When you think of marketers, you likely think of staff at an agency. A space full of busy keyboards; the soft murmur of client consultations overheard in swanky meeting rooms nearby.
But what if I told you that there freelance digital marketers?
Becoming a marketing freelancer means you choose to work alone, or with a small team of fellow marketers. And you would do everything you would expect, from setting up Facebook or Google Ads, to scrutinizing a company’s branding.
The main difference is that instead of being employed by one company who manages all the client contracts, freelancers do the managing themselves. It’s a B2B relationship, without the middleman.
And for this same reason, freelancers have to bring their A-game. They have to continuously prove their worth, improve on what they already know, and showcase why people select them to do their marketing.
If you’ve been toying around with the idea of becoming a digital marketer yourself, then this guide is for you. We’ll be discussing everything it means and takes to be a freelancer.
Let’s get started.
Types of Freelancing
First thing is first: digital marketing isn’t just one thing. It involves an array of talents, like copywriting for blogs and landing pages, designing graphics for advertising and knowing how to improve your SEO, to name a few things.
When one person, one freelancer, can do all of them, it’s a relic. Consider that an exception to the rule. That’s why so many entrepreneurs who hire freelancers often work with a few digital marketers at a time.
That is unless they choose to work with a small team of marketers who can deliver on all fronts. But that may or may not get sticky, as one or two of those freelancers would get the bulk of the consistent work, rendering the rest moderately useful on a sporadic basis at best.
Still, many ways to approach this. For now, let’s touch base on the most basic step in becoming a marketing freelancer―figuring out which type you want to be.
Media Buyer - this revolves paid acquisition, as most new companies have absolutely no traffic, no content, and maybe even a complete lack of audience definitions.
Content Writer - those who work creating everything from basic website copy, to ebooks. They write blog posts, landing pages, newsletters, even video scripts for YouTube. Anything that involves writing for a brand, they can do it. In essence, they develop the style for everything moving forward.
Marketing Consultant - comes in to assess everything the business already has established, defines company goals, and then develops a plan for how to get there. This person needs to know the ins and outs of most areas of marketing, even if they don’t do it all themselves for their clients. They should be able to point at something and tell whether it’s going to work and why.
Social Media Marketer - this freelancer handles all of your social media accounts, including Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. They can post for you, schedule posts, and create original, on-brand content. They develop the public persona for you and your brand, either based on your target audience, or on your specifications, which is great for any type of business, but especially eCommerce.
Backlink Specialist - backlinking involves establishing relationships with other entrepreneurs, and leveraging content. That means they will reach out to many people in an attempt at getting client content linked to within their blog posts, their websites, social media, etc.
SEO Specialist - people can only make it so far without SEO, and as it turns out, it’s about as far as creating an empty website with no traction, and a low ranking on search results. A specialist will ensure it’s all set up, that keyword research is complete, and that your writers know exactly what to do moving forward, so your search ranking skyrockets.
Affiliate Marketer - revolves around managing affiliates, to ensure that products are marketed in the best possible way. They will provide links, images, and even content tips and ideas, so that affiliates can promote business products and services in a way that is reflective of both quality and the brand itself.
Community Marketer - these freelancers know how to bring people together through client forums, conferences, events, you name it. One of the most popular ways is to build a Facebook Group that revolves around a product or service, perhaps even a niche.
PR Coordinator - reaches out to journalists and publications that are industry, maybe even niche specific, and focuses on drafting press releases. Then figures out a way to get their client more news coverage, hence more exposure. Visibility is everything for a business, so this is critical.
B2B Demand Specialist - B2B lead generation takes time. It requires messaging, the right timing, the right blend of automation and hands-on approaches, all carefully thought out and conducted through a client’s sales funnel. It’s certainly the highest paid role here, but that’s because you’re typically working with some pretty high-paying leads.
Marketing Automation Specialist - this marketer comes in, assesses everything that can be automated, and then sets it up so it saves business overhead. They may even set up a chatbot, if you want someone to still answer basic questions, like store hours, long after EOD.
Engineering Marketing Specialist - not the most creative of people, they are called in when businesses need a techy freelancer to create software additions and the like. The goal is to increase demand generation.
The Day to Day
The beauty about being a freelancer is that no one’s day looks the same. When you work for someone else, say in an office, everyone generally has the same day outline. Everyone commutes, shows up to work, gets in front of their computer, and starts typing away on something.
But a freelancer? They may choose to work from a coffee shop, or their living room couch. They may decide to work a 4-day week, and tack on extra hours one day or two to clear up their Friday.
So, when we discuss the freelancer’s day-to-day, keep that in mind. No two freelancers have the same daily routine, this is just a general overview of what it could be like. Should you go about building a freelancing career, it may be entirely different than what’s outlined here.
One day may look like this:
Wake up, get ready for the day: this may include everything from hitting the gym first, or showering, or just enjoying a cup of coffee.
Check email, any phone calls or pending Skype messages. Slack conversations, social media, etc.
Ideally, network with people in your industry, since it’s never a bad idea to get advice, leads, or even just insider knowledge that may help.
Create a digital marketing strategy, either for your clients, or even for your own brand.
Send monthly reports to clients, so they know what’s going on. These reports should include the work you’ve done, the timeframe it’s taken you, and any numerical results you can measure.
Take a lunch break somewhere in here, unless you decide to eat while working. This is why so many freelancers tuck themselves into a comfy coffee shop or deli corner―easy access to food, gets you out of the house, and ensures no one disturbs you for hours.
Tweak your landing pages.
Create things like eBooks, PDFs, graphics, newsletters, infographics, Google and Facebook Ads, etc. Even website copy.
Pack things up and head home, unless you already are.
Another day may look entirely different:
Wake up, have coffee.
Check email, text messages, missed calls, Slack messages, etc.
Design case studies.
Work on some A/B testing.
Have a lunch break. Maybe take a shower during this time, since you didn’t before.
Build a marketing funnel, which takes time, so this pretty much takes up the rest of the work day.
Tweak anything quick that you can, anything like CTAs which can be easily rephrased in a matter of seconds on a landing page, or website. These changes should be reflective of your marketing funnel, obviously.
Close up shop for the day, and head home, which may or may not involve walking out of your home office and diving right into home life.
Later on in the week, the freelancer may focus on other projects, like planning out social media content, planning product launches, or pitching themselves to new clients. But really, anything related to business, content creation, or measuring tactics, is on the to-do list. It’s consistently on rotation, so literally, there’s something they could be doing at any minute of the day. This is why time management and careful planning are so important.
A side note here, whatever the freelancer decides to do on any given week, it’s absolutely critical that they tack on at least one educational task regularly. It could be reading a marketing book over the weekend, listening to a marketing podcast every night, taking an online photography course over the span of several weeks, or even tinkering around in Photoshop.
This is important because it keeps you sharp, allows you to learn new things all the time, and therefore, sets you apart from your competition. The more skilled you are, the higher your going rate can be!
Becoming a marketing freelancer doesn’t mean your days are filled with nothing more than pj’s and lounging on the couch. It’s a lot of work, especially if you’re going about it solo. But by prioritizing your education, only second to deadlines of course, then you’re going to have a much easier time in the long run. It will keep your competition a step behind, and please clients from the start.
There are many aspects to freelancing. Once you figure out what you want to do, and plan out your daily routine, or a weekly one, then you need to get realistic about everything you need to do to get clients.
And that involves proposal writing, setting up a proper portfolio, signing up for freelancer platforms, and pitching to people. Even tapping into established connections can help.
Let’s dig deep with this one to see how to get from point A, the origin, to point B, the freelancer’s dream.
When entrepreneurs hire freelancers, they can go about it in multiple ways. They can either research and find the top talent within their industry, or respond to any cold emails (proposals) that freelancers may have sent prior, or they can work with vetting platforms, like UpWork.
These platforms serve as middle men, essentially collecting a freelancer’s past experience, reviews, testimonials, and work all in one easy-to-read format. They’re rated, so you can filter by not only skill type, but by the quality of their work. The higher the freelancer’s review is, the higher the rate they can command.
But as we all know, you really do get what you pay for. Hiring someone who charges a low rate won’t exactly result in top-notch work, let alone timely project submissions.
A freelancer can also use the platform to apply to projects they’re interested in, and can attach a nice message, a cover letter and resume, or even a link to their portfolio.
Setting up a portfolio or your account on a platform is only the beginning. As a freelancer, one of the most important things you’ll do is write proposals.
Consider them to be the formal greeting that tells potential clients who you are, what you offer and for how much, and what they would benefit from working with you vs. the competition. They are a pain to write, but fortunately, once you have a good base, it’s easy to change up the minor details, and tailor it to different client needs, much like people do with their resumes when job hunting.
Here are some tips to consider:
Try not to elaborate too much on who you are what what you do. Keep this part brief, and instead focus on the numbers. This is what business is all about, after all―the bottom dollar.
Define the scope of the work carefully, so they know that you read their list of needs, and show them that you can deliver. If you’ve done similar work in the past, link to it. If you have a portfolio they can look through, show them.
Keep the legal stuff short. It may sound terrible, and it kind of is, but when a big wig company decides not to pay a freelancer, well, that’s kind of it. It means the freelancer should recover costs somewhere, somehow, but taking clients to court isn’t always a bright idea. Not only does it give freelancers a bad rep, it also is one of those cases where the big companies can probably afford way better lawyers. The good news in all of this is that this isn’t a typical case. If you work with established companies, trustworthy ones, you should never have to deal with issues like not getting paid.
Clearly detail out costs. This means time logged, work completed, the going rates for each, and a total per day. This means payday easier, and gives the client a complete view of how much they’re being charged, and why. There’s no room to dispute when it’s all clearly laid out, and it shows you have nothing to hide, which in turn builds trust.
Be super transparent. If you’re a one-man or woman machine, being hired by several clients at one time, there may or may not come a time when you have to outsource work. If this happens, let clients know upfront, and let them decide whether they are okay with that, or whether you should keep on track with them yourself. If they opt to stick with you and only you, new clients could benefit from getting work that’s created by your outsourced talent.
In the spirit of full transparency, feel free to highlight costs of things like software that you’re using to complete projects, that way clients know why you’re charging what you’re charging.
Go over ROI details with your clients. What can they expect to see in terms of results? This should be hard numerical values, if at all possible. Now, depending on your line of work, you may be able to provide these details, but for certain things, like copywriting, it may be a little less concrete. Do what you can, and if you’re not sure, figure out where traffic is for your clients. If it goes up after a solid 3 months of regular blog posting, for instance, then you’re doing your job. And if you’re flexible and have no problem providing the content that you’re being asked for, even better. Especially if you can provide genuine advice, evaluations, and idea suggestions.
Setting Up for the Long Term
Many freelancers are content with working on several one-time projects, but the vast majority will balance those with ongoing projects. This ensures there’s a steady revenue stream, something they can more or less count on, rather than simply banking on the hope of finding enough single, one-off projects month after month.
The more the freelancer knows about things like business development, customer service, and design, the more valuable their skills are to entrepreneurs. Tack on a nice personality, and the ability to be easily reached through things like email, text, calls, and social media, and you have yourself a goldmine of a potential freelancing career.
This will help businesses save time and effort on things they can’t fathom tacking onto their to-do list, essentially scaling their time. Work for them long enough, and deliver quality work, and you’ll establish trust, which is absolutely critical. Without trust, there is no such thing as a valuable relationship, especially in business.
But how does this all fit into a day-to-day routine? Simple: freelancers can use platforms like UpWork for new client leads every morning, or afternoon. They can tweak their LinkedIn, their UpWork profiles, and curate their best work to showcase on a digital portfolio. If they dedicate even 10-20 minutes per day on this, five days a week, they can wind up with excellent resources that are sure to land them better, higher-paying clients.
Much like building a house, starting off with the right foundation is key to client retention, interactions, everything. And your foundation is composed of two things:
Never making promises you can’t keep…
And detailing exactly what they’re going to get from you, for how much.
If you can do these two things, and deliver quality work that meets your client specifications, chances are your client will want to continue your project.
It far easier to find unsuitable freelancers than it is to find one that’s friendly, flexible, and skilled enough to handle your business content, automation, community management, PR, SEO, etc. So once they find someone they know they can count on, you’re kind of in it for the long haul, unless their budget hits a serious snag.
What to Charge
The thing about being a freelancer is that many people who aren’t familiar with the career path, let alone your industry, will assume you’re earning next to nothing for your work. They’ll see you working from home, having “all this time” on your hands to do laundry while you get projects done, and automatically deduce that you are selling yourself short.
So, if you’re okay with always being overlooked by, say family members or friends who simply don’t understand, then read right along.
The truth is that while starting out can be rough for a while, it eventually hits a nice sweet spot where you actually earn a respectable living. And you can continue to grow from there.
Which makes sense―a freelancing career is a business. You do your own branding, write your own marketing content, and ensure everything is put together. It’s how you attract clients and earn a sustainable living.
And no one starts off a business making thousands, upon thousands of dollars right out the gate. It takes time to build up something profitable, but as long as your business model is good, and your skills match, you’re set up for success.
On average, a digital marketing specialist makes $72k per year, but the range is roughly between $45k and $102k here in the United States. Some may earn less, than that, starting out, while others who are long established may find themselves earning far more than $102k.
And again, as your own business, you decide your hours, and your rate. If you want to earn $55k a year, you can rate your projects accordingly, take on more hours, more clients, more projects, or just scale down to solely focus on the high-paid projects. The choice is yours. Just keep an eye on everything going in and out, every conversion, sales funnel mishap, etc. The more detail you have, the better you’ll be at finding indiscrepancies and opportunity for financial growth.
Now, in this line of work, retainers are common. This is when a client pays in advance in exchange for your services. It’s essentially the act of retaining you for an extended period of time, keeping you from giving that time slot to any other client, hence the name.
And the client can make recurring monthly payments that way, or pay the sum upfront for 1-3 months at a time.
And while this is pretty much a norm for big client projects, big household names and the like, you’ll find that your lesser known clients don’t have the budget to pay a retainer. They will likely opt for a results-based work arrangement, where they pay for the work you complete, either at the end of the week, every two weeks, or even at the end of the month.
Two things here: 1) ensure that trust is established either through prior work together, or by researching the client and ensuring that their word is their bond, and 2) don’t assume that the lesser known clients won’t pay you a perfectly respectable amount. Just because they don’t want to pay upfront for work, it doesn’t mean they won’t pay you for all the hard work and effort you put in. Again, you decide on your rates. And when you do that, and stick to clients who can pay that rate, you’re going to do just fine.
Tools of the Trade
One of the main things that freelance digital marketers do is obviously creating marketing campaigns for their clients. That is, unless the clients already have campaigns underway, or want to tackle the campaign planning themselves. If that’s the case, the freelancers come in and get the tasks done, according to client specifications.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s take a look at some of the tools that freelancers love to use to both plan and execute a digital marketing campaign.
Consider this the stage prior to the good stuff. It’s what you have to do in order to make your actual campaign execution go off as smoothly as possible. Skip it, and you’ll have more work on your hands later, making the whole process much more complicated than it needs to be.
And frankly, when you’re doing this repeatedly for a multitude of clients, and even for yourself, you’re going to want to keep things as easy as you can.
The absolute best way to run a virtual office, of sorts. Different channels of communication act like everyone’s own personal office. Click on someone’s name, direct message them in a personal conversation, and it begins to feel like you just walked into their office. You can even set a channel for the whole team, so it acts like a water cooler or break room.
More than a means to an end, Slack allows you to build a sense of community with your team, keep in touch with people in a super easy way, and share things like files, project prototypes, images, links, etc.
Consider this like Google Docs, if the tool was more versatile than it already is. Oh, and also paid. You get 2GB for free, but that goes quickly. If you need more than that, you’re looking at 5GB for $10 a month, or 20GB for $20 per month. There’s also a 1000GB for business, but there’s no public pricing details on that―you’d have to contact sales.
Granted, it lets you organize everything in what’s essentially a spreadsheet of the future. You can also make calendars, checkboxes, dropdowns, links to other tables, drag and drop file attachments, create galleries, and share forms.
Google Analytics isn’t the only helpful Google tool available. Everyone has this for free, so long as they have a Gmail account, which makes it super easy to set up. It’s also easy to sync it with other calendars, like Outlook or Apple Calendar. And once you’re good to go, you can begin adding events like personal appointments, client meetings, coworker meetups, deadline details, upcoming events, flight details, etc.
The good thing about this handy tool is that it basically eliminates any need to use a physical planner or agenda book. And when paired with something like Trello, the next tool we’re detailing, you can basically organize your entire life digitally, which means you have access to anything you need right from a touch of your iPad, phone, computer, etc.
This tool is ideal for project management. If you want to handle it as a way to organize your day, or keep track of deadlines, you can. But otherwise, you can organize and detail every step of a project as well. And by adding people to your boards, each board being its own topic/project, you can then delegate tasks, check on someone’s progress, and more.
It’s a free tool, which makes it even better, but you can also opt for Trello Gold, between $3.75 and $5 a month if you want to add attachments larger than 10 megabytes, get elevated color customization, or use additional features and integrations.
To be honest, this isn’t necessary, considering there are so many free tools that are easily integratable on the platform, even for free users.
Once you’re ready to move beyond the organization stage, it’s time to get to the actual campaign. If your planning stage went well, and you covered everything, this should be a good experience.
And these tools tend to help:
Infographics, social media images, blog graphics, website headers and such. Any graphic design needs can be met through Canva, even creating your own templates for your team.
This tool is great for growth hacking. It’s an entire platform of APIs prime for collecting data, making it a great project resource.
One of the most popular automation tools available out there, Zapier is well-known amongst entrepreneurs for its ease of use. It makes life simpler by automating just about anything, which means freelancers who do a lot of admin work for clients really benefit from using the tool.
Speaking of automation, Lemist sends out automated sales emails. The difference between this and any other email tool is that this one also uses images and videos within the email, which captivates audiences more. This is a great way to improve click-through rates.
Marketing consultants love Lemlist for obvious reasons. They are actively looking for new clients, business to help, and the more personality an email has, the more it stands out. Furthermore, they can easily transition to educational emails with the tool, allowing them to really make things like courses and other lead magnets shine.
Freelancing is one of those things that everyone, to some degree, wants to do, but is often scared of. It seems like a distant dream, really. One where you can work from anywhere, make your own hours, determine how much you want to earn, even work from the comfort of your pajamas if you want…
But it takes hard work, dedication, and plenty of planning. Without that, you can’t scale your business, nor make a sustainable living.
You’ll have to be prepared to work overtime in order to clear up vacation days, save up enough to pay taxes and health insurance, and most of all, talk yourself out of the hole when things get tough.
Because it will get tough, it always does. You never know when you’ll lose a client, it could even happen overnight.
That being said, it’s an adventure, one that’s purely determined by how much effort you put into it. Make it a serious focus, and you can get anywhere and accomplish more than you dreamed of.
So, did you learn anything from this guide? What shocked you the most?
Let me know in the comments below, I love getting feedback!