Hootsuite recently published an article called “How To Become a Social Media Consultant in 2023.” I was honored to be featured in their roundup.
I shared a lot of tips for the article, and not all of them made their way into the final draft. So I figured I’d take my tips, add a few more, and share them with you now.
Want to become a social media or digital marketing consultant?
Here is my advice:
Respond to Emails… Quickly
First things first, respond to emails. (This was my tip that did make it into the article, and it’s an important one!)
When I first got started as a digital marketing consultant, I did not have a large network in my community (or in general). I had a website, but it wasn’t showing up on the first page of Google for digital marketing consultant… or for much else!
But I hustled, I got involved, I created loads of content (more on all of this in a bit) and I did the work of getting myself known.
And leads started coming in.
And when they did, you better believe I replied to them.
In my early days as a digital marketing consultant, I got several gigs simply by being not just the first — but often the only — one to respond!
It was shocking to me how many in the field were hustling so hard for leads… and then ignoring them when they hit their inbox.
It didn’t matter if I was the perfect fit, or totally wrong, I responded to every email. And I responded quickly.
And that simple fact set me apart right at the top of the process.
I’ve now been a digital marketing consultant for many years — but guess what: I still respond to every email. And I still respond quickly.
Get Involved and Say Yes
It doesn’t matter how talented you are, or how much experience you have, unless you are walking away from a job with a roster of digital marketing consulting clients in hand (in which case, good for you!), you need to find ways to get yourself known.
I’m a consummate content marketer (more on this below) but the best way to get known is to show up!
When I was first starting out as a digital marketing consultant, I joined a coworking community. And I got involved in a bunch of networking groups. And showed up to events where I knew I would meet other entrepreneurs, freelancers and digital marketers.
I never went anywhere looking for clients. I just wanted to grow my network.
People can spot a salesperson a mile away at a networking event. You can try and sell — but you’ll be disappointed every time. Instead, go to learn, to meet new people, to offer value where you can.
Not only did I make some long-lasting friends during this period of my life, I also joined nonprofit boards, met awesome and brilliant people… and ultimately got a lot of my early clients through direct connections I made just being out in the community and getting involved.
Which brings me to the second part of getting involved… don’t be afraid to say yes!
I volunteered a lot of my time when I was first starting out as a digital marketing consultant (which is something I still do!!!). And I can directly connect the dots between things I did as a volunteer when I was starting out and all of my initial big clients.
- I volunteered to run a free training for a cohort of nonprofits to get better at Twitter (RIP to that once great platform). The cohort was sponsored by a large company, and someone from the company attended the training. They wound up hiring me to help them with their digital marketing!
- I attended networking events at my coworking space where we, as a group, provided free “audits” for local organizations covering digital marketing, branding and all kinds of other things. Someone from the networking group recognized the value I was bringing to the room and connected me with my largest client at the time for what turned out to be a massive project.
- I was once at a networking event and someone called me over to meet a colleague who was struggling with their Facebook Ads. We chatted for 20 minutes, and I helped him troubleshoot some possible solutions. He was so happy with the results, he wound up bringing me in to help them ramp up their entire digital marketing program.
Bear in mind, I didn’t volunteer to run that Twitter training expecting it to lead to a gig. I didn’t go to those group audits hoping someone would send me a referral. And I didn’t help the guy with his Facebook Ads so he’d hire me. I did all of those things because I am obsessed with digital marketing and a true believer in its power to help companies, organizations and brands do great things in the world!
And let’s not overlook the fact that for every story I can share today about such a result, there were ten more times I helped out without it leading to new clients.
If you’re good at what you do, and you can help folks improve, do it! You’ll add to the good in the world, while growing your personal brand in the process.
And if you want to be a digital marketing consultant, it’s one of the best ways to get started.
Join Digital Communities… and Be Nice!
It’s worth clarifying that “getting out there” doesn’t just have to be a local endeavor. I’m active in numerous digital communities with folks who, on paper look like my competitors.
But forget that!
I get leads through my communities. But I also share leads. And most importantly, I learn from my peers.
Not every client is going to be the right fit for you — if you can refer them to a better fit, great! I can say, without a doubt, that one of the most valuable tools in my digital marketing consultant toolkit, is the digital communities I’ve joined (or even started!).
If I have a question, someone in there likely has an answer.
And if someone else has a question, and I can answer it, I’m definitely going to.
This field is not zero sum — far from it!
My brother is a jazz musician in New York. You’d think a lot of the big players would be jerks. Not at all. He says there are so many great players in the scene that if you’re not a nice person, no one is going to call you.
What a great twist! Who cares how good you are — if you’re not pleasant to work with, no one’s going to call!
If you have a huge ego, or you treat people badly, don’t expect a lot of referrals.
I get a ton of referrals from my “competitors” who see me as a better fit for particular clients or projects. And I regularly send folks to them if they’re a better fit than me for someone I’m talking to.
Be nice, help when you can. The world’s too small to be a jerk.
Become A Content Marketer
While I highly encourage you to get out there, and stay out there, doing so has its limitations. And as you get busy with your digital marketing consulting, it gets harder and harder to say yes.
(That said, I still say yes and I’m still out there sitting on boards and staying involved, no matter how busy my business gets.)
You only have so many hours in the day to weigh in and problem-solve for your peers in Facebook Groups.
Along with IRL and digital networking, you should also be focused on content marketing.
Per the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is:
“a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Put simply, content marketing is adding value to the world, rather than trying to make your pitch.
I have two podcasts, both focused on digital marketing.
- The first is called Step Up Your Social. All episodes are short (~10 minutes or less) providing quick, actionable tips to take your digital marketing to the next level. Find all episodes at StepUpYourSocial.com or wherever you stream podcasts.
- The second is called Hello Merge Tag. It looks at social media, politics and where they intersect. Listen to all episodes at HelloMergeTag.com or wherever you stream podcasts.
Along with my traditional newsletter, I also have a second freestanding newsletter called Free Digital Tools. I share 2 free digital tools every 2 weeks. Learn more and subscribe at freetools.digital.
I create content on social media constantly. I share tips, tricks and hacks, updates in the field, case studies of organizations doing good digital marketing… whatever I can to add value to my community. You can connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, Instagram and/or Facebook if you’d like to learn with me over there.
I blog… often. While Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be a slow build, blogging is one of the best tools in your digital marketing tool kit to rank better on Google. I have blog posts I wrote years ago that still send loads of traffic to my website.
I am always looking for ways to build my audience. But notice that every single thing I mentioned above is about giving away value with no expectation of… well anything!
I don’t charge for my newsletters. I don’t worry about people stealing my ideas. The whole point is that I’m constantly working to show my understanding and expertise in the field of digital marketing. What better way is there to share that than… to just share it!
And while I expect nothing in return for anything I put into the world, I regularly get digital marketing consulting leads from my network.
Don’t Try To Be An Expert At Everything (You’ll Fail!)
When I first started out as a digital marketing consultant, I’d been running digital programs on political campaigns. I had moved cross country three times in a year and realized I had to find a different path.
So I decided I’d start a firm and test my hand as a digital marketing consultant, using the skills I had learned on political campaigns to help brands of all shapes and sizes grow and scale their digital marketing programs.
I was really good at a few specific things. But I was lacking a ton!
I didn’t know anything about Pinterest. I couldn’t build a website from scratch. I had no experience running Google Ads.
I thought I had to learn… well everything!… before I could start.
But that was absolutely incorrect! I realized I would never be as good at building websites as so many others in the field. So instead of trying to compete, I decided to lean in on what I was already great at.
I doubled (and tripled!) down on my core skills. And I found others to refer to or partner with for projects beyond my skillset.
But I also never stopped learning.
Digital marketing is constantly changing. You can’t be an expert in anything these days without doing the work to keep up (more on this below).
So keep up with the things you’re great at. But also recognize that they could literally disappear overnight.
I used to get hired to bring conferences to life on Twitter. Needless to say, no one is hiring me to do that anymore!
If I wasn’t constantly keeping up, I would have had to switch professions.
But I never stop learning.
I keep adding new skills to the list of things in which I would consider myself an “expert.”
AND I make sure I had a solid passing understanding of the things in which I’m not an expert.
You don’t have to be a WordPress developer to have a basic understanding of how WordPress works.
You don’t have to be a digital ads manager to know the difference between reach and impressions or to know what CPR, CPC and CPM mean.
Be good at a few things and work to have a basic understanding of everything else.
You’ll do just fine!
You Have To Enjoy The Work Of Keeping Up — And You’re Going To Need A Process
I’m regularly asked what the most important thing is for being a successful social media marketing consultant. My answer is always the same: you have to enjoy spending time on social media.
You have to enjoy learning about the changes… which are constant and often massive.
This isn’t a field where you can learn everything once and then continue to call yourself an expert. There are dominant platforms in the field today that literally didn’t exist when I first started working as a digital marketing consultant. (Ever heard of TikTok?!)
Does this mean you need a massive following on social media to be successful? It does not! If you want to grow a following, it can’t hurt you to get clients.
But there’s a big difference between growing your own channels and growing those of your clients.
You have to have some ways to get noticed in the field — as we discussed above. But being a viral influencer on Instagram is NOT a requirement for being a successful digital marketing consultant.
Ignore anyone who tells you otherwise.
But while you don’t need a million followers to make this work, you do need to be active.
I regularly read news and blogs about digital marketing. I subscribe to a ton of digital marketing newsletters. I listen to a bunch of digital marketing podcasts. I’m in a lot digital communities with fellow digital marketing consultants to keep learning alongside my peers.
And I spend a ton of time on social media.
And if I see a button I’ve never seen before, I click it!
If I see a new functionality being rolled out, I test it!
I don’t have to use every tool in my digital marketing toolkit every day (there are so many it literally wouldn’t be possible!). But I do strive to know what they all are and in what situations they might be useful.
Here’s a blog post I wrote about Instagram Guides when they first rolled out. I didn’t have to create 20 of these. I created one, wrote up the process and now have this tool in my digital toolkit to lean on when I think it might help one of my clients.
This is where “process” comes in. Scrolling social media is integral to being able to train and consult on it. It helps keep you informed and inspired, seeing what others are doing to get to the top of the feed.
But you can’t JUST scroll social media and expect to keep up.
You have to find more reliable paths to ensure you aren’t missing anything big and important.
There are loads of websites, blogs, Facebook Groups, newsletters, podcasts, YouTube channels, etc that provide such roundups. Find one (or ten!) you like and subscribe.
Digital marketing is far too fast-paced a field for you to ever stop learning.
Which is a good thing when it comes to consulting — our digital marketing clients constantly need our help! But it’s also an endless process. So be sure that constantly learning new things gives you energy before getting into the field. Because if you find the work of keeping up to be depleting, you’re not going to want to do this for very long.
Some Pros And Cons Of Being A Digital Marketing Consultant
Some obvious pros:
- Lots of freedom — I often joke that I don’t have a boss… but I have a lot of bosses. That said, being a consultant means not having a 9-5. You set your own hours (within reason — you have to overlap with your clients to a degree).
- Flexibility — Want to travel or take time off? You can build your consultancy in a way that allows that. Want to go to a conference or take a class? You don’t need anyone’s permission.
- Potential to make good money — I know digital marketing consultants who are crushing it financially. And I’ve known one’s who barely scraped by. There are so many factors in place. But if you can get things going and you’re good at what you do, there’s no ceiling to what you can potentially earn.
Some cons to be aware of:
- It doesn’t matter how good you are at consulting, you’re doing to spend a decent part of your time trying to find new clients. That’s not a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of. You’re going to need to keep on building those flywheels, and getting involved in the community and writing proposals… all the stuff you have to do in order to get to the fun part of actually working with clients.
- There is no paid time off — you can take off as much time as you want, but when you’re not working, you’re not earning.
- There are no benefits (in the traditional sense of the word) — being self-employed means paying for your own health insurance, retirement and all that fun stuff. You can go to as many conferences and take as many classes as you want without anyone’s permission. But you are also paying for it without anyone’s help.
- While you can potentially make a lot of money, you can also make literally no money. If you are currently struggling to make ends meet, you might consider building your digital marketing consultancy as a side hustle while working a job, until you feel you are in a position to be able to skip a paycheck here and there.
- I said above that “I don’t have a boss, but I have a lot of bosses.” In some ways, that’s freeing. I can lose one job without it destroying my business. But depending on how you set up your business, it does mean answering to a lot of different folks. That’s not a bad thing (not at all!), but it is something to consider if your primary reason for becoming a digital marketing consultant is to stop answering to other people.
That’s My List — Anything To Add?
If you are a digital marketing consultant and you have anything to add to this list, please share it with me in the comments or on social.
If you are thinking about getting started as a digital marketing consultant, I hope this list was helpful.
And as you can probably imagine, I spend a lot of time there!