Deciding to start your own freelance digital marketing business can be extremely intimidating at first. This article will help cover the various types of digital marketing services you can provide with your freelance business, some of the pros and cons, how to get your first clients, and much more.
What is freelance digital marketing?
To put it simply, a freelance digital marketer is a self-employed individual who uses their digital marketing skills (website design, search engine optimization, social media marketing, etc).
These digital marketers use their expertise to help businesses leverage digital media to bring in more customers. Some freelance digital marketers focus on one specific specialization (i.e. website design) while others may offer a suite of services.
If you are looking to start a business in this space, depending on your skillset and how comfortable you feel with outsourcing different components of projects, you will have to decide if you want to offer just a few digital marketing services or an entire array of them.
How to become a freelance digital marketer
Becoming a freelance digital marketer requires two main components — learning the practical skills that you will need on the digital marketing side (website design, SEO, social media marketing, etc) and learning the sales and marketing skills required to get actual clients in the door.
From my personal experience, almost every single digital marketer that ends up giving up their ambitions to be a freelancer and be their own boss fails because they do not place enough emphasis on the sales and marketing side of their business.
Simply put, you can be the world’s best digital marketer but if you can’t effectively communicate the value that you’re offering to potential clients, you won’t be able to help out any businesses.
For the practical skills, I’ve found that online courses on Udemy are fantastic. If you are on a tighter budget and can’t afford online courses, there are always free options such as YouTube videos or going to the local library and reading up on a digital marketing topic that interests you.
Additionally, it’s another great option to get a degree in a major that will help with freelance digital marketing. These can be specific majors such as Computer Science or more generic ones such as Marketing to get the basic concepts.
In regards to the sales and marketing side of the freelance business, the same resources apply. I would mainly focus on books for these topics, as some of the world’s greatest marketers have written fantastic pieces. Some of my personal favorites are:
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller
Pros and cons of freelance digital marketing
Similar to any other industry, the freelance digital marketing world comes with different pros and cons. From my personal experience and working with others in the industry for years, this is what I’ve found are the main ones to point out:
Location independence – As long as you’re in an area with an Internet connection, you can run your freelance digital marketing business from anywhere in the world. This has led individuals to work remotely from exotic locations all over the world.
No limit on your income – Unlike a typical 9-5 job where the best you can hope for is a promotion or slight raise, there is no cap on the amount of money you can make as a freelance digital marketer. It’s a great opportunity to learn and grow a business from the ground up.
Extremely low startup costs – You won’t need to put aside your life savings to start this business, it’s very easy to get started quickly and see high-profit margins since expenses are very low in this industry.
Income volatility – Especially in the beginning of your digital marketing self-employment, you’ll find as opposed to a safe and secure 9-5 job, there will be some great months and some difficult months to deal with as you work to bring in new business.
Focus and motivation – As you are working by yourself, there will be no boss or external source of motivation or focus and it will be all on you to get yourself to take action to work on building your business.
Overcoming negative impressions – Due to the industry reputation that’s been damaged by individuals sending out mass spam emails pitching digital marketing services, business owners can be wary of replying back.
Skills needed to be a successful digital marketer
As briefly mentioned in a previous section, the main skills that are needed in the digital marketing space mainly focus on the practical skills of various digital marketing specializations and the skills of marketing.
It is my opinion that the mental aspect of things is more demanding than any technical knowledge. As this is a very competitive market space, you will need to have mental fortitude and resilience to learn from the failures and move on to the next prospective client.
In terms of the actual practical digital marketing skills needed, a good start would be to look up some courses or read some materials around the basics of:
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising such as Google Ads Management
Social Media Management
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
How do freelancers make money in digital marketing?
According to the Digital Marketing Institute, the average US salary for a freelance digital marketer from 2018 was $66,206 per year.
To get more specific, it depends on which digital marketing services that you’re offering. Some digital marketing services such as SEO or social media management are typically on a recurring monthly basis.
Recurring monthly income is great to have a steady source of revenue coming in, but it also means that you can get tied down with a few different clients.
For other cases, one-off payments are more standard such as for updating a client’s website or providing an overall digital marketing strategy.
These types of deals offer more flexibility because you work at your own pace but can be stressful at times as your month’s income can be very volatile depending on the number of clients that you bring in.
The most important lesson to learn here is to not compare your current income in the digital marketing space to others or any averages, and to instead focus on your goals/objectives for the year.
Where to find freelance digital marketing jobs
As with any other business, clients don’t choose to work with you because you’re the world’s best freelance digital marketer – they make their choices because they know, like, and trust you.
The following examples are just mediums to get in front of the right types of potential clients for you and your business, but the main thing to remember is that the focus is on how you can help others and accurately convey the value of what you can provide.
Here are just a few different ways to find freelance digital marketing jobs:
Your local chamber of commerce or a more structured group such as a BNI can be great options to build trust with individuals when you are just starting out.
Some examples of these would include the following: SolidGigs, Upwork, and Freelancer.
This can be targeted cold calls and/or cold emails to businesses that you’ve determined could use your digital marketing help.
Social media outreach
Leveraging LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc. you can reach out to business owners and other important decision-makers.
Types of freelance digital marketing jobs
SEO: Search engine optimization (SEO) is when a digital marketer optimizes a client’s website to work well with a search engine (such as Google’s) algorithm for ranking websites.
These campaigns target specific keywords that potential clients would search for the respective business. This also covers working on off-page SEO factors such as getting other websites to link back to your business site (backlinks).
Social Media Marketing: This type of digital marketing is running a client’s social media presence to drive business in. This is typically done with the more popular platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc.
Email Marketing: This involves collecting an email list from interested parties for a business and then leveraging that to send targeted email campaigns to bring in more business. This could be sending out discounts/promotions or teaching your audience something educational that they’d be interested in.
Content Marketing: This includes providing excellent educational content to your target audience. For example, if you want to promote your online guitar lessons class, you would release free articles and videos about how to get started with guitar basics. The free content provides trust and helps position you and your brand as the expert and authority figure.
Video Marketing: Similar to content marketing, this is providing high-quality videos to your target audience. This can be either for free or paid ads such as before YouTube videos start using the Google Ad platform.
Web Analytics: This is an often-overlooked type of freelance digital marketing where you’d dive into the website analytics for a given business. This would be looking at the website traffic, trend analysis, breakdown of visitors (location, age, time on site, where they’re clicking, etc).
Local Listings: This can be extremely effective for businesses that only target their specific local areas. This would be leveraging tools such as Google My Business, Yelp, etc to focus their targeting efforts for paid advertisements specific on those in their geographic location.
Advertising: Freelance digital marketers that work to provide advertising typically operate in the pay-per-click (PPC) space. They set up specific ads that would be placed in popular search engines such as Google or Bing to target individuals who are searching for something related to the product/service that their business is offering.
Influencer Marketing: This type of freelance digital marketing targets influencers on social media who have a large following (for example, a celebrity with 1 million followers on Instagram) making a sponsored post on Instagram to promote your firm’s coconut water.
Although this can be quite expensive if it’s someone very famous, if they have a targeted audience that fits a business’ target market, it can be well worth it.
Freelance digital marketing tips
After running my own freelance digital marketing business for approximately 2 years now, these are the best top tips that I can provide for how to get started in this space:
Focus on results while building your portfolio
Everyone gets caught up in trying to make as much as possible in the beginning with their new digital marketing business. The main goal should be bringing on clients that you know you can deliver for.
If you over-deliver and knock a project out of the park, then it will be that much easier to sell the next few clients. You won’t just be selling your services, but your proven track record of how you can help other similar businesses.
Reframe failures into learning experiences
Far too often people beat themselves up when they aren’t able to close a deal with a prospective client. Failure is a byproduct of taking action and putting in the effort to grow your business and that’s naturally going to happen from time to time.
Instead of beating yourself up, think what can you do differently next time and how can you learn/grow from this experience.
Don’t waste your time with meaningless tasks
In the widely-acclaimed book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, one specific habit he includes is putting first things first.
Simply put, identify the one specific task that you need to complete to work on growing your business and prioritize that until it’s completed.
A common mistake is people get tied up on hypotheticals or non-important items that hold them back. A great example is someone spending weeks trying to create the “perfect” business card, but they eventually never actually attend a networking meeting or start their business.
Put the excuses aside, start right now
There will never be a perfect time to get started with your digital marketing business. If you can’t devote your full-time effort, then spend an hour a night learning a digital marketing skill or reading a book on the subject.
The main point of this tip is to simply just keep moving forward in the right direction. Anyone can come up with an excuse, but it’s the people that want to earn their freedom from the 9-5 grind that take action every day.
Why freelance digital marketing?
From my personal experience running a freelance digital marketing firm, any drawbacks or cons are far outweighed by the benefits that come along with the freedom and lifestyle that comes with operating this business.
I’d highly recommend it to anyone on the fence, as even if it ends up not being a long-term business that you’d like to pursue, you will be amazed at how much you learn.
I’ve seen many colleagues and friends move on from digital marketing and leverage the sales/marketing/business lessons to start another business.
The opportunities are out there, it’s a growing industry (and expected to continue to grow) and all of the information you could possibly need is free and available online. Take the first step now and work on getting your freedom back from the cubicle 9-5 lifestyle.
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