The Truth Behind Marketing Courses (A Growth Hacker's P.O.V)

Broke as hell and with very little options, a lot of startup founders tend to do critical aspects of running and growing their startup themselves, even when they're barely qualified. This leads to a reliance on the knowledge-filled internet (Or so it seems?). I don't know about you but I cringe everytime I hear someone say: Why pay money to do a course when you can learn the same stuff on the internet for free? It's also cringeworthy when I watch an ad and hear: This course will change your life!

When it comes to learning, the internet is filled with smokescreens (A WHOLE LOT OF THEM), but there are golden nuggets if you know where to look. I'll breakdown how you can avoid wasting your time and money when it comes to investing in marketing knowledge and where it's actually worth dedicating your time.
I'll also share some straight-to-the-point, no B.S resources that I would recommend, if not already personally using on my current lifelong journey to go from an expert growth hacker to one of the greatest growth hackers to ever live.

Article Outline:

  • Here’s What’s Really Out There
  • What Makes It So Difficult To Do Quality Marketing
  • The Correct Approach For Startup Founders
  • My Personal Journey From Amateur To Expert
  • Filler-Free Expert Resources (free)
  • Filler-Free Expert Resources (expensive)

Here’s What’s Really Out There:

How many times in life have you bought cheap shit that broke down on you as soon as you started using it?

The same principle applies here. Think of the internet as one big storage warehouse when it comes to quality information on marketing your startup. And just like in a warehouse, online information is stored in multiple “sections” like:

  1. Charity section (free) ------> Marketing blogs, articles, YouTube videos or similar, free downloads/access in exchange for email, fake “gurus” content, etc.
  2. Cheap shit section (<$100 USD) -----> Marketing books, Udemy courses or similar (ranging from bad to really good), paywall-blocked content, fake "gurus" workshops, etc.
  3. Slightly affordable section (<$1,000 USD) -----> Fake "gurus" workshops, courses/workshops from talented individuals, beginner courses from distinguished online marketing bootcamps.
  4. Expensive corner (>$3,000 USD) -----> Advanced/full courses from top tier distinguished online marketing bootcamps, advanced courses from pioneers/some of the best in the industry, mega fake “gurus”, etc.
  5. Private corner (priceless) -----> True experts in the game with inspiring hunger for what they do. This knowledge takes much more than an email address or money. Most only open up when there’s an authentic connection and you can match their passion for marketing. You probably won’t because you’re focused on growing your startup, instead of marrying marketing (which isn’t really a bad thing - she tells me she loves me everyday). My weirdness aside, this is the only segment I won’t be diving further into.

Fake gurus are like the internet’s cockroaches. Some hide in plain sight with a lamborghini or two on the side, while others hide inside “credible” institutions.
Also, most people spend the majority of their time in sections 1-3 when learning marketing and even more so in the charity and cheap shit section.

What Makes It So Difficult To Do Quality Marketing?:

When trying to understand the intrinsic value of learning a new skill, you first have to understand the market that surrounds it and the intensity of that need. For marketing:

  1. It’s essential to grow a business, especially an online business.
  2. The demand for it is extremely high, with insufficient high quality people. Emphasis on high quality.
  3. It costs a business 80-150k USD per year to hire a growth marketer/growth hacker. The high payscale shows how difficult it is to get to this level (becoming a T-shaped marketer - expert in a large number of disciplines/areas).
  4. Realistically, amateurs are most times unable to get their marketing campaigns to break through the noise of other extremely good competitors.
  5. The barrier to entry is quite low, but the dedication and constant time investment required to be successful is extremely high.
  6. Multiple skills are required for the best results, even if you’re just trying to focus on a single area (like social media marketing - you can’t be good at social media marketing without being a damn good content marketer, that’s also good at certain aspects of SEO and social advertising). And by good, I mean generating actual valuable conversions (active paying users or freemium/free trial customer evangelists), not just getting likes or becoming the next Twitter Santa with your product.

The Correct Approach For Startup Founders:

Don’t try random multiple channels, hope to get lucky, miserably scale with that tactic, to then end up as another soul in this startup graveyard article of 368 souls.
There’s a difference between growth experiments and randomly trying 20 different things to see which one sticks. I remember attending a “Ted Talk” inspired session for a startup (I won’t name here) that had nearly 1mill users at the time and them mentioning that even though the majority of their users came from “X” channel, the ones that were more active and gave more feedback came from the “Y” channel. To put it short: focus on quality, not quantity. Now let’s go back into the “warehouse”, where I’ll explain how you should approach each section:

  1. Charity section (free) ------> If you want to waste as much time as possible, you’ll probably attempt to consume random blogs and articles or even just Youtubing your way to “success”. Don’t do that. Instead, seek articles from online institutions that focus on a single topic and how it’s broken down. By broken down, I mean, the overview, purpose, benefits, etc of learning such topics with respect to your audience.
    Watch intro/beginner videos that give an overview of each topic until you’re informed enough, to move on to the cheap shit or moderately affordable section to purchase a course that’s comprehensive enough to learn the top-funnel or beginner level materials you like or would consider your potential strength.

  2. Cheap shit section (<$100 USD) -----> Why move on to here instead of staying in the charity section? FOUR WORDS: It’s faster, much faster. To qualify which cheap shit, you should go with, you first have to remember these 2 things:

  • Don’t go for the resources from the legitimate ones at the tippity-top.

Let’s be real, only a handful of legends at the top think their content is valued at less than $100 unless it’s the classic “needle in a haystack” scenario, they packed it with fluff or they’re just having a really good Friday and feel like giving a generous discount. Whichever the case, it’s rare for it to be this cheap.

  • Seek practical info over just theory.

Courses with refund policies are a strong sign that they contain plenty of practical info. It also allows you to skim the content. Plus, just compare it to going to school. I’m sure you know how to spot teachers that only came for the salary vs. teachers that came to WORK.

  1. Slightly affordable section (<$1,000 USD) -----> This section is for only when you want to work on either strengthening the basics you’ve already learnt and get a glimpse of intermediate material or just dive straight into intermediate. In other words, you now know how to create amateur marketing campaigns that will surely burn money and time and you want to learn more on how to survive. You’re going to do a lot of exploring here. This will probably take longer though.
    Search for articles (especially ones that are consistently fluff-free), books, blogs, podcasts, newsletters, annual statistics resources, etc and get recommendations from pros in the game when you can, then bookmark EVERYTHING. Consume these new resources diligently to slowly identify next steps, create a list that matches them with outcomes, then decide on your next steps (example: advanced email marketing, adv paid ads, etc).
  2. Expensive corner (>$3,000 USD) -----> You’re finally ready to completely take off the training wheels and develop a much higher experimentation success rate (currently around 25% and above are where the experts are at). From your vast collection of bookmarks from above, identify the top inspirations based on who presents the most practical value in free/cheap/slightly affordable content, who are competitively affordable and who consistently zooms in on the area/channel you’ve identified and validated to work the best for your startup. Set a personal timed goal, invest your cash, and go hardddd. How is this different from moderately affordable content? It usually comes with extra stuff that will be very helpful for you such as live workshops with the legends, personal coaching sessions, immersive online assignments, etc.

My Personal Journey From Amateur To Expert:

I was fascinated with sales psychology as a teen and found out that copywriters are like sales specialists that write instead of talk. So, I started learning copywriting, on top of sales and customer experience around 5-6 years ago through multiple ways: groups, courses, podcasts, books, everything. I added more skills to my arsenal as I went along and when I felt I was ready to go even further to become a true expert growth marketer/growth hacker, I invested about 9 or 10k USD overtime in multiple different courses, tools to practice with, consultations, workshops, trade shows, etc.
I did it the expensive way because I live by the mantra: you have to study the best to become one of the best. Only if that’s your goal too, would I recommend following my footsteps since it takes much, much longer and would derail your focus from growing your tech startup.

Filler-Free Expert Resources (Free):

  1. Hybrid Consulting ---> Ever had a “f**k marketing” moment? I personally built this system to be a startup founder’s cheat code to market your product better and faster through 30 days of hands-on support from me (expert growth hacker). I'm currently helping some of the fastest growing early-phase startup founders. Fill out this form to receive updates and save your spot in my next batch
  2. Growth Marketer Website ---> Nearly 250 podcasts episodes with top growth experts (including Sean Ellis and Seth Godin), a weekly newsletter to thousands of subscribers with trending tips and news and an extensive blog. Nicholas is a real down-to-earth dude to talk to and I’ve been following his content for a while now. You can subscribe for free here.
  3. r/GrowthHacking Subreddit ---> Ran by India’s “most followed growth hacker” with over 250k followers and a real genuine guy. I had a great chat with him on the effects of paywalled content about a little over a week ago. If you’re on Reddit, you can join here for free.
  4. OpenView Resources ---> Remember when I said I study the best? Calendly, UserTesting, Pantheon, and a couple other big shots. This VC backs them and they truly deliver when it comes to resources, including their 2020 SaaS Benchmarks Report from over 150 SaaS companies (latest one is 2020- download for free)

Filler-Free Expert Resources (Expensive):

  1. Copyhackers Academy ---> Taught by one of the pioneers in copywriting. She is extremely good at conversion copywriting and has been featured by leaders from Google, CXL, Stripe, Shopify, Mail Chimp, etc. She offers her knowledge in her own online academy here. Oh and she also has an extensive blog on her website.
  2. Digital Marketing Institute ---> Over 150k graduates with some now working at multiple tech titans: Google, Facebook, Hubspot, IBM, etc. Expensive as hell, but quite worthwhile overtime. Check them out here.

PREVIEW: WHAT’S NEXT? ---> There's more in store that I'm hush hush about. Ensure to hit follow me here on Indie Hackers so you’re notified as soon as I release it. If you found this article helpful, leave an upvote so other startup founders like yourself will benefit from it too.

  1. 3

    Thank you for the mention Romaine. I appreciate your participation in the subreddit and all the magic you offer to your community! :)

    1. 2

      Happy to be apart of it, Rohan! Keep up the good work too on keeping the subreddit the valuable resource that it is🚀

  2. 2

    Good to read

    I was curious to know how you rate Julian Shapiro from Demand Curve, CXL Institute. Also Nick Shackelford specifically for Facebook Ads

    1. 1

      Glad you enjoyed it and great question!
      For Julian Shapiro, let's just say I rarely use Twitter, like very rarely. And Julian Shapiro is one of the persons I follow because of how much knowledge bombs he drops in his tweets.
      As for Nick Shackelford, it's the first time hearing his name tbh. But after searching for him on LinkedIn, and skimming his posts, I think they're okay. They don't personally give me enough though to judge his courses and how much value they provide, so I'd say it depends. Facebook Ads is like Google Ads - they're big and ultra competitive advertising environments. I always tend to lean towards learning from one of the bests first, then networking with really good marketing pros that are less in the spotlight (they usually have some really special tactics that the greats tend to either hold back on, or only share half of it). These special tactics can sometimes be the difference between a 300% Return on ad spend (ROAS) and a 700% Return on ad spend.

  3. 2

    Great summary of the marketing courses universe Romaine!

    I'd venture a guess that it's the most "cockroach" infested course industry of them all. There is much noise that they can simply hide in plain sight.

    1. 2

      🤣🤣I nearly dropped out of my chair! You're very right on it being the most cockroach infested. I remember a couple years back, I met this agency founder that had a number of Forbes and Entrepreneur article written about him and his business, only to find out that he completely outsources everything. Seriously, he doesn't even do client calls.
      I doubt he even knows how to launch a campaign at the time, yet he brags about his BMW and his new course that "gets you out the rat race". Trulyyyy pathetic.

  4. 2

    Every online growth guru is BS. If they were successful, they might be running some startups or company rather teaching how to run it.

    1. 1

      So true! Some of them can barely even explain the basics, much less get a growth experiment running. And they tend to use YouTube Ads the most because it's usually a pretty cheap advertising channel and they know that's where a majority of the newbies go. Poor souls.

  5. 2

    The Charity section actually serves a purpose - when you can watch the video of the guru "talking with both hands" and it's edited so the guy doesn't even breathe, and you know it's all crap it's like a graduation ceremony. When you can spot what BS it is at least you know you've learned enough to know when your listening to garbage.

    I feel like an intermediate when I can spot the gray areas, especially with SEO, where I know things are open to debate. having learned a lot about marketing the hard way I know enough to know that developing skills in one area helps in others and I would say that if you don't know where to start I would suggest copywriting. In the end, it doesn't matter how many people you can reach if you cant persuade them.

    1. 1

      Yeah I definitely agree! I honestly believe too that me jumping into copywriting first grew my love for marketing more and more to push me to go much deeper. It depends on the person at the end of the day, some people prefer stuff like data or even design over writing, but at the end of the day it doesn't take a lot to get out a pen and paper and do some intense copywriting practicing. #CopywritersRule🚀

  6. 2

    Wow, this article is 🔥!

    It's like all the stuff I've been thinking over the years, but never put into words. You did an excellent job summarizing the current state of marketing courses—and helping folks navigate the waters.

    Your quote of "Fake gurus are like the internet’s cockroaches. Some hide in plain sight with a lamborghini or two on the side" is funny, but also true. It's unfortunate to see so much bad content and bad practices out there from folks who should know better. But as you pointed out, there are plenty of legit resources too.

    Also, thanks for mentioning GrowthMarketer. I really appreciate that, and will continue to share as much free marketing content as possible!

    1. 2

      Happy you liked it bro! And haha, I thought to myself, what's the best way to describe fake gurus and instantly cockroaches came to mind🤣. I never had the "structure" when just starting out with marketing, so I hope this will help founders to better approach this method of self-learning.
      And your resources will surely help them weather that storm🚀

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