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5 Essential Skills for Today’s Online Marketer

Skillz. I haz em.

What are the most important skills for an online marketer, blogger or professional?

I am going to list my response to that, but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments. I’m intentionally keeping this one short so you can dive in and tell me where I am wrong!

This post came about because I was just asked this question in email, and after responding briefly, I couldn’t get the question out of my head. After pondering on it, I realised it’s not quite as simple as it first seems.

I realised that some of these are traits you are born with, but can develop, and others you can simply learn and practice.

Although I often say I am not a natural born entrepreneur to excuse myself of deficiencies in certain areas, it makes me think that perhaps nobody is particularly born with entrepreneur DNA. After all, I haven’t added “natural risk-taker” or “born with wads of cash” to my list!

Enough preamble, here is my top 5 list:

Top 5 Most Essential Skills for Online Business:

  1. Empathy and understanding – If you can’t understand the people you are hoping to serve, then you won’t be able to deliver what they really want and need, in the way they want it. You need to be able to solve real problems, you need to get to the root causes, and communicate in language people understand.
  2. Communication – You need to be able to communicate (as mentioned in the previous item), especially written, but speaking too. It doesn’t matter if you are an entry-level employee, a solo entrepreneur,  or a CEO of a large corporation, clear and compelling communication is vital. The days of having a room full of typists is gone. Nobody will be able to escape email, but of course there are all the social networking tools too.
  3. Networking, relationship and people skills – So I mentioned networking in the previous point. I mean actual networking, not spamming Facebook and Twitter with your links! Human interaction. Building relationships. Getting to know people, and having them get to know you. It’s difficult to get anywhere without other people around to help you. People who can build and grow teams will have an advantage over people who burn out relationships almost as soon as they connect. I realised you don’t need technical or craft skills yourself if you can partner and communicate effectively. Let me know if you disagree …
  4. FailureThe willingness and ability to fail repeatedly is an odd one but I really believe it. I was talking to Ben last night and he was telling us about a talk he gave at a school where he said it was one of the most important things to learn. Ben is an engineer and inventor but I think it applies to everything. See projects as experiments, not pass or fail, and you will have a much better time.
  5. Stamina and staying power – A lot of people give up too soon. Seth Godin calls it “The Dip”. When it gets difficult is often right before you succeed. Of course, you also need to know when to give up. Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, as the song goes.

OK, that was my list, what do you think?

What skills do you need to succeed today?

Please share in the comments …

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  1. Definitely great skills. I have one.

    The willingness and tenacity to keep promoting your business in as many different ways as you can.

  2. I’m reasonably strong in items 2, 3 & 5. I have a large and growing personal network here in San Francisco. By “personal,” I mean people who I’ve met face to face, with enough connection to followup afterwards. Persistence, I have too much, I *hate* failing. It’s like when I get the bottom of the dip, I jump off from there, into freefall. Learning to “fail faster” now, or more precisely, learning what’s worth pursuing.

    Given I’ve got the empathy and understanding, I can handle the communication fairly well.

    Nice article Chris. I hope you’re able to draw out a lot more commenters; you’re certainly good at drawing me out. Thanks!

  3. Great timing Chris, as always.

    I came very close to giving up my online business in this last month when I discovered I had to rebuild my entire membership site from the ground up due to bad coding (note to self: don’t outsource to India).

    However, after a lot of soul-searching and a leap of faith, I’ve decided to rebuild it and invest more in my online business. This is a scary decision and closing it down would definitely be easier. But I believe that I am providing something of value and filling a need in the community that is not being met.

    Since deciding I’ve felt renewed excitement and enthusiasm for my business. So I agree with you that staying power and not giving up is essential for online success.

    • Sorry to hear about the bad coding, that must feel like a kick in the teeth to have to redo it 🙁

      Glad to hear you have renewed enthusiasm – good luck with it 🙂

  4. Stamina and staying power – that’s the one most people (including me!) have trouble with. You overlooked one more that I think is essential – a content strategy. You have to have a good idea of what you want to write about, who it’s for, and where you want your content to take your business. Some people start right out with a strategy in place; for others, it takes time and some hits and misses to develop (see #4, willingness to fail). But in the long run, you will need a strategy to keep you on course.
    Plus pictures of cats, of course. Lots of pictures of cats! 😉

  5. In addition to empathy and understanding I think it’s also essential to honestly believe that what you’re bringing to the marketplace has the potential to benefit those you’re seeking to serve. Because when it does, it often speaks for itself.

    • I like that Pat, it’s a nice way of putting it too. Many a client has had the wobbles before making an offer and I have to remind them that what they do helps people.

  6. Transparency, and a willingness to let users/customers offer criticism in public forums. But the flip side is that such public flogging also provides an opportunity to let existing and potential users see how, and how quickly, you respond.

    • I’d much rather people tell me criticism than criticise in private 🙂

      It’s not always easy to hear, and yeah I think we have to develop the ability to listen to it without feeling wounded …

  7. So, as I was mentally evaluating how well I was at these skills the hardest one for me seemed to be Stamina… but this might also be the one that “should” be the easiest for me to correct. Because when I no longer have the stamina, I like to go back and look at my strategy, and try to figure out how to get through it all. Review options and look at learning more from my audience to streamline even more. I said this “should” be the easiest for me to correct (I like doing all of that stuff) BUT when the passion wanes, then I can enjoy the strategizing more than the actionizing, I guess 🙂

    Thanks for making me stop and think about this 🙂

    • Stamina has a lot of aspects, from physical through to motivation. I’ve struggled with all of them at some point 🙂

      As you know, I fall into analysis paralysis very easily. I have been on a domain buying spree lately and none of the sites are any further forward!

      One thing I know you are good at is the networking side, so in a way you can use that to help and hold you accountable 🙂

  8. “…you don’t need technical or craft skills yourself if you can partner and communicate effectively.”

    I keep hearing this, but if everyone is coaching and communicating, who does the work? Maybe I am just too much an ax to the grindstone type.

  9. Mairaj Pirzada says:

    In any field say, internet marketing, all you’ve to do is to avoid a simple yet little-known mistake;

    The biggest mistake you can make is not making any mistakes. — Mark Zuckerberg

    That’s all!

  10. Thank you for your support. This is all I can say.

  11. All great points!

    One thing that came to my mind was that you have to have at least a basic idea about psychology. Understanding what makes people tick is definitely useful, both online and offline.

    This could go under Empathy and Understanding however.

  12. I have a theory around introversion and online networking. I suspect that online activities attract those of us who tip into the introversion scale, and I also think it can help build up relationships, both online and off. If you’re inclined to be introverted, you’re more likely to really listen to other people rather than talk, which is a key part of building real relationships. (Not meant to be a dig at extroverts, by the way!!)

  13. Chris, these are all awesome points and valid. I wouldn’t add to the list, but would rather give an all encompassing core to these.


    No matter which of these we are doing, we have to remember that connecting with others is the way we’ll succeed today and truly be able to help people. That’s what the connection economy is all about. We connect through networking, of course, but also through stamina and the other ways you mentioned.

    I’m a core level kinda guy and connection is huge for me. Focus on that and we’ll able to market to people without actually having to “market.” Does that make sense?

  14. Interesting comments Chris. I think the same list works for “off-line” marketing, which I realize isn’t in vogue, but that’s where we’re all headed in our on-line marketing campaigns. I agree with Cindy’s comment about stamina and persistence. It’s easy to get exciting about an approach or idea, and then it often enough fizzles away.

  15. Lynn Lekander says:

    Chris, I like this post and agree with your perspective. If you can’t do point #3 point #4 is looming. Many points boil down to connection but the word connection is inadequate. This allows us to see how many ways there are to connect.

  16. I like to think that there is also an ethical stance that helps true entrepreneurs succeed. Call it integrity. It relates very closely to your first and second paragraphs.

  17. Chris, They all look great to me! Create genuine connection, willingness to do, and persistence!

  18. Yes, I failed too many times. And I know that I need to stay stand 😆

    I like number two, Communication, especially written I thought I should have a better ability to speak. That sometimes discourage me to do more things because I’m afraid that somebody will calling me and I can’t really stay cool in a phone call, I prefer texting 😛
    I forget that online media is mostly trough content, a written content.

  19. I agree Chris, great points.

    I would emphasize the number one; being human, sincere, and getting to know your audience: make TRUE connections.

    I am new to your blog, but I love it.

    Thank you,


  20. Great list! I would add critical thinking to the list. With so many distractions and too much data available, online marketers need to cut through the clutter, determine what’s important, and take action appropriately.

  21. This is such a great list! Communication is key for any business. If you can’t communicate what you are selling, then you probably won’t sell 🙂 I think its important to know in the back of your mind that “9/10 businesses fail”. So if you actually do fail with one of your ideas…get up and brush yourself off. You’ll eventually get to the idea that is a total winner!

  22. Self awareness and self management. I realize that I’m taking lots of advice and attempting to put my blog together the “right way” and then have to step back and take a better look at who I am, why I want a blog and what my message is. I think I have it but several times over, I don’t think it’s real enough. I’m telling my market what I believe they need to do with no system in place to hear what they need. Then I feel I’m again, not ready to write the most helpful content. Lack of self-management gets in the way of getting it all done.

  23. Great list, Chris.

    I’d add self-management to the list. This relates to your #2 Communication, and #4 Networking, because it’s very easy to get caught up in these activities. They’re essential, but I’ve found that I need to put strict time limits on them.

  24. Nice list Chris. One of the greatest things I think you need when online is vision. You need to know and understand where it is that you’re going. Not so much what others are doing and where they are going, but it is that you have within you to keep you moving in the right direction. Oh and one other note I would add is HONESTY and INTEGRITY. With the internet, news travels fast and if you’re not honest and ethical, others will find out about you pretty quick.

  25. Jennifer Holms says:

    I agree that Empathy and understanding is the no. 1 most Essential Skills for Online Business…great post keep sharing