Read Time: 7 min

You’re an Email Beginner? Don’t Panic


So, you’re in charge of email now. Maybe you’re a web developer and your boss asked you to help out on some email projects. You said yes, just to find out that building an email is nothing like building a website. Or you’re a marketer and somehow your brand’s email marketing strategy landed on your plate—and you don’t even know where to start.

Maybe you were excited about the new challenge at first, but now that you’re sitting there, at your desk, and you should really get some work done, it feels like most of the stuff you know doesn’t quite help you for tackling those brand new email projects. You might be wondering what your boss was thinking putting you on this project—and why in the world you said yes.

If you’re a novice email developer or marketer feeling like you’re the only one in the world who fell into this job without having a clue, let us tell you: You’re not. There is no college degree in email marketing. Few kids grow up wanting to become an email coder. Most people don’t choose email. Truth is that we’ve all, sort of, fallen into it.

Not convinced yet? We’ve asked our Litmus Live Speakers— some of the leading rockstars in the email industry—how they got their start in email. Here are their honest stories about their daunting beginnings.

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Diaries of Developing Developers

Matthew Vollmer, Product Manager at Listrak: During high school, I interned at an ad agency that was mostly a traditional print agency. The agency was beginning to dabble in web design and when a client asked if we could build them an email template, the sales team gladly obliged. This project landed on the most unqualified person’s desk—mine—and that was when I first began wrestling with email code. My first email template was for a B2B company whose client-base largely used Lotus Notes. It was a character-building experience.

Nick Goldsberry, Senior Technical Producer at Salesforce Marketing Cloud: My start in email dates back to 2010 when I shifted from nonprofit management into the for-profit world working as an account manager for an ExactTarget reseller. The second week into the role, our sole developer resigned and I, with zero code experience, was left holding the bag. Since we couldn’t let the client down, I dove in and started learning code. Countless nights were spent cursing code with my newest best friend, Litmus, to whom I’d frequently send 30+ proofs to troubleshoot Outlook issues. Looking back, it was the best worst experience of my life.

Steven Collins, Email Developer at Rebel: My first developer job was working for a nonprofit organization in New York City, where most of my projects involved converting table-based layouts to CSS layouts. One day, I had a request to work on an email. At first, it was a frustrating experience, but as I began to understand the complexity of email, I altered my approach and began to treat it like building a puzzle—from scratch.

Memoirs of Email Marketers in the Making

Aime O’Keefe, Senior Web Specialist at Discover the Palm Beaches: Email marketing found me. It kind of consumed me like the apocalypse. A hole opened up in our team and they said, “Hey! Wanna do all our email marketing and like own that?” and I was like “Sure! That doesn’t sound too hard…” I was completely consumed and I never looked back.

Lindsay Brothers, Product Manager at Indeed: My first full-time technology role was at a small startup in San Jose, California. I was the second marketing hire after the VP of marketing, so I quickly took over most of the marketing responsibilities, including email. I quickly learned the difference between emailing users and emailing prospective buyers.

Liz Zaretsky, Freelance Email & Digital Strategist:
My boss at my college internship said, “They need a set of hands on the email team, so if you’re willing to learn how that whole thing works, you can interview over there.” And I did, and I got it, and I was literally the most junior person on the team. But I got to work with some really smart, incredible people who took time out of their unimaginably busy and exhausting days to teach me what email was from the basics up. I knew nothing. I literally showed up my first day on the job and was like, “Oh, so you… test these things, huh?”

Justine Jordan, VP Marketing at Litmus: After going to college for graphic design, I had aspirations of eventually being a creative director at an agency. But after a year-long stint at a 4-person branding and design shop (where I put my 90’s-era web design 101 skills to use building a few emails for clients), I took a job at ExactTarget as an “Email Campaign Manager.” I knew I was hooked on email after I was given the creative freedom to run my first A/B test—and saw first-hand evidence that proved how my creative choices could make an impact to my clients’ marketing programs.

Fake It Until You Make It

See? You’re not alone! There’s very little formal education available in the world of email marketing, so all of us—and you—are making it up as we go. And that’s okay.

At Litmus Live Boston 2017, G3 Communications front-end developer Kathryn Grayson Nanz spoke about Impostor Syndrome—the feeling that we’re not qualified to do what we’re doing that holds us back and tells us that we don’t deserve to be here—and how to overcome it. If that sounds like a feeling you’re too familiar with, hear what Kathryn has to say about it:

Getting started with email—or any new topic, really—can be overwhelming, intimidating and a little scary. But who knows, maybe in a little while, you’ll fall in love with email as many of us did.

Plus, wouldn’t it be kind of boring to come into a field where you know everything anyways?

Some Resources for Email Beginners

Here are some of our favorite resources to help get you started: