice that you’ve ever received?
To stay consistent and never give up. I would say, this has kept me going over my few years in the marketing field. Many times, I’ve felt like giving up, most especially in the early days. I chose to freelance because of my love for independence. In the beginning, I thought It was going to be easy, but it turned out that there were more digital marketers out there than I imagined. But staying consistent, as well as looking out to learn new things is priceless. Businesses are not the same, they may have the same goals and objectives which is to drive sales, but the approach to their needs should be tailored towards them.
Describe the most successful marketing campaign you have ever worked on. What made it so successful?
I helped a hotel business that was just started with their first digital marketing campaigns to gain maximum ROI. The hotel was just starting to advertise online. We assisted them with establishing the brand on social media.
Have you ever made a decision that went against your gut feeling? What was the result? What did you learn?
I have to admit, there was this time I got a contract, which was very challenging. I’ve always wanted secure a niche, working for realtors or other related businesses. My thoughts were that I needed to impress this client so I can secure similar jobs in the future, but I ended up failing. There was so much I learned from that experience, primarily the understanding that that industry was intensely competitive.
Can you tell us a little more your freelance work?
Right now, I primarily work as a solo freelancer, but I also work as a part-time real estate marketing specialist for Perfect Run. The company is currently selling services to other industries, but I focus on their real estate clients. My mission is to become their go-to expert in marketing, by delivering measurable results to clients.
Storytelling is currently a big buzzword in marketing. How do you tell stories for your clients?
Basically with storytelling, I want to communicate the need for digital transformation here in Africa.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up at 5:30 am on weekdays. At 7 am, I start work by first planning out the day, then I go through emails and address issues that won’t take a lot of my time. By 8 am, I go over the previous day’s work and have meetings with clients, before starting to work and try to answer any questions on the progress of their projects. At 9:30 am, I work on the multiple jobs that need my attention - most of these jobs are freelance contracts. Between 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm, I take my lunch and go over social media to see what’s going on. I use that time to comment and participate in group discussions. At 2 to 4 pm I go back to working on projects and finishing up the day’s work activities. I developed a habit of writing 30 minutes each day, so I use the 30 minutes of that time for my journal and articles. My day ends around 9:30 pm each day.
What would you consider to be the three essential components of a successful inbound or digital marketing strategy?
Content marketing, social media, and digital campaigning are the most successful components of any inbound marketing strategy. Here, content acts as the voice. It enables the brand to speak to their audience. Social media deals with how a brand can listen and monitor what their consumers are saying about them. The brand can also utilise social media to share company updates. Digital campaigning is a situation where a brand can advertise their products to consumers who might not be aware of the brand but show interest in other brands that are related to yours.
What is the biggest digital marketing challenge your organisation faces?
Gaining organic reach is becoming more challenging, and I believe that shouldn’t be so. Consumers are turning more to online buying and traditional stores are beginning to adopt digital marketing. The problem now is that most of these startups do not have the budget to start advertising, and it takes a long time to gain organic reach.
What does data-driven marketing mean to you? How do you leverage data to inform your decision making?
Data serve as way of determining KPIs. I use it in my digital marketing practices so that I can determine consumer preferences and how users behave when they visit the business pages of my clients.
How have you structured your work since the COVID-19 pandemic?
It has always been remote working for me, so the presence of COVID-19 has not really affected my progress. I would say I lost some clients, whose businesses where affected by the pandemic, but in all, the presence of the virus has been very favourable to me in terms of being able to structure my commitments and get more work done.
In terms of the recent shift working from home, do you think this is long overdue for many organisations or unsustainable in the long run?
Yes. As I said earlier remote working is becoming a trend now. But it may not be suitable for many types of businesses.
What are some digital marketing trends that you believe we should watch over the next 12 to 18 months?
Messenger chatbots, content, and video marketing
What advice would you have for young professionals working in digital?
Networking and the eagerness to learn. It’s also better to be able to have something to share freely.
In the ever-changing digital marketing environment, learning is a constant cycle. Which websites, blogs, and/or courses, are your go-to’s when it comes to staying up to date with industry developments?
My all time favourite is the Digital Marketing Institute, HubSpot courses, and Neil Patel’s Youtube videos on content marketing. All these resources always update their content to suit current trends. With the Digital Marketing Institute, one has the advantage of going through practical tests to boosts their knowledge. Udemy also has various courses on digital marketing.
If you had the time, what marketing skill would you like to improve? Why?
I would like to expand on my email marketing skills. Email marketing has proven to be a good marketing tactic for marketers and businesses. I have not really done email marketing but the jobs I do, I most often outsource this part to another expert in the field.
What are you currently reading? Are there any marketing books that you’d recommend to someone fresh out of university?
Currently I’m reading Hooked.
What do you do to push yourself out of your comfort zone?
I must admit, getting out of your comfort zone is the most difficult thing ever. The reason being that our comfort zone is safe for us. One thing I’ve learned over the past in dealing with this, is to has been to surround myself with a variety of people. These people are those that have in one way or the other succeeded in overcoming a lot of hurdles.
Thank you Issanatu!