Is Freelance Digital Marketing Legit? | 5 Red Flags To Watch Out For

April 9, 2024

Is freelance digital marketing legit? Freelance digital marketing can be legit if you’re an experienced digital marketer with a portfolio of successful work and can sell yourself to businesses. These types of freelance digital marketers are sought after by successful companies and compensated well for their skills. In response to a recent Reddit post about the going rate for freelance digital marketing work, a paid advertising specialist who has managed over $40M in ad spend during their career claims their minimum fee is $2,500 per project, while an email developer claims to charge a minimum of $55/hour for freelance digital marketing work.

However, unskilled digital marketers trying to break into freelancing before mastering their craft and building a portfolio are likely to struggle to find quality opportunities. Businesses hire freelancers because they can plug a skilled professional into their operations to get results, not pay to train someone and hope the prospect pans out like an employee. Freelance digital marketers without sufficient experience are susceptible to competing for and accepting low paying opportunities, or even getting tricked into providing free work through unpaid test projects. 

Freelance platforms like Fiverr and Upwork are notorious for being flooded with low paying digital marketing opportunities. This is the result of high competition for remote work opportunities, much of which is coming from international freelancers who reside in markets with substantially lower costs of living. 

Those considering getting into freelance digital marketing should focus on refining their skills through real projects to avoid illegitimate opportunities. One way to do this is by setting up local lead generation websites, which requires digital marketing skills like web design, local SEO, and copywriting. Local lead generation websites attract and sell customer leads to local service businesses. Building local lead generation websites can allow you to build out a portfolio of work to show to potential freelancing clients, while also providing the potential to earn serious income.

In the following article, we discuss whether freelance digital marketing is legit by comparing the pros and cons and looking at the income potential of different roles. We also unveil 5 red flags to watch out for when offering freelance digital marketing services. 

Is freelancing legit?

Yes, freelancing is legit. Approximately 1.57 billion workers out of the total global workforce of 3.38 billion people are freelancers, according to the World Bank. That means nearly half, or 46.7%, of all workers around the globe operate as freelancers! Furthermore, the opportunities for freelancers are expanding. The US alone recently saw an increase of 78% in year-over-year freelance earnings, according to 2019 data from Payoneer. More companies are turning to freelance platforms like Upwork and Fiverr for their temporary hiring needs. In fact, the global freelance platform market was recently valued at $3.39 billion in 2020, according to Absolute Reports. That number is expected to inflate by a CAGR of 15.3% from 2021 through 2027. By 2027, the global freelance job platform market is expected to nearly triple to $9.19 billion, showing just how considerable the growth potential is for freelancers.

Is digital marketing legit?

Yes, digital marketing is legit. The global market for digital marketing has an estimated value of $531 billion as of 2022, according to Yahoo Finance. That figure is expected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2030, meaning there’s substantial opportunity and income potential for those that possess the skills to help businesses accomplish online marketing initiatives.

What are the pros and cons of freelance digital marketing?


Uncapped earning potential - Freelance digital marketers can out earn salaried marketing positions because the amount of income you earn is based on how much you can work. 

Work flexibility - A freelance digital marketer can choose which type of work they want to do, which clients they want to work with, and where they work from. 

Extended autonomy - Freelance digital marketers typically work without much oversight and can perform the work as they like as long as the client is happy with the final product. 


Income instability - Earnings are likely to vary each month depending on the amount of clients and work performed. 

Fake clients and scams - Potential for clients to get away with not paying for work performed. 

Quarterly tax payment - US freelancers must pay estimated quarterly tax payments to the IRS or risk being penalized.

No benefits - Unlike a salaried employee, digital marketing freelancers don’t receive benefits like PTO, 401K matching, or medical insurance coverage.

High competition - Many people are interested in working online and so there is substantial competition for freelance marketer jobs that allow remote income.

No passive income - There’s no opportunity for passive income, you get paid what you earn through active work.

Does freelance digital marketing pay well?

Freelance digital marketing does pay well. The average freelance digital marketer salary in the United States is approximately $78,000/year, according to 33 freelance digital marketing salaries from job search platform Talent. That’s more than the most recent median household income figure of $74,580 from the US government Census, indicating that freelance digital marketing is superior to many other opportunities out there. You can actually make good money as a freelance digital marketer. A role that requires more experience, like digital marketing manager, can even earn upwards of $155K/year, according to data from

How much does a freelance digital marketer make? 

A freelance digital marketer makes between $54K/year and $84K/year on average, depending on the specific digital marketing role they perform.

  • Social media management, $62K/year on average according to Indeed - Performing comprehensive social media marketing services like content planning, content creation, post scheduling, influencer partnerships, and social listening.
  • Copywriting, $61K/year on average according to Indeed - Writing persuasive texts for mediums like website, email, paid ads, and video sales letters (VSLs) in order to drive more sales for a brand. 
  • Content writing, $54K/year on average according to Glassdoor - This type of freelance writing is creating content for brands that attract their intended audience, establish expertise in their niche, and showcase product offerings.
  • Paid advertising, $72K/year according to Glassdoor - Using paid advertising channels like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, or Amazon Ads to drive sales for brands.
  • Email marketing, $58K/year on average according to Glassdoor - Reaching brands audiences through the digital channel of email and keeping them engaged with those brands or informing them about available products and services.
  • Search engine optimization, $62K/year on average according to Indeed - Improving visibility on search engines like Google and Bing so that it’s easier for more potential customers to find a brand and its offers.
  • Web design, $78K/year on average according to Glassdoor - Using design softwares like WordPress and Adobe Dreamweaver to create visually appealing websites.
  • Web development, $82K/year on average according to Indeed - Using programming languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to develop and enable functionality of websites and web applications.
  • Video editing, $65K/year on average according to Glassdoor - Using video editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro to create video clips for video marketing channels like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.
  • Digital marketing manager, $84K/year on average according to Glassdoor - This comprehensive digital marketing service entails developing and implementing digital marketing strategies, including the management of marketing personnel, to achieve comprehensive online marketing initiatives like increased brand awareness or sales.

How much a freelancer can earn in digital marketing depends on factors besides just the role as well, like experience level, client acquisition method, and location. 

How many hours do freelance digital marketers work?

Freelance digital marketers typically work 8 hours per day on average, according to a survey conducted by Search Engine Journal. The survey found that 38% of digital marketing professionals work 8 hours a day, 33% work 9 to 12 hours per day, 15% work throughout the entire day, and 14% work around just 4 hours per day. Therefore, although most work 8 hours a day or less, there are also a considerable number of freelance marketing professionals working more than the standard 8 hour working day. 

Is freelance digital marketing a scam?

No, freelance digital marketing is not a scam. Freelance digital marketing is a legitimate way to make money online where digital marketing services are provided to clients in exchange for fair compensation. Although there are certainly scams in the world of online marketing, such as the free trial scam where a company advertises that you can get a free product if you just pay for shipping and then charges you more than advertised, freelance digital marketing is exchanging temporary services for fair compensation. 

Is digital marketing a pyramid scheme?

Digital marketing is not a pyramid scheme. A pyramid scheme makes money primarily through the recruitment of new people into the scheme and charging them a fee to join. Digital marketing makes money by offering services in exchange for an agreed upon compensation amount.

3 Freelance digital marketing success stories

1. Freelance web developer success story

Atlanta‑based web developer Kelly Vaughn was able to leave her job with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and start freelancing as a full time web developer in 2015. In an interview with Intuit Mailchimp, Vaughn explains how she was able to become a freelance web developer full time by spending her nights working on developer side products in the Kennesaw State University library. After some time, she focused her freelancing business on developing Shopify websites. Eventually, Kelly was listed in Shopify’s expert directory for Atlanta, and her opportunities expanded beyond her capacity, so she started outsourcing work and earning even more money with the digital marketing agency model.

2. Freelance Google Ads success story

On his YouTube channel with over 58K subscribers, Aaron Young from Define Digital Academy details how he has spent the last 10 years traveling the world with his family while freelancing as a Google Ads specialist. Aaron is a 15,000 hour Google Ads Master, which he has achieved over the last decade of freelance work with Google Ads. Aaron attributes his success as a freelancer to becoming an expert in his field by using his skills on a wide array of projects, enabling him to charge up to 20x more than what he started charging.

3. Freelance content writer success story

Erin MacDonald has been earning an income with freelance writing gigs through the freelance writing platform Constant Content since July 2017. She has worked on product copy, city destination profiles, and travel-related articles. Erin values that her work as a freelance writer allows her to earn a flexible income. She can take on as much work as she likes and cut back to accommodate her schedule outside of work. Erin advises aspiring freelance writers to provide high-quality work ahead of schedule to develop strong relationships with clients and generate ongoing opportunities. For example, Erin noted that she spent extensive time learning about a client's niche if she was unfamiliar so that she could confidently produce high level writing on the topic. 

How do you start freelancing as a digital marketer?

  1. 1
    Choose a digital marketing specialty
  2. 2
    Learn the skills to offer that digital marketing specialty as a freelancing service
  3. 3
    Set pricing for the services you offer
  4. 4
    Offer your skills to clients online
  5. 5
    Deliver exceptional work to clients to receive positive testimonials
  6. 6
    Build a portfolio of work with the freelancing projects you complete
  7. 7
    Continue advancing your digital marketing skills to remain competitive

These are the basic steps that those who are interested in how to become a freelance digital marketer from home should take. 

How hard is it to be a freelance digital marketer?

It’s not very hard to be a freelance digital marketer. There are many companies looking for freelance digital marketers to take on work. However, getting started as a freelance digital marketer can be hard because there is considerable competition. For example, it’s easy to be a digital marketing freelancer with an established portfolio of work and glowing testimonials on freelancing platforms like Upwork and Fiverr because clients can easily find you and see they can trust your work. On the other hand, a freelancer just getting started with digital marketing is likely going to find it difficult to get clients to pay them for their work when there are so many other freelance digital marketers with proven experience.

Which freelancing site is best for digital marketing?

  • Upwork
  • Fiverr
  • Freelancer
  • Behance
  • 99designs
  • Working Nomads
  • People Per Hour
  • Guru
  • Cloud Peeps
  • MarketerHire

Related Articles on Freelance Digital Marketing

  • What Is Freelance Digital Marketing? - For those who want a deeper explanation of what freelance digital marketing is and what it entails, this article breaks it down into simple terms. You'll learn about common jobs, the ways to find opportunities, and the best resources available to be successful in the industry.  
  • Legendary Marketer Review - Legendary Marketer by David Sharpe teaches comprehensive digital marketing skills to promote affiliate marketing products, digital products, coaching and consulting services, and events and masterminds. 
  • Freelance Marketing Secrets Review - Also known as Freelance Digital Secrets and Freelance Digital Secrets Masterclass, this freelance digital marketing course by Keala Kanae is an eBook and masterclass that teaches the basics of paid advertising. 
  • Fullstaq Marketer Review - This course by Kaela Kanae is intended to teach a digital marketing freelancer a range of digital marketing specialized skills to promote products online, like paid advertising and email marketing. 

5 Red flags to watch out for with freelance digital marketing

1. Uncontracted clients

A freelance contract is a legal document that outlines project conditions between a freelancer and client, including compensation. If a client pushes you to start working before you have a freelancing contract in place, you should avoid working with them or risk not being compensated for your work. Freelancing platforms like Upwork usually offer payment protection, so you don’t always need an explicit freelancing contract when operating through a platform. However, if a client insists on moving off a platform or you find the client through non-freelancing platform methods like cold outreach, it’s best to have both parties sign a freelancing contract before starting any work.

2. Unfair compensation

High competition in freelance digital marketing has led to some businesses lowballing digital marketing freelancers. For example, you can find many freelance content writing jobs on Upwork offering ridiculously poor compensation, like $8 for 1,000 words. Considering that most freelance content writers charge between $0.10 and $1/word, according to ClearVoice, the minimum that a client should offer a freelance content writer for 1,000 words is approximately $100. Know your worth and charge accordingly. 

3. Uncompensated time

Freelancers often provide clients with additional time for activities like meetings or training. Clients should fairly compensate freelancers for this additional time, especially if it is a common occurrence. For example, if a client requests regular meetings to review progress on digital marketing initiatives, you should work this into your freelancing rate. Uncompensated hours can add up quickly and cause a freelance digital marketer to earn considerably less money than they should have.

4. Inauthentic digital marketing course creators

There are tons of digital marketing courses you can buy online when just getting started, but not all of them are worth paying for. Some people create digital marketing courses just to profit off the sales from the course, without actually being an expert in what they are teaching. They just use information they found in other courses and repackage it to sell as their own. Therefore, it's important to do thorough research about a course creator's background if you’re considering buying a course to learn digital marketing freelancing skills.

5. Businesses with shady products or services

There are many ways to make money on the internet, not all of which are ethical or even legal. Before working with a client as a digital marketing freelancer, you should be confident that the product or service they are offering is legitimate. If you help promote an illegitimate product, such as assisting an affiliate marketer with affiliate marketing scams like promoting bad products, you could face legal repercussions. Furthermore, building a freelancing portfolio is essential for growing your business and this type of work doesn’t enhance your portfolio for future potential clients. 

Conclusion: Is freelance digital marketing a good career?

Freelance digital marketing is a good career. There is above-average earnings potential and solid growth potential going forward. You should become a freelance digital marketer if you want flexibility in your work and don’t mind periods of income instability. However, many people find freelance digital marketing is not an optimal career path for them. Although you may be able to earn a high hourly rate, you also need to perform many tasks that don’t earn you money to successfully run your business, like billing clients, prospecting new clients, updating your portfolio, and learning new skills to remain competitive. Perhaps worst of all, your income is directly limited by how much work you can do, so it’s impossible to scale a freelancing business. 

Another digital marketing business model that many find preferable to freelancing is local lead generation. A local lead generation business can generate thousands of dollars each month in passive income. Local lead generation works by using the digital marketing skill of SEO to rank websites on Google that target customers for service businesses in specific locations. Then, you partner with real service businesses in those locations to pay you each month to take the leads from your websites. Each of these local lead generation websites can generate between $500 to $3,000/month. Clients tend to stick with local lead generation websites long term because they usually offer a more efficient and reliable means of marketing than they are able to achieve themselves. In the event a partnership doesn’t last long term, you own the website so you can find another local business to partner with and pay you each month for the leads. 

These websites also require little maintenance or overhead costs to maintain, so you keep the majority of the profits as passive income. Since you’re making passive income, you can focus on scaling your business with more local lead generation websites to increase your earnings potential. You aren’t limited by the amount of work you can physically perform like you are with freelance digital marketing, even though you’re performing similar work. Check out this local lead generation program if you want to learn more about making passive income online by making websites to find customers for local businesses.   

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Ippei Kanehara

$52K per month providing lead generation services to small businesses is for digital hustlers, industry leaders and online business owners.

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