EF Staff

June 26, 2017

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This is a guest post from GetApprenticeship.

In 2012, entrepreneur Jake Puhl was looking to hire for his fast-growing online business, Firegang Dental Marketing.

He was looking for someone who was going to work hard, who already had some skills (but was not too specialized), and who would stick around longer than the typical contractor or assistant.

What Jake was searching for was an apprentice.

He met Cory Ames in the summer of that year — the introduction was made by Cory’s brother, who had met Jake at a tech meetup in Seattle, Washington.

Cory was already interested in building a business of his own, and he was already working on his own profitable affiliate site side project that he had built between his first-year college classes.

Jake could see Cory was already thinking entrepreneurially. He could also see, by looking at his side project, that Cory had some of the skills he needed in his business: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), outsourcing, copywriting, WordPress, project management, and hustle.

He hired Cory that month.

By working hard and spending a lot of time thinking about the business, Cory soon found his responsibilities start to expand.

He was given bigger tasks: first managing Search Engine Marketing campaigns, and after a year, overseeing operations for the entire company.

After another year of hard work and increasing responsibility, and with Jake looking to remove himself from the business as much as possible, Cory got promoted to CEO.

Cory was now a CEO of a multi-million-dollar digital marketing agency, with team members around the world.

He was just 21 years old.

He was in a position that many professionals don’t normally achieve until their 30s, if ever.

In just two years, Cory went from what felt like a dead-end college experience, to a challenging, high-level CEO position in a fast-moving company.


apprenticeship

At GetApprenticeship.com, we live for stories like Cory and Jake’s. Taylor and I believe apprenticeships have the power to transform the lives of both the apprentice and employer, and both of us have experienced the power of apprentices in our own lives.

Since we want everyone to be able to experience the same, we’re going to share with you the best way to build your skills and demonstrate to employers that you are worth taking on.

This post is a guide to how, by following three easy steps, you can get an apprenticeship that gives you the potential to have an experience just like Cory’s.

We’ve seen hundreds of people apply for apprenticeship positions over the years, and we’ve found that there is usually a clear path that people who successfully land positions follow:

Step 1: They choose a skill to learn — one that will be useful in an online business.

Step 2: They learn and demonstrate that skill by building a side project.

Step 3: They apply for an apprenticeship with a company that excites them.  

This seems simple — and it is! It also works very well. We’ll break down these three steps so that you will know precisely what to do in order to get an apprenticeship with a great company.

By following this path, you’ll build the key skills employers are looking for:

Self-starter: Because you built a side project without anyone telling you to, you’ll show that you’re the kind of person who gets things done. Cory didn’t start his affiliate site just to impress Jake; he was already working on it. This showed Jake that Cory was going places.

Organized: In order to launch this project, you’re going to have to get yourself organized. It doesn’t matter what system you use; it matters that you can have projects and tasks handed off to you and that the person handing them off knows they won’t fall off your plate or get lost. (You can read and implement “Getting Things Done” in less than a week, and it will help you for the next 30 years of your career.)

Marketable Skills: Your side project will mean you already have a skill that will be useful to employers. Cory was already doing SEO on his affiliate sites, and this meant he was able to do SEO for Firegang on day one, adding value right away.

Before long, you’ll be working with experienced entrepreneurs, learning more than you ever have before, and building a great career in a fast-growing industry.

“(It’s) more of an experience to play a very entrepreneurial role in someone else’s business, where you are given a lot of freedom to make higher-level business decisions, as well as being an opportunity to get paid to learn. It would come at my own cost and expense to learn on my own, as well as being far less efficient.” — Cory

Sound like something you might be interested in? Read on.

Step 1: Choose a Skill To Learn

The first step is to figure out one skill you’d be interested in learning more about. The options are many, and the best guide is to look at your strengths, personal interests, and existing skills.

Competent writer? Learning more about psychology and sales letters can lead to copywriting, which is useful in any business.

Got a decent artistic sense? Learning about design might be a good option.

By choosing a skill you want to focus on, you’ll be taking your first steps toward impressing potential employers.

To help you out, we’ve made a list of beginner’s online business skills, with tips for getting started in each.

These skills all have two things in common:

  1. They are free or cheap to learn. Becoming competent in any of them will cost you about as much as taking a class at a community college (a few hundred bucks max).
  2. They are all extremely valuable skills. While it may cost very little to learn the basics of copywriting or SEO, those who become good at them can potentially earn six figures.

That is, they are all low-barrier-to-entry skills, and they have lots of long-term potential and upsides when it comes to building your career and marketable skillset.

Browse the areas below, and if anything stands out as interesting, you’ll know you’re onto something.

Content

Written Content / Copywriting

Copywriting is a great starting point for anyone looking to write on the web, as it serves as a foundation for any other skills you might want to learn.

Write great copy, and you’ll find yourself getting better click-through rates in your emails, ads, and landing pages.

The biggest benefit of learning copywriting is learning about sales psychology and positioning. By reading some of the classic books in the field, you’ll learn things that you can apply to every aspect of business, top to bottom.

To name a few:

The Boron Letters” — Gary C. Halbert

Ogilvy on Advertising” — David Ogilvy

Scientific Advertising” — Claude C. Hopkins

Breakthrough Advertising” — Eugene M. Schwartz

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” — Robert B. Cialdini

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” — Al Ries and Jack Trout

Media Content: Video and Audio Production

Certain businesses rely on video and audio to reach new customers.

Similarly, understanding high-quality audio production can help add professionalism to both videos and podcasts.

Knowing how to create engaging videos is an increasingly powerful and viable way of providing value to a business, and is a skill many employers could be on the lookout for.

YouTube tutorials for your chosen software are a great way to get started.

Email Marketing

Learning how to build an audience through email and how to provide ongoing, valuable communication is the backbone of almost every online business.

Email is your most direct line to the people who care most about your products or services.

Having a basic understanding of list building, open rates, list churn, and click-through rates is a great way to show employers that you’re serious about helping to build a platform. Here’s a nice intro.

SEO

Millions of people make Google searches every day. Knowing how to place a page in one of the top positions for a particular search term can provide a free, ongoing traffic source to your business’s site.

This means less time spent on other content promotion channels; good SEO creates more leads, and therefore more sales.

This can be a great way to help add value to an employer who hasn’t yet taken advantage of the latent power of their content.

For more information, check out MOZ’s beginner’s guide for a great walkthrough.

Social Media

Audience Building

Platforms with millions of users such as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are all great places to find your market.

While it may not be wise to invest too much in platforms that change their rules regularly, choosing one and milking it for what it’s worth can be a great way to find targeted, enthusiastic markets for just about any niche.

If you know how to pull the right strings and build up a big following on a Facebook page or Twitter account, this will be a huge benefit for any business you work with.

Community Management

Community management is about being able to consistently engage members and grow the size of a group, forum, or other platform. Great community managers help increase a brand’s trust, attention, and loyalty over the long term.

While audience building is concerned with numbers, community management is based on culture and longevity.

Many businesses invest a lot of time in maintaining strong communities. With the potential for increased lifetime value of customers, as well as long-term strategic competition on the table, hiring someone who understands communities is a sensible option in many cases.

Buzzing Communities is a great book on the subject.

Design and User Experience

Businesses can either overstate or under-appreciate the importance of good app and website design.

Without good visual communication, even the best ideas can fall flat. Designers make it easier to ensure web content is useable and gets to the point.

User experience (UX) takes it a step further and applies design principles to making sure desired user action is taken in the right places.

By learning about good web and UX design principles, you’ll be able to increase conversions and sales across an entire business if you really know what you’re doing.

Front-End Development — HTML, CSS, and Java

Having a rudimentary understanding of some HTML and CSS should be considered almost essential for working online. You don’t have to know how to code masterpieces, but learning a few “tags” and what they do will be the difference between competence and floundering in the online world.

Basic HTML will naturally come just by being exposed to it, but for those who really want to take it to the next level, these markup languages can give you some serious creative power, especially combined with some design sense.

Coming into a business armed with the ability to turn CSS upside down and make easy changes to web content is supremely valuable to anyone you work with. This is one small area of technical skill that can mean the difference between floundering and flourishing online.

Back-End Development — Ruby, PHP, Python, and Others

Learning one of these back-end languages will give you an extremely sought-after skillset that is always in demand by startups and online businesses.

On the web, “coding is the new literacy.” If you can get on board with that, you’ll be able to help improve a business’s products, marketing, and processes in a massive way.

Step 2: Start a Side Project

After choosing a skillset that interests you, it’s time to start practicing those skills by getting started on a side project.

What exactly is a side project?

A side project can be anything from a monthly newsletter to a full e-commerce site.

Criteria to keep in mind for a good side project include that it:

  1. Lets you dip your feet into the online business world and see if it’s for you
  2. Provides you with a testing ground to try out whatever skills you are interested in learning
  3. Gives you an online CV that shows what you’re capable of, that you are self-directed, and that you’re able to work on your own

While you want your business idea to be viable, the point of a side project isn’t to get rich. Its purpose is to give you a platform to test out new skills, learn as you go, and maybe make a little money while you’re at it.

It doesn’t matter how successful it is, but rather how much you learn while you do it, and to what degree it successfully demonstrates that learning.

The real beauty of the side project is that it can be a platform for learning anything you wish.

If you’re interested in learning about HTML and CSS, you might tinker with the UX of a site and see actual changes in the appearance of the page, as well as how it affects your revenue.

Like making videos? Make it part of your content plan and show off your skills.

Whatever skills you are interested in, you can experiment and learn by using them in real life, instead of just reading about them.

Your side project becomes a living case study of your entrepreneurial ambitions.

Not only does it allow you to learn skills as you build, it signals these skills to employers even more effectively than a graduate degree or other training normally would.

Choosing a Side Project

People generally use one of two methods when it comes to choosing a side project.

They either:

  • Choose a revenue-focused side project, where they know there is a decent sized market, they are solving a clear problem, and there is plenty of potential for long-term growth.

Or

  • They choose an interest side project, where they pursue something they are already interested in and build around that.

Both of these methods have pros and cons, and it’s up to you to choose which one you think you’ll be more interested in working on for a while. Employers don’t care what your side project is — it’s the skill development that’s important.

Example: The Revenue-Focused Side Project

One of Taylor Pearson’s first side projects was a small site built for college students looking to buy cheap, used furniture to fill their dorms (the now-defunct collegefurniture.net).

As far as side projects go, this hit all the marks:

  1. He got real experience running a small business that solved a real-world problem.
  2. It gave him a testing ground to learn SEO and other web skills.
  3. He eventually used the site to get an apprenticeship with an SEO agency in Memphis, Tennessee.

He was able to directly serve the needs of an existing market, as well as teach himself SEO as he went.

Example: The Interest Side Project

My own first side project was an ambient / experimental music site I started in 2012.

apprenticeshipRIP.

It was serving such a small market that it didn’t make much money — but I learned a lot.

It gave me the opportunity to publish content, and do outreach, promotion, design, social media — you name it. I even built my own WordPress theme so I could make it look exactly the way I wanted.

Most importantly, it was successful when gauged against the criteria for a good side project:

  1. While I wasn’t solving a direct need as Taylor was, I was still serving a small market and learning.
  2. It gave me a private testing ground to learn and develop whatever skills I wanted.
  3. It worked as a CV item to show off everything I had learned. This was one of the reasons I was hired as an apprentice.

Choosing a Platform

Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to structure your side project, it’s time to choose a platform. This is where you decide on how you are going to reach your market. Both of the examples above were WordPress sites.

Here are some of the best starting platforms for side projects:

  • WordPress Blog
  • Monthly Email Newsletter
  • Facebook / Instagram Page
  • YouTube / Vimeo Account

Of these, we recommend starting some sort of WordPress site as the best option.

This is based on its ability to easily grow into anything you want, as well as being the perfect testing platform for many of the skills listed in the previous section.

You can easily link an employer you want to work with to your WordPress site, and show off a whole bunch of different skills at once. They will very quickly be able to see what it is you can do and how you can provide value.

Choosing a Revenue Model

You should have a basic plan for how you are going to structure a business around your side project.

You can actually still start an interest-based side project that meets all of the criteria, but doesn’t earn any money.

However, there is an advantage to having a revenue model at the back of your mind, as it can work to tie together all of your actions and give your side project some direction.

We recommend this Empire Flippers guide as a great primer on some of the fundamental business models that are working right now. It provides links to further training and resources for each one. Definitely check it out.

Great starter options include AdSense, Amazon Affiliates, Drop-shipping, and Info Products.

If your side project can earn money for you, you will have even more freedom to work on your skills and eventually start working with employers who are looking for an apprentice.

Where To Next?

A common mistake people often make with their side project is trying to teach themselves everything before it’s necessary.

In reality, it’s simply a matter of teaching yourself only the skills you need as you get further into the project.

Example:

Say you’ve decided to start a Revenue-Focused Side Project, in the form of a WordPress blog reviewing, say, Air Fryers.

You write a new blog post filled with affiliate links, since this is a great beginner revenue model that matches well with niche review sites.

It may then enter your mind (after putting together a simple marketing plan) that you could do with learning some SEO to leverage free traffic to your site from Google.

After tinkering with SEO, and with users now coming to your site, you might then decide to build an email list using free tools. From there, you could set up auto-responders and redirect traffic back to your affiliate links perennially.

Before you know it, you are heading down the path of acquiring valuable email marketing, SEO, and website creation skills, and you have the evidence to show an employer that you’ve done so.

Why not just keep working on the side project?

While it’s true that you can create an income through your side project, there is often a large skill gap between managing a functioning online business, versus managing a thriving one.

  • By partnering up with an experienced entrepreneur, you’ll be working with someone who knows exactly what works and what doesn’t.
  • Instead of struggling trying to understand what it really takes to run a successful online business, an apprenticeship allows you to effectively bypass five years of frustrating rookie business errors.
  • By helping a mentor build their business, you’ll fast-track your earning potential to a level far beyond what would typically be achievable on your own in the same time frame.

Cory describes his decision to give up his side project and go all in with an apprenticeship:

“By no means would I have the ability to make the impact that I can, work with the types of people I am, or work with the resources I have. The experience would be much more hollow. I kind of imagine I’d get to this place of ‘This site is making me a great income,’ and then I’d get to that place of ‘Oh, well now I desire something greater’ — some sort of bigger project to endure upon.” — Cory

Step 3: Leverage Your Side Project to Get an Apprenticeship

So how do you actually leverage all of this work and learning to find a company that is willing to take you on?

If you’ve followed the advice above, then by this point you are an ideal apprentice candidate for someone more experienced who is looking to build their team.

An employer will be asking the following questions in their mind:

Have they got a skill? Yes.

Demonstrated self-starter? Yes.

Motivated and organized? You bet.

Now it’s only a matter of finding a business you’d want to work with, and finding ways to help them out and get involved in what they are doing.

Four Proven Strategies for Finding an Apprenticeship

1. Look for Local Companies and Networking Groups

One way to find an apprenticeship is to look around for companies in your local area that are hiring.

Taylor Pearson got his first apprenticeship by taking the site he’d built for SEO (the now-defunct collegefurniture.net) and sending it around to local marketing agencies in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I just Googled ‘Marketing agency Memphis’ and emailed everyone that showed up on the first two pages of Google. I explained to them that I had been teaching myself SEO and sent them a screenshot of some of the keywords I ranked for.

I asked if they were hiring and explained that I wanted to learn more and was willing to work for cheap to get started.

A few replied and I ended up getting 20 hours of part-time work from one. That eventually turned into a full-time position as a project manager.

From their perspective, since I had already shown that I was a self-starter and had the skills they needed, they wouldn’t have to train me.” — Taylor

2. Cold Email the Inc. 5000 List — They’re Growing Fast and Need to Hire

Another option would be to cold email companies you’re interested in working for outside of where you live. If you’re willing to relocate, this can be a great option.

I know a few people who have gotten apprenticeship-like roles by emailing companies in the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list (like Empire Flippers).

Being in the Inc. 5000 list means they are growing fast, which is good for two reasons:

  1. They need to hire a lot of people.
  2. You’ll get to move up fast — fast-growing companies require their team members to grow fast, too, which is exactly what you want in an apprenticeship.

How do you cold email? Go straight for the CEO / Founder and show them how you will help them.

3. Follow Companies You Would Like to Work for to See When They Offer New Positions

If you have a specific type of company you want to work for, follow them on email, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and see when they are posting new positions. Whatever they post will give you an idea for what kinds of skills you’ll need to develop in order to provide value to them.

By identifying a direction you want to go in, you can use the side project to teach yourself those skills. Then it’s just a matter of cold emailing, and finding what you can do to start helping out.

4. Sign up for GetApprenticeship.com

Duh. :) It’s free!

If you’re after your first paid, non-technical job at a startup​, we’ll send you positions as soon as they become available.

Currently, we specialize in apprenticeships that have the following characteristics:

  • For startups: You’ll be working in a small, fast-growing company, either directly with the founder or with an executive officer. This means you will get to see the real nitty-gritty of how an online business actually works.
  • Learning: Because you’ll be working in a small, fast-growing company, you will live by the motto “adapt or die.” If you’re looking for an easy paycheck, you won’t find it in an apprenticeship. What you will get is a fast track to learning some of the most valuable skills in the economy today.
  • Non-technical: You don’t need to know how to code, but you should be familiar with some tech basics like the most common HTML tags, or at least the terms “WordPress” or “cPanel.”
  • Paid: You won’t get paid much starting out, but you should make enough to cover basic living costs.
  • Remote: You’ll be working remotely, which means you’ll have freedom over your schedule and location. It also demands that you know how to get organized and show measurable results with your work.

Sound like something you might be interested in?

Find out more here.

Action Steps

This was just a short guide for how you can get an apprenticeship that helps you take your career to the next level. By following the three steps we just went through, you’ll be well on your way to an apprenticeship working with a great company.

To recap, the three steps to finding an apprenticeship are:

  • Choose a skill to learn. Pick an online skill that you are drawn to, have experience in, or think you will be good at. Start teaching yourself as much as you can about it.
  • Start a side project. Whether it’s pursuing an interest or setting up a business, build a side project that lets you apply, learn, and grow your skills. We recommend starting a WordPress site to help you build your chosen skill and work on something you are interested in.
  • Leverage your side project to get an apprenticeship. Use your side project to show off your skills, and show how you can provide value. Do this to start working with a business you want to be part of and learn from.

Good luck!

P.S. Are you running an online business and looking to hire? Get in touch. We’d love to match you with an A+ talent apprentice.

Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia

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Discussion
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  1. Excellent advice! I don’t hire many people…but the ones that I do normally have a side project.

    I can’t tell you how important having the side project is to show you’re motivated and have skills.

    • Greg Elfrink says:

      People with side projects is a great way to judge applicants. You can see their strengths, weaknesses, and where their interests lay.

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