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How to become a freelance marketing consultant in 4 steps
Living the freelance life is becoming more and more common. In fact, the fastest growing industries are reportedly hiring a big chunk of their new workers as independent consultants, rather than traditional employees. What does this mean for you? More job categories than ever before are available to work as a freelancer, and among the most exciting – and good-paying – is marketing!
1. What is a marketing consultant?
The definitions and job duties for this term can vary from company to company, but some tasks seem to be reasonably common from one position to another. Freelance marketing consultants are responsible for customer outreach programs, advertising campaigns, and other growth-related initiatives that help the company reach their targets for sales, new customers, and existing customer retention.
Because this is such a huge part of a company’s day-to-day, the job description for a marketing consultant can vary widely. Common areas that a marketing consultant might assist with include:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Social media marketing (SMM)
- Direct marketing
- Website copy
- Affiliate programs
- Lead acquisition programs
- Video creation and syndication
A marketing consultant must be able to analyze data, create reports, and find trends in information to help create a path forward for companies who want to grow their business. Also, referred to as a “brand marketing” consultant, this job will require the ability to learn new tools and technologies quickly and work well without supervision.
Does this position require a degree? Not always. While it can help you break into some traditional marketing positions, a degree is becoming less and less relevant as companies seek out fresh, engaged, and motivated individuals to lead their marketing campaigns. Many start-ups, if given a choice, would choose the ability to learn quickly and motivation for growth over a traditional marketing degree. Life experience can speak volumes here, as well. If you've owned a business or ran marketing initiatives for a family-owned company, for example, a degree won't necessarily keep you from opportunities.
2. First steps to becoming a consultant
Like any freelance business, it’s best to have some basics established before opening the virtual doors to your new endeavour. A simple website, explaining your strengths and interests, is recommended. You should also have a properly-filled out LinkedIn profile, as many people will use it to gauge your level of professionalism, as well as possibly list job opportunities there.
A strong portfolio is a must, as well. Even if you don’t have very many formal, paid examples of your marketing work, it’s important to list out any volunteer projects or samples of work you may have done for yourself (or even friends or relatives.) Like any excellent design portfolio, be sure you have permission to display samples and be aware of any copyright or client confidentiality clauses you may be subject to.
If you don't explicitly have permission to share information from a campaign, general descriptors can work. Merely stating that you "helped grow reach on an Instagram campaign for a major software company" is better than nothing and won't usually go against any contract terms.
Statistics are a must here. Be ready to prove that your efforts paid off for companies who hired you. Speak in plain language, tying back your work to the benefit of the partnership. An explicit ROI (return on investment) is more convincing than anything. Show how your consulting expertise was of good value to your clients and partners.
Another way you can get your business off to a good start is by embracing a niche. While there is much discussion as to whether you have to pick just one business category to work within, most freelancers agree that it helps give you an edge – especially when first starting out and without much experience to share. Here are some examples of ways that freelance marketing consultants have “niched down” and settled on a specific business function or vertical to focus their skills:
- Providing social media strategy for athletic teams and groups
- Developed affiliate partnerships for mobile phone services
- Created video branding strategy for the banking field
As you can see, these are pretty specific, but the beauty of niching down is that you can choose to focus on your skillset or the industry. Someone who chose the first niche can then go on to service other clients in the athletic industry or open their skills to anyone looking for reliable social media strategies. The ability to move within a category or a skillset gives you more room to build clientele without having to learn everything new with each client. The familiarity you develop over time can give you the advantage over new marketing consultants in the same skillset or industry.
3. Growing your network
Like most jobs in the freelance world, it’s really about who you know. The more people you are connected to – both virtually and in real life – the higher chances you have of getting work on a regular basis by finding new clients. The ideal client is one who seeks you out or who is referred your way from a past client or colleague, as these partnerships seem to favor the freelancer regarding work scope and payment, but for the first few years of your business, you'll likely have to prospect fairly aggressively.
One popular outreach method is by setting up profiles on sites like UpWork and Freelancer.com. You should model your profile in the same manner as your LinkedIn and website profiles. You can also use the profiles of top freelancers on these sites to inspire best practices.
Always be aware of the potential for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in getting work. While this term is most often used to describe websites you own or operate, many of the search engines developed specifically for these freelance work platforms are set up to reward profiles that make good use of keywords. Don’t forget to include your niche, and words that best describe it, in your profile description and links to your work portfolio.
If you aren’t fond of bidding on jobs through a marketplace, you can always look at job postings. Many of the remote working sites available – even those geared toward the tech fields – often share marketing consultant positions on their job boards. It’s also possible to be proactive by applying for freelance marketing consultant jobs that haven’t been advertised yet. Seeing some developer or designer jobs from a single company is a sign that they are expecting to grow. That might be an excellent prospect to send an introductory email to, explaining your services and how you would be a good fit for their team.
4. Building momentum
Remember, that it only takes one successful job as a freelancer to consider yourself in business. One way to guarantee continued success is to communicate effectively. Many one-time projects have the potential to become retainer clients if handled well. You can also see your business multiply by asking your past clients for referrals. Just mentioning that you enjoyed working with them and that you'd be delighted to work with their colleagues may be enough to get an extra client here or there.
As with any business, your tools can be the difference between coming across as a professional and looking like a sketchy choice. Take time to create consistent branding across all of your channels, including social media, business cards, websites, and emails, so that your potential and current clients always know that they are speaking with you as a freelance marketing consultant. This branding should extend to the tools you use to send freelance invoices, track hours, and receive payments, as well. Since branding is at the heart of marketing, it’s wise to prove you know what you’re doing by starting with your own business before seeking to help others with theirs.