Should Marketers Learn to Code in 2014?

marketersWhen Google ran its Grace Hopper doodle in early December, it got me thinking about an idea I’ve been kicking around for a few years now: Should I learn to code?

If you’re like me—a digital marketer and/or an entrepreneur—you may have asked yourself that same question. It seems learning to code is easier than ever with so many resources available online. But is it really worth the time and possible expense?

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no programmer or developer. I can wield some pretty good HTML (does that count?), and I’ve muddled my way through writing WordPress theme hooks in PHP, but to just sit down and create something from scratch? I’m nowhere near that level of ability.

I took a computer class in the eighth grade. All I can remember of it is the teacher forcing us to write sentences in binary code, and being bored out of my mind. Between that memory and some programming languages looking like intimidating strings of nonsensical letters, numbers and symbols to me, I never took the time to learn how to code.

It seems I’m not the only one considering whether it’s a good idea to learn now. In this Entrepreneur article, AJ Agrawal, co-founder of Greekpull, explains why he gave himself a crash course in coding. I think it makes a lot of sense for him, though, considering the types of sites he’s involved with. Knowing how to code allows him to work on his sites himself, saving time and money, and the headaches of trying to explain ideas to a developer who may not share Agrawal’s vision.

But marketers? Why would anyone in marketing need to learn how to code?

Improve Communication With Developers

How many times have you worked with a developer to create, redesign, or optimize a site for a client, only to become mired in days, weeks, possibly months of back and forth, trying to get the developer to understand the SEO benefits to certain structures and tactics while the developer tries to get you to understand complex website functionality? Frustrating, right?

Learning to code doesn’t necessarily mean you could jump in and do it yourself, although that’s not impossible if you have the time and inclination. But it will help you communicate with developers a little better, save a lot of time, and possibly save you both some headaches.

Master APIs

I’ve been following along lately as Annie Cushing has discussed meeting one of her goals for the year—learning SQL. Working as much as she does with both Excel and the Google Analytics API, learning SQL will be a boon to her skills, and her business. She explains:

One of the best reasons to learn SQL is to be able to use the immensely powerful QUERY function in Google Spreadsheets. You can query your data, then import it into an Excel spreadsheet using Analytics Canvas and even wed it to your analytics data.

So, although I don’t have to work with databases too much, I can use SQL to build out powerful reporting dashboards right into Excel.

And what happens when you use those API skills to create a kickass dashboard for a client? Google shares it, of course. So learning a programming language provides skills and Internet fame. What more could you want?!

In all seriousness, learning to code has now given Annie the ability to better serve her clients. In addition, she’s planning on creating training courses in 2014 to help others learn to wrangle data this way. Just think what you could do for your clients if you could build custom dashboards like this, and manipulate Google Analytics data to provide comprehensive reports that help your clients make better, more educated decisions. What is that worth to them? And in turn, what is it worth to your business?

Increase Revenue

This is the answer to that last question. If you’re able to offer your clients additional, improved, or more in-depth services, you’re putting yourself into a higher cost bracket. Sure, you can outsource services, and charge a premium to satisfy your margin, but if you can either perform those services yourself, or train someone in-house to do them, you can charge for that service, but keep more of it.

One caveat—this means really learning how to code, not just skimming a For Dummies book, and then winging it. If you can’t or don’t want to take the time to truly learn coding that can be helpful to your business and your clients, then leave it to the professional programmers and developers. Once you decide to charge for a service, you create an expectation that the service will be performed well. No client should have to settle for sub-standard work because you thought you’d dabble in a bit of code.

Does It Make Sense?

I started this by asking whether I should learn to code. I think the answer for me right now is no. I don’t build dashboards for clients. I don’t work with developers to build websites (yet). And while I’m always looking for ways to increase revenue, learning to code and taking on tasks that are removed from the services my company provides right now doesn’t make sense.

This isn’t to say it won’t be a good idea in the future. But before you spend the time, money, and sleep learning to code—or learning to do anything new related to your business—ask yourself whether it will offer a return on those investments. You can always make more money, but you’ll never get that time back, and with each passing year, our time becomes ever more precious.

Image Credit: Shutterstock alphaspirit

About Michelle Lowery

Michelle is a Co-Founder of Passion Fruit Creative Group, a boutique Web content development agency, and of Passion Fruit Website Creation. When she's not working, Michelle provides pro bono digital marketing services to local non-profit organizations, and reads as much as possible in her spare time. She's also a big animal lover and pit bull advocate.

Filed under: Internet Marketing

7 Comments

Nicole Jones

Great article Michelle. :)
Now I’m motivated to teach myself a new skill set in 2014. I think your point of determining the ROI of learning any new skill or specialty BEFORE spending the time & money, says it best. As marketers, we tend to always be seeking out new ways to improve ourselves and increase the value of ourselves and our business, so it can be challenging to realize and admit that certain “self-improvements” might not always be profitable.

Michelle Lowery

Thanks so much, Nicole! Exactly. I’m all for self-improvement, but learning–and paying to learn–a skill you can’t really use for anything isn’t much of an improvement, especially to your bank account. Thanks for reading and commenting! :-)

Abdul Wahab

Nice sharing. I believe we marketers don’t need to learn the code but we should at least know the basics of different languages. (Such as basic html, what’s php or asp etc.) because it makes easy for us when we directly communicate with designers or programmers/developers for any project.

Michelle Lowery

I agree for the most part, Abdul, although as I mentioned, learning how to code has contributed tremendously to Annie Cushing’s business. So I think it depends on your marketing niche. Thanks for your comment!

Matthew Ortner

That was nice and informative. And of course being knowledgeable with coding skills is not necessary to become successful Marketer. But I think we need to have ready for that too, not for developing stuff but to keep our skills and knowledge in top-front.

And after all that what make us “webmaster” not web developer or designer… Right? Thank you!

Michelle Lowery

Thanks for commenting, Matthew! I agree, I think there’s value to sometimes knowing a little about a lot of things, depending on how you plan to apply those skills. Learning a little PHP may help you create hooks for your WordPress theme, but there’s no sense spending the time and money fully learning a programming language unless you’re really going to delve into Web development, or you have a specific need for it, like the SQL and Google Analytics example.

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