How to become a freelance marketing consultant in 12 steps:
- Self assessment
- Develop marketing skills
- Define your niche
- Set up a legal business entity
- Establish an online presence
- Set the pricing of your marketing consulting services
- Start freelancing on the side of your day job
- Develop a portfolio of work
- Network with other professionals and businesses
- Engage in professional development
- Plan for the 3 major considerations of a self employed freelancer
- Consider outsourcing tasks to become more efficient
There are over 296,112 freelance marketing consultants employed in the United States, with some making upwards of $144K/year, according to Zippia. Considering that the digital advertising and marketing field is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 13.9% between 2022 and 2030, according to Yahoo Finance, the amount of opportunities for freelance consultants with digital marketing skills are likely going to be plentiful through this decade. Therefore, those that take the necessary steps to become a freelance marketing consultant can position themselves for a bright future.
A freelance marketing consultant is a marketing professional that guides companies on their marketing initiatives on a contractual basis. Marketing consultants can do many things, including advising a business on marketing strategy, helping to manage marketing teams, assisting in setting up marketing campaigns, and occasionally performing high-level marketing tasks themself for a business. In the following article, we break down how to become a freelance marketing consultant in 12 steps, including planning for 3 major considerations of a self employed freelancer to ensure optimal financial and health outcomes.
1. Self assessment
The first step in becoming a freelance marketing consultant is to assess whether freelance consulting is right for you. Compared with traditional employment, income as a freelance marketing consultant is likely to be unstable because you earn income through a combination of temporary work engagements. You won’t receive any employer-provided benefits like health insurance, 401K matching, or paid time off (PTO). You’ll have to be constantly on the hunt for new opportunities if you want to have work. There won’t be anyone guiding you. Your success is determined completely by your actions alone.
With that being said, freelancing as a digital marketing consultant can be a rewarding option for those with the right traits and ambitions. Freelance marketing consultants can out earn employed marketing professionals because their income isn’t capped by a salary. Your income is only limited by the amount of hours you’re willing to work. Furthermore, you have extensive flexibility as to when, where, and how you perform your work tasks. Freelance marketing consultant may be a good choice for you if you are:
Of course, most important of all is having strong skills and experience in digital marketing so that you can help clients to successfully pursue marketing initiatives.
2. Develop marketing skills
Freelance digital marketing consultants support clients with a range of online marketing services, like social media management and search engine optimization. If you have already obtained expertise in some aspect of digital marketing through years of experience, you can start consulting businesses on those services. For those with little or no digital marketing experience, you will need to learn digital marketing skills and implement those skills on projects before you start making money through consulting. It’s best to focus on achieving mastery in one area of digital marketing in the beginning to optimize your hireability and income potential, and expand your skills from there. Fortunately, there are many freelance marketing jobs you can perform as a consultant, depending on your interests and preferences.
What are the best digital marketing skills to learn for a freelance marketing consultant?
3. Define your niche
Defining a specific target audience to offer your consulting services to as a freelance digital marketer makes it easier to attract new clients. Businesses are more likely to contract your services if they see that you have helped similar businesses in their same industry achieve successful results. Defining a niche also enables you to control your ideal client persona. For example, maybe you decide your ideal clients are dental offices because they tend to generate stable, high revenue that allows you to be compensated well for your work over a long-term timeframe.
Many digital marketing services require that you have some expertise and insight to be able to deliver a high quality service to the customer as well. For example, a content writer creating blog posts for a dental office would need to be familiar with dental-related vocabulary to better ensure accurate coverage of topics and to know which keywords are best included for SEO. Although you can certainly expand your freelance digital marketing consulting business into more niches eventually, focusing on one smaller niche when getting started can enable you a competitive advantage in a highly competitive industry.
4. Set up a legal business entity
Setting up a legal business entity when getting started as a digital marketing consultant freelancer is not a required step, but many decide to do it anyway because it offers many advantages over operating as a sole proprietor. In the United States, an LLC is a common legal business entity used by freelance consultants that offers some protection and better organization without the extensive paperwork and ongoing reporting requirements corporations must comply with. The benefits of setting up an LLC for a freelance marketing consultant business are:
5. Establish an online presence
As a freelance digital marketing consultant, you will need to establish an online presence so that potential clients can find and hire you. There are many ways you can establish an online presence as a freelance marketing consultant, including:
- Setting up a profile on freelancing platforms like Upwork and Freelancer
- Creating a personal website portfolio
- Writing a blog on marketing topics for your niche
- Having a LinkedIn profile with "Open to providing services" enabled
- Operating social media accounts that provide free marketing advice
- Running paid advertisements with your services
Having a comprehensive marketing plan, such as utilizing both freelancing platforms and a social media strategy, can improve your online visibility and enable you to get more clients.
6. Set the pricing of your marketing consulting services
Setting your prices as a freelance consultant is an essential step because it directly impacts your income potential. Setting your prices too high limits the amount of clients that are able to work with you while setting your prices too low means you are leaving money on the table. You can eventually charge between $65 and $300/hour for marketing consulting, according to marketing consultant data from freelancing platform Guru. However, freelance marketing consultants operating on Guru tend to be experts in their field or niche and so can earn a higher rate. A more realistic figure for a beginner is around $40/hour, according to data from ZipRecruiter.
How to set pricing as a freelance marketing consultant?
- Research the competition - See what other freelance marketing consultants are charging by using methods like visiting competitor websites, browsing offers on freelance platforms, or reaching out to businesses in your niche who have worked with consultants to ask how much they were charged.
- Consider different fee structures - Besides charging hourly, you can also consider charging by the project or get paid through a commission for the actual results your marketing consulting causes, such as taking a 25% cut of the additional profit your copywriting insights allow a business in an email marketing campaign.
- Calculate your hourly rate - Once you’ve researched the competition and decided how you want to primarily charge clients, you can calculate your standard hourly rate. An hourly rate helps you measure if you are charging enough on all projects or if you should consider charging hourly.
7. Start freelancing on the side of your day job
Once you’ve handled all the business setup and planning aspects of starting your freelance marketing consultant business, it’s time to start taking on clients. Considering that 55% of freelancers also work full-time jobs according to Market Splash, you’ll most likely need to start your freelancing career on the side of a day job. If you’re using your marketing skills on your business, such as creating social media posts, or you have profiles setup on freelancing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, a potential client may reach out to you.
However, you’ll most likely need to reach out to clients directly to start getting business in the beginning. You can do this by researching businesses in your niche and analyzing where your marketing consulting services can improve their business. Then, directly reach out to the business with your findings and propose a meeting to discuss some solutions to their issues, where you will try to land them as a new client for your business. You could also send proposals on a freelancing platform like Upwork, where clients post jobs and freelancers submit bids.
8. Develop a portfolio of work
As you perform work for clients, it’s important to record your projects and results in a portfolio for future potential clients to reference. This provides potential clients with a visual understanding of your work and how it could affect their business. This portfolio should also contain client testimonials. That’s because approximately 90% of people report that they trust what a customer has said about a business over what a business claims about itself, according to Wyzowl. Therefore, including testimonials in your consulting portfolio makes it much more convincing for a new client to work with you.
Make sure to show how your marketing consulting has impacted your clients' revenue instead of just providing basic marketing metrics, such as increased followers on Instagram. Although there are many marketing metrics to reference, the only thing that really matters to a business is how your marketing efforts impact their bottom line.
9. Network with other professionals and businesses
Networking is one of the most beneficial actions for career development because it opens you up to more opportunities than you would otherwise have. In fact, a LinkedIn survey which interviewed people on how they got their job found that 73% of respondents received an employment opportunity after being introduced by someone they knew. As a freelance consultant, you can network with other marketing professionals to exchange industry insights and work opportunities. You can also network with businesses in your target niche to obtain a deeper understanding of their industry and the issues they face, while also opening yourself to more opportunities through those connections.
10. Engage in professional development
A freelance marketing consultant should engage in ongoing professional development. As an industry that takes place completely in the digital world, digital marketing is at the forefront of technological change, which requires that digital marketing professionals are dynamic and adjust to those changes in order to remain relevant. Fortunately, there are many options for ensuring your digital marketing skills and knowledge are keeping pace with the rapid changes. You can
- Sign up for marketing email newsletters like Stacked Marketer or Marketing Brew
- Read marketing blogs like Search Engine Land or HubSpot
- Attend marketing seminars and conferences like Affiliate World, MozCon, or LeadsCon
- Enroll in digital courses like Google Analytics 4 of Google Skillshop training platform
11. Plan for the 3 major considerations of a self employed freelancer
Freelance digital marketers offering consulting services don’t get support from the companies they work with like employees do, so you need to take some matters into your own hands. Some of the major considerations you need to plan for as a freelancer in the US include:
- Paying quarterly tax payments to the IRS
- Purchasing health insurance coverage
- Saving for retirement
1. Paying quarterly tax payments to the IRS
As a self employed freelancer in the United States, taxes aren’t automatically withheld from your paycheck like a W-4 employee. Therefore, you need to send estimated tax payments to the IRS each quarter with a Form 1040-ES to avoid getting penalized when annual tax filing comes around. If you’re unsure about this, it’s best to hire an accountant to help you navigate your tax obligations so you can avoid paying the government more of your freelance income than you should.
2. Purchasing health insurance coverage
Self employed individuals like freelancers and consultants are responsible for getting their own health insurance. Although health insurance is no longer mandatory in the United States since a rule change in 2019, you’ll still definitely want to invest in a good health insurance policy as the US has one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world. Fortunately, your healthcare insurance premium is tax deductible from your freelancer income. Some of the best health insurance options for self-employed individuals, according to Investopedia, include:
- Blue Cross Blue Shield
- Kaiser Permanente
3. Saving for retirement
Freelancers don’t have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans like a 401(k), so you’ll need to make preparations for retirement savings on your own. Fortunately, there are many retirement accounts you can open as a self employed individual, such as a Solo 401(k), traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, or SIMPLE IRA. Experts recommend that you save at least 10% to 15% of your income for retirement, according to Nerd Wallet.
12. Consider outsourcing tasks to become more efficient
If you want to make the most of your time, you can consider outsourcing aspects of your work to other freelance digital marketers. For example, you can contract a freelance digital marketer to help you with market research for a client. If you pay a freelancer $30/hour to assist you with marketing tasks but charge your client $60/hour for your time and expertise, you can use your time more effectively and make more money because you’ll be able to accommodate additional client work. However, this strategy is only possible if you have advanced expertise in a particular digital marketing service or industry niche.
Can you make money doing freelance marketing?
Yes, you can make money doing freelance marketing. The freelance marketing consultant salary ranges between $49K to $144K/year, according to Zippia. The amount of money you can make as a freelance marketing consultant depends on your specific marketing skill set, successful experiences, target niche, and amount of hours or projects you complete as a freelancer. It's also heavily dependent on your ability to prospect new clients and close deals.
Is it hard to be a freelance marketer?
It is hard to be a freelance marketer. You need to have extensive expertise and experience to receive work opportunities from clients over your competition. You need a portfolio filled with successful marketing outcomes and positive client testimonials, which take time to acquire. Freelance marketing is difficult because your success isn’t based solely on your work, it’s also based on the actions and the offer of the client that you’re working with. If your client has a poor quality offer or doesn’t fully implement the marketing recommendations you provide, an optimal outcome isn’t likely.
Related Articles on Freelance Marketing
Conclusion: Is freelance marketing consulting the best way to make money online with digital marketing?
Freelance marketing consulting is not the best way to make money online with digital marketing. Although freelance marketing consultants can make a solid income, limited scalability and lack of paid time off are some major drawbacks that cause many to reconsider spending their time working as a freelance marketing consultant. Freelance work can be a solid short term income opportunity or even an ongoing side hustle to make some extra money when it’s convenient, but it’s not really a viable long term option for most, especially those who want the ability to take time off and still earn income.
Local lead generation is an alternative online opportunity to consider where the digital marketing skill of SEO is used to rank websites on Google to generate leads for local businesses. These local lead generation websites can generate passive income so that the creator doesn’t need to be actively working in order to earn money, like a marketing consultant with a freelance business does. Local lead generation works by targeting a specific service niche in a specific geographic location, such as roofing in Dallas. Then, you typically spend between 6 weeks to 6 months to get a business website for that niche to rank in the Google Map pack so that potential customers in that location see your website and inquire about the services offered. You then sell these leads to an actual local business who wants to perform the service for the customer to earn money for between $500 and $3,000/month.
Local businesses that you partner with to take your leads will typically stick with you for the long run because your website is usually a more efficient marketing channel than they otherwise have available to them and they don’t want a local competitor to get the leads from you. Paired with the fact that local lead generation websites require little maintenance or overhead costs and you have a business model that generates passive income with high profit margins. You can learn more about local lead generation with this lead gen course that has taught over 7,000 students how to make passive income online by building websites that attract customers for small businesses.