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Behind the LinkedIn headline: My experience as a freelance digital marketing consultant

Since I became a freelancer, I had never taken the time to share my experience as a digital marketing consultant. As I resume writing, I take this opportunity to share with you my story. With some advice for those of you who have thought about freelancing. 

What is a marketing consultant?

Behind the word consultant, there are often as many realities as there are life stories. When I have to explain what I do to someone who doesn’t even know what a consultant is, I start with this: a consultant is a professional who guides another, often a managing director in a company, through the decision-making process, to help make better choices.

Digital marketing consulting is about knowing how to help others grow online

When I say that I am digital marketing consultant, it means that my job is to help people making good decisions for their companies in this specific area of marketing, helping them find and coordinate great ideas and then promote their brand in the best possible way. A consultant can be employed by a single company or working for several clients as a freelancer, like me. Being a consultant cannot be improvised, it requires important knowledge and experience. That’s why you’ll never see someone becoming a consultant right after university.

My experience as a marketing consultant

When I started in November 2010, I realized that many companies were facing the same problems and that I could do something about it. I have been working with dozens of companies for more or less long periods. Some a few months, others, several years. Advertisers as well as marketing agencies. Everyone needed my expertise to grow their projects online, and make sure their investments would be profitable.

These projects were often about blogs, Twitter and Facebook when I started. Then, with the arrival of other platforms, projects also expanded to Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, Snapchat. In each case, I was bringing together the experience and knowledge acquired to determine what the company needed to build a marketing operation that generates sustainable results across these platforms. Without forgetting the implementation of the right marketing tools, the selection of the right KPIs to correctly measure our future successes.

An exciting job

For me, one of the most interesting parts of my job as a consultant is the discovery of the project, the organization behind. When I listen to the people inside the company, understand how they work and what they are trying to achieve. Being a marketing consultant often means meeting fascinating people and working on projects that are just as exciting.

This part of my job has taught me a lot and considerably broadened the horizon of my thoughts.

Freelancing is a choice, yours

Setting up your own business and turning away a peaceful employee’s life is never an insignificant act, it is a carefully considered choice with both professional and personal implications, especially if you have a stable job in a nice company with a good salary.

A matter of ambition and opportunity

Creating your own business resides in the idea that you have more opportunities to develop yourself in this way than by remaining an employee. This also reflects a desire for greater freedom, a desire to create a job that meets your expectations, and the promise of a better living.

For me, the desire to start my own business came from these few aspirations: being my own boss and having some independence in the choice of my projects, organizing my life as I want, proposing clients a range of services fitting to my vision of digital marketing.

I had some experience, some contacts who wanted to work with me, and there was little competition out there. The fact that few companies were familiar with what I was doing and aware of the importance of digital marketing was ultimately the only challenge to my development, at my beginnings.

Choosing where you work from

Something very nice about becoming a freelancer is that you can work from wherever you want, decide about your own workplace. Working in your living room? Possible. At the terrace of your favorite coffee shop? Also possible. But soon (let’s say, by the time the waitress at Starbucks spells your name correctly) you realize that the best way to boost your productivity is to re-create a workspace that meets all the conditions for working hard all day long.

When working hard, two possibilities stand out: Work from home, if you prefer to work in a quiet atmosphere and can set up a real office. Or, coworking spaces if you have had an office life rich in human contacts and you like the company of other workers.

These two options are affordable to everyone, but while the first one is undeniably the cheapest, I think that many professionals can try the second one to have a workspace outside their home, with a real work atmosphere. Personally, I tried both!

Growing a freelance activity, the blueprint

Before starting, it is important to ask yourself how you will be paid once you become a freelancer. As an employee, the question is quite simple: you are paid the same salary every month according to a specific employment contract and the hours of work performed. It’s a pretty comfortable situation, to tell the truth. Once you are self-employed, you have to start by defining your offer, your rates, setting your yearly growth goals and the strategy to achieve them… But in fact, how do you put a price on these services you plan to propose?

Study the market

The first thing you need to do is to look at the marketing services that are offered around you, or even anywhere else. While most marketing pros rarely publish their prices, you can still find blogs, LinkedIn groups where they are talking more openly. On the other hand, you can also investigate their prices by pretending to be a prospect. As simple as a phone call! You also have freelance marketplaces but this is far from being the ideal example…

Don’t give low-cost or free service

In hindsight, what I can say is that most young freelancers tend to undervalue the prices of their services. For many reasons.

Ignorance

As we have seen, more experienced freelancers don’t talk openly about their prices. Besides, freelance marketplaces often show misleading figures about freelance rates, by allowing everyone to respond to bids made outside any market reality. These platforms are fully aware of this since they offer their clients dedicated support services and a screening process that retains only the top 1% of their freelancers. Among the remaining 99% are many low-skilled professionals, or part-time freelancers who don’t make a proper living from their activity alone.

Unfounded fears

“If I am too expensive, will I find customers?” This fear stems from the widespread belief that for many companies, marketing would be superfluous and too expensive when in reality, a company not doing any marketing is doomed to fail.

Miscalculation

A common mistake is to calculate your price based on what you earned as an employee, rather than what the employer was paying. A young professional whose net hourly wage was €13 per hour roughly imagine that he will have to triple this figure to arrive more or less at what he was earning. To this, we can also point out that the freelance consultant cannot charge for all his time, but only part of it. Even when you’re a successful full-time freelancer, you have some non-billable time you have to consider when calculating your daily or hourly rate: prospection (preparations of your interviews, quotations, invoicing, follow-up), self-promotion (networking, personal branding, content marketing), paperwork (accounting, tax-paying). And when you can pay someone to do it, it adds to your running costs.

If you’re good at something, never do it for free

Another common mistake not to make (but unfortunately widely spread): to give in to people who will ask you for an unpaid service, as a favor or as a proof of your value. If you ask me, you’re not a B2C brand giving away freebies. Your time is far too precious to be unpaid, and it’s probably the worst way to show the value of your work. Those to whom you have once offered a service, don’t expect them to be serious clients in business with you.

Get paid regularly, and on time

There are different ways of billing your services, the most common is to do it based on an hourly or daily rate. For short-term projects, you usually bill at the end of the project, with a payment required within 30 days. However, many projects being long-term projects, they may be subject to a lump sum payment before the start, during and at the end of their implementation. To be paid on time, the easiest way is to propose your clients pay by wire transfer, with your banking details on every invoice issued. If you work remotely anyway, this is the only option.

How to survive the long run

The best way to last and stand out, of course, is to specialize. The more you specialize in a specific field, the less competition you have, and the more you embrace a logic of expertise to which clients can subscribe.

Never stop training

Never stop learning new things to improve your skills, by dedicating time in your weekly routine to this purpose. A good professional must assume that he is never a complete expert in his field and that he has new things to learn all the time.

Focus on customer satisfaction

In terms of customer relations, having the right state of mind is essential. Always think of yourself as a problem solver. It means being a good listener, bringing your expertise to the level of comprehension of your client, especially those who don’t know much about your job.

Because no matter how good your work can be, if you don’t communicate properly with them, they will be left in uncertainty, and most likely unhappy with that.

By adopting this approach, you will avoid many problems, and will certainly keep your clients longer.

When networking, don’t neglect anyone

A large part of your success will depend less on your diplomas, experiences, rather than on your professional network. And if, like everyone else, you first let your friends and professional contacts know about your freelance activity, don’t underestimate the power of more distant relationships.

Weak ties can be “strong” in terms of impact. If they are diversified, they allow you to penetrate professional networks other than those formed by your strong ties.

Many people you may not have thought of may be interested in your skills and know-how, but in the present moment, it is impossible for them and you to know it. So, grow your network, online and also in real life, because this is your most precious asset.

Integrate failure as a possibility

Failure is never something you want or expect as an outcome, but it is statistically likely.

It is during the first years of its life that a company is the most vulnerable: the main challenge is to generate cash regularly and to build a solid financial base to cope with periods of inactivity. Keeping this in mind will give you the energy and boost you need to meet the challenges ahead.

In conclusion

Being a freelance digital marketing consultant is undoubtedly the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. Setting up my own business has brought me unsuspected benefits.

As a marketer, it has given me a greater autonomy: I developed a natural sense of adaptability, and the ability to find solutions to each problem.

As an entrepreneur, it has given me a taste of what it is to run a business, having the responsibilities and doing the jobs of many people at the same time: business manager, marketer, salesman, accountant… I learned what higher education never taught me, and it gave me the confidence to dream bigger.

Lastly, as a freelancer with the simple ambition of fulfilling myself, it has given me a professional capital. By continuing to develop my skills and to build a network full of amazing people, I increase my chances to be better every day, as well as my professional horizon.

What about you? Are you a marketer and a freelancer too? If not, how do you relate to freelancing? Leave your thoughts in comments!

Author’s note: This article is the update and the translation of an article I published on November 17, 2014.

By Max Schleiffer

French entrepreneur. I have grown a marketing consultancy over the decade. Now, I explore new ways of working in the digital age.

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