The pandemic is accelerating digital transformation for businesses, both large and small, with more brands and organizations shifting to ecommerce and social media, as well as marketing collaboration, requiring more and more expertise, advice, and help to operate, especially given the increasing complexity of digital marketing.
- 74% – Social Media Marketing Manager
- 64% – Social Media Marketing Consultant
- 54% – Social Media Manager
- 31% – Social Media Marketing Specialist
- 29% – Social Media Strategist
- 28% – Social Media Coordinator
These figures suggest it’s a prime time for social media consultants to start their own agency or freelancing service. And that’s what this guide is all about.
Inside, you’ll learn:
- What a social media consultant does.
- Whether you should start an agency or operate as a freelancer.
- When it’s the right time to launch your social media consulting service.
- How to launch your own social media consulting service.
For this guide, we asked five experts to share their thoughts and experiences on building a successful social media consulting business:
Freelance Social Media Executive
What Does a Social Media Consultant do?
Social media consultants perform a variety of services depending on their expertise and their clients’ requirements. For instance, a company might request a once-only social media training for their in-house team or a monthly retainer to manage all their social media campaigns.
Some of the typical services include:
- Social media coaching sessions or training workshops
- Social media management
- Social media strategy
- Social media audit
- Social media advertising
Here’s what our experts said:
- Jason: “A social media consultant serves as both advisor and subject matter expert, helping clients develop a winning strategy and improve their current brand reputation through both organic and paid social. Personally, I focus more on organic social. I want people to follow a brand because they can relate to it.”
- Mandy: “We advise businesses on best social media practices to help them maximize their presence online. We work with them, crafting a strategy that meets their needs, using the platforms that will take them where their target market is. That strategy includes what posts we will post, the graphics and videos that we will use, and any advertising campaigns we will do. Everything is custom to that business and their needs.”
- Andréa: “A social media consultant often wears many hats. They oversee strategy and make sure what’s happening on social media is aligned with the overall business and marketing goals. They often plan editorial calendars and campaigns. They often write copy, design graphics, and edit video content for social media. They’re researching trends and emerging marketing tools and strategies. And they’re often collaborating with other departments and individuals to ensure projects are completed on time.”
- Sam: “I deliver training, both online and in-person, and via my membership site. I also speak about social media for business at events. I love helping businesses grow using social media and empowering them to achieve that themselves. I don’t manage social media for businesses – mostly because it doesn’t fit in as well with my life. I find it can quickly take over and be hard to switch off. Plus, I find it quite isolating. I’d rather be talking to people than hidden away in an office pretending to be them!!”
- Fi: “The offering can be wide – anything from planning a client’s social strategy to more ‘hands-on’ tasks like working on creative and copy for posts, scheduling, providing a watchful eye on incoming comments and messages, and reporting on performance.”
As you can see from the responses, social media consultants offer various services based on their skill set, experience, and work-life balance.
Should You Start an Agency or Operate as a Freelancer?
Social media consultants can operate either as an agency or a freelancer – but which option is best?
Before examining the pros and cons of each option, we should start with the advantages and disadvantages of running your own business compared to working for an employer.
- You set your schedule, workload, and wages.
- You can decide where to work from.
- You get to choose who you work with.
- You get paid to use social media.
- You can specialize in the social media work and role that you prefer.
- You have to be self-motivated – nobody is going to push you.
- You don’t have a guaranteed salary – you have to bring in the revenue.
- You are responsible for your professional development, including training and qualifications.
- You have additional expenses, like social media management tools, image editing tools, website costs, marketing fees, license fees, and advertising costs.
- Besides providing social media consulting services, you are responsible for all the business admin tasks, such as invoicing, accounting, tax payments, sales pitches, marketing, and networking. Sure, you can outsource some of these tasks, but you still have the overall responsibility to keep the business running.
So what are the pros and cons of running an agency or operating as a freelancer?
- Operating under a company name may give you more kudos and help you attract more prominent clients.
- It’s easier to transition from solo to a team while keeping the same agency branding.
- Operating as a limited liability company (LLC) protects your personal assets, such as your home, if a client decides to sue you.
- Operating as a limited company entails different (stricter) tax rules, like company tax and employee tax.
- Operating as a sole trader has simplified taxes.
- You can focus on building your reputation and brand.
- It may be harder to attract investment as a freelancer compared to an agency.
Let’s hear what our social media consultants have to say:
- Jason: “I would start as a freelancer. Gain a reputation. Become your own brand. People buy from people, not companies. Once you have established yourself as a brand and an authority within your industry, then you can grow into an agency.”
- Andréa: “I started my business as a freelancer, and that’s often the fastest, most cost-effective way to get started. I started off as a catch-all freelancer doing all sorts of things, from writing blog posts to designing Facebook graphics. I found the sweet spot in social media services early on because I personally enjoyed the social media side of things and found it much easier to get long-term clients who needed social media services. Freelancing gave me the foot in the door to be able to build my social media know-how that allowed me to grow into the agency I have today.”
- Sam: “Any of the above!! I have a limited company. There is only me in the business, though I do outsource many tasks! I started a completely different business and used social media to market it. I went on lots of courses but wasn’t too impressed by how they were delivered and thought there was definitely a gap in the market for some more personable training. My background is in business psychology, and I have applied this knowledge to the business. It was definitely a ‘bit on the side’ at first but soon became my main business! I’ve now been delivering social media training for over 10 years.”
- Mandy: “I would suggest starting as a freelancer until you’re immersed in the world of social media marketing. As your client list grows, then you can expand into an agency. Your business grows as you grow.”
To summarize, the overwhelming advice is to start as a freelancer and then grow into an agency.
When is the Right Time to Launch a Social Media Consulting Service?
In short: there’s no right or wrong time to launch a social media consulting service.
- Fi confirms: “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong time these days. But I would add, if ever there was a time to do it, it’s now! Globally, user behaviors have radically changed over the past year due to the pandemic. These shifts mean that not only are more people using social, but more organizations are also reliant on social for maintaining/building awareness around their brand, communicating with their audiences, and attracting new leads because people can’t meet face-to-face right now.”
- Sam agrees: “There’s never a right time for anything if we talk ourselves out of it! But right now, is a great time. There are more and more businesses using social media as their main marketing platform, especially as other marketing budgets are slashed after the impact of the pandemic.”
- Andréa reminds us of the famous proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” She adds: “The market need is larger than it’s ever been as many businesses shift into doing things digitally. Large events that would previously have an expo hall as a way to introduce audience members to new products are turning to digital as a means of doing the same thing.”
- Despite it being a good time to launch, Mandy shares a sobering thought: “I would not launch until you have an understanding of how to craft and execute a social media marketing plan. Too many people launch right into social media consulting, not knowing what they are doing, which ultimately costs their clients money. We had to go in and clean up work an “expert” had done when it was clear they had no idea what they were doing.”
How to Launch Your Own Social Media Consulting Service
Follow these six steps to launch your own social media consulting service:
- Build and maintain your credibility
- Choose your niche
- Create a business plan
- Price and package your services
- Attract and win clients
- Track your progress
1. Building and maintaining your credibility
The first step starts before you launch your services and continually evolves as your business grows.
Without credibility, no one will hire you.
So how do you become credible?
Establish your social media presence
First of all, you need to establish yourself on social media. You don’t have to be active on all the social networks, but you should definitely be active on those platforms you want to specialize in and where your prospective clients will be present. It’s your chance to convince prospects you know how to market on social media.
It’s something Sam highly recommends: “Get active on social media!! Start your accounts now, even if you’re not ready to start the business yet.”
Also, remember to post consistently on your chosen platforms. Prospects will check your profiles and won’t want to see 3-week gaps where nothing was posted.
Fi adds: “I think it pays to dedicate some regular time to building a presence across multiple social channels – and maintaining this effort for the long-haul. Unless you’ve got cash to burn on digital/social advertising, you’ll need to keep your organic efforts strong on social.”
Build your website
In addition to social media, you’ll also want to consider building a website where you can showcase your talent, and eventually, the services you offer.
Aside from social media, prospective clients will check out your website. You don’t have to build a flashy website, just something that is clean and functional.
Consider adding relevant client testimonials from unpaid jobs (internships), side projects, and charity work when you’re just starting out.
Develop your skills
As a social media professional, you need to continually develop your skills to ensure you’re up to date on the latest trends and techniques.
As Mandy says: “Make sure you know what you are doing, and you understand everything, including the Terms of Service, rules, promotions, and analytics for each social network.”
Also, consider getting recognized qualifications that prove you have studied social media marketing.
Work on side projects
One way to build credibility is to start some social media consulting as a side project while you’re still in full-time employment. You can test the water to see if you like working solo, and if all goes to plan, it lets you display client testimonials on your website before you launch full-time.
Fi adds: “I’m in the perhaps unusual position of working on social strategy in a full-time employed agency role, and working on the more hands-on stuff in my part-time, freelance life.”
Start networking and building connections
One activity you always need to be practicing is networking. You can start building your network long before you launch your consulting business.
Sam says: “Engage with people and network with them. It will be far easier to launch if you already have an engaged audience.”
Here are a few ways:
- Network with other social media consultants online – you’ll find there is a helpful community out there.
- Follow and engage with brands you’d like to work with – start building relationships.
- Attend social media events – virtual events to put faces to names and physical events to meet people in person.
- Build a powerful LinkedIn profile, connect with peers and prospects, and engage in conversations.
- Join social media groups, focused on:
- The industry and niches you’re targeting, so you can contribute and demonstrate your social media skills and experience.
- Social media marketing, so you can network and get support from your peers.
Fi adds: “Think about networking with your peers on social too, as there is plenty of work to go around. Sometimes I’ve won work via referrals from people I’ve got to know through Twitter and LinkedIn, and I’ve also returned the favor to them too.”
2. Choosing your niche
Before you launch your social media consulting service, you’ll need to choose your niche. There are three ways you can niche-down.
When you’re starting out, it’s a good idea to focus on one or two social media platforms rather than spreading yourself too thin. Remember, each platform has:
- Different algorithms.
- Different audiences.
- Different types of content.
For example, LinkedIn and Snapchat are poles apart, so it wouldn’t make sense to cover both platforms. However, if you wanted to become a visual marketing expert, it makes sense to offer both Instagram and Pinterest services.
Next, you want to consider what industry or sector you want to work with.
Remember, different industries need different kinds of campaigns, even if they’re on the same platform. For instance, an ecommerce fashion retailer and a real estate agency will have different types of campaigns and content even if they both use Facebook Ads.
Focus on industries that suit your previous knowledge and skillset, so you don’t have to learn too much new information. Also, be mindful of choosing profitable industries rather than struggling ones, so you don’t have to worry about getting paid.
Finally, you’ll need to decide what services you’ll specialize in. For example, you might choose to focus on organic social media rather than paid social media services.
Jason recommends sticking to what you know at first: “I turn down work if people are looking for paid social through sponsored posts. I’m good at growing social organically – that’s my niche, and that’s what I stick to.”
3. Creating a business plan
Planning is an essential step before you launch your consulting services.
When you’re creating your business plan, you’ll need to research:
- Current industry trends – to get a clear understanding of where things are standing.
- Target market – to check it’s healthy and viable.
- Competitors – to see what’s working and what isn’t.
- Skills – to check you have everything.
As Andréa says: “Level up your social media skills as there are tons of free resources available.”
Decide on your structure: agency or solo
As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to decide on the structure of your business. There’s no right nor wrong answer – just weigh up the pros and cons above.
Decide on your business name
Next, you’ll need to choose your business name, which essentially becomes your brand name, so it makes sense to take your time and get it right.
If you decide to operate as a freelancer, you could use your own name. However, if you build your brand around your name and then want to expand into an agency later, your name might not work.
Depending on the country and region you live in, you’ll have to obtain different licenses and certifications to run a legal business. Consider the following:
- Set up a business bank account to keep your funds separate.
- Register your business with the tax office.
- Find an accountant to help you with your taxes and financial planning.
- Hire a lawyer to help you establish legal contracts to use with your clients.
Work on your branding
We’ve already mentioned building a website and establishing your social media presence. Once you’ve chosen your business name, you can circle back and make sure these online accounts all have your branding in terms of logo, colors, and fonts, so you start to build awareness with a unified impression.
Tools and processes
At this stage, you can also start planning what tools, processes, and workflows you’re going to use to make your business run smoothly.
For example, consider how you’ll manage clients from start to finish:
- Prospecting: How do you attract clients? How do they schedule a consultation with you?
- Proposal: How will you review and approve the proposal?
- Contract: Are you providing a contract? Is it easy to understand? How do clients sign it?
- On-boarding: How do you start working with a new client?
- Invoicing: How do you deliver invoices? How do you want to be paid? Is your client clear on payment terms and late fees?
Also, consider what tools you’ll need, such as:
- Social media management software
- Graphic design tools
- Analytics and reporting program
- Office apps, including email, word processing, and spreadsheets
- Video conferencing
- Project management tools
- Appointment scheduling software
- Invoicing software
4. Pricing and packaging your services
There are various ways that you can price and package your services. Let’s examine a few options.
An hourly or daily rate is ideal for an unknown variable, for example, mentoring, consulting, or training, that you bill as time is consumed. For example, you might agree to offer your social media consulting services for $50/hour.
You can use a project-based or fixed rate when you provide bespoke services, like consultations, strategy sessions, audits, or training. You’ll need to have a good handle on how long a piece of work will take before you can feel confident charging per project.
For example, you could agree to complete a social media audit for a fixed sum of $500, regardless of how much time it takes you. Payment for project-based work is usually made in advance, at agreed milestones, 50% in advance and 50% on completion, or on completion.
A monthly retainer is used when you agree to deliver regular recurring monthly services with payment on a set date each month. Retainers vary slightly, so you may agree to provide X hours per month or a fixed piece of work. For example, you agree to provide 20 hours per month to manage a client’s social media campaigns. Or, you might agree to deliver social media publishing and reporting for Facebook and Instagram.
By the time you get onto monthly retainers, you’re almost in packaged services territory. These are a set of services you provide every month for a fixed fee.
For example, Socially Contented offers three social media management packages:
5. Attracting and winning clients
Attracting and winning clients is probably the most challenging part of launching your business. Here are a few options to explore:
Work in an agency
Before launching your services, gain valuable experience by working for a social media agency:
- You get to know how an agency operates.
- You get to build your contacts and connections in the industry.
- You get to establish your credibility as a social media consultant.
Reach out to existing connections
If you’ve followed the earlier advice in step #1, you should now have an extensive network you can tap into. Even if the person or business you contact can’t use you, they might know of other people who can. You can’t underestimate the power of networking.
Also, as Andréa says: “Start talking about your social media services to friends and family.”
They may need your services or can refer you to other people in their network.
Use freelance marketplaces
When you’re starting out you can often find suitable work in freelance marketplaces like Upwork and People Per Hour. Just be careful not to work for a pittance.
Andréa adds: “Sign up for sites like Upwork and pitch people looking for the exact services you offer. The best way to get started is to start.”
If you’ve set up your website, then you can create a landing page to generate leads. You can do this way ahead of launching, so you have a waiting list of prospects to contact when you’re ready.
As Sam recommends: “Start a waitlist or share some free resources to build your email list.”
One option when launching your services is to focus on local businesses. Pre-COVID, you could actually get out into your neighborhood and introduce yourself to companies, leave some brochures, and follow-up with a call. Perhaps those days will return? If not, you can still search and reach out to a local business by phone or email.
Also, if you’re going down the local path, get active in your local business community. For example, you could attend the Chamber of Commerce meetings to connect with businesses looking for social media consultants.
Mandy adds: “Be active in your community – word of mouth is always the best way to grow your business.”
Here’s some sage advice on honesty and transparency from Fi to finish: “Make sure you’re always honest with your clients (and potential clients!) when it comes to social. If you think something probably won’t work, say so. Be transparent. I’ve definitely had cases, for example, where a potential client thinks they need to jump straight into paid social when they’re actually not very well set up for it – their channels aren’t optimized, and their social content is weak. Instead, I’ll give them a few ideas on what I think makes the most sense for where their business is at. This builds trust straight away, and people appreciate the honesty.”
6. Tracking your progress
Once you’re up and running, you’ll need to track your progress.
Measure and adjust
First, you need to measure how your clients benefit from your social media services, according to what you offered. For example:
- Are their social media campaigns a success?
- Have you increased brand awareness?
- Have you trained their team as promised?
Bottom line: you need to prove that your clients are getting a return on their investment. Use tools like Loomly to track your marketing efforts and show them the results.
You’ll also need to track progress in your business as a whole:
- Are you meeting your objectives?
- Do you need to make any changes?
Remember, the digital landscape is always changing, so you’ll have to measure and adjust accordingly.
One area not to forget is your ongoing personal development. It’s easy to become 100% booked on client work and forget that you need some time for yourself. Social media platforms are always changing, so keeping updated on the latest developments is a minimum. You’ll also want to stay abreast of industry trends and what your competitors are offering.
Sam sums it up perfectly: “Study what other businesses are doing. And keep up to date with everything going on with social media.”
Grow your business
Once you’ve established your business, you’ll want to scale and grow accordingly.
Mandy recommends finding a mentor to help you as you grow: “Find someone you can bounce ideas off of or learn from.”
You’ll need to decide how you want to grow. For example, you could hire people so that you can serve more clients with your proven services. It may be prudent to hire freelancers to help you instead of hiring staff and having all the necessary overheads.
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Social Media Consulting in a Nutshell
There’s no right or wrong time to launch your social media consulting service, but with the pandemic, there’s never been a greater need for qualified social media consultants to advise and help businesses through the digital marketing landscape.
Listen to the advice of our five experts as you follow these six steps to launch your own successful social media consulting service:
- Build and maintain your credibility
- Choose your niche
- Create a business plan
- Price and package your services
- Attract and win clients
- Track your progress