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My experience as a freelance marketing consultant

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

What is a marketing consultant?

Behind the title, there are often as many realities as there are life stories. When I explain what I do, I start with the most elemental. A consultant is a professional whose mission is to guide others to help them make better choices.

Marketing consulting is about helping others to address their market

When I say I am a marketing consultant, I mean my job is to help people gaining traction in their market.

I can conduct research on their competitive environment, help them to understand the expectations of their targets. Enable them to create a strategy that will reach their goals.

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. That requires extensive knowledge and experience. That’s why you’ll never see someone becoming a consultant right after university.

What kind of consultant am I? From where do I speak?

When I started, I realized that many companies were trying to answer the same questions and that I could do something about it. I have been working with dozens of them since. Advertisers as well as marketing agencies. With a strong focus on how to adapt marketing to the age of social media and real-time communication.

These projects were about blogs, Twitter and Facebook. With the rise of other platforms, projects also expanded to Instagram, Linkedin, Pinterest. Often, I was setting up the strategy and then implementing the operations. I had a holistic role. This is less the case today, as people have more experience with SMM and social media become more complex. The division of labor is inevitably greater.

One thing, however, has remained constant over the years. On each project, I have always favored sustainable marketing approaches rather than short-term results.

Consulting opens more horizons than most people think

During my young career, one of the most interesting for me was the discovery process. Understanding the organization behind a project. How they work and what they are trying to achieve. Being a marketing consultant often means meeting fascinating people.

I’ve always refused to let myself be confined to a specific field. I’ve been working in many different industries. And I found that extremely gratifying.

Freelancing is as wonderful as it is difficult

Setting up your business and turning away a peaceful employee’s life is never insignificant. Especially if you have a stable job in a company with a good salary.

It’s a matter of ambition and opportunity

The motivation to become a freelancer can reside in the idea that you have more opportunities to grow than by remaining an employee. This can reflect a desire for greater freedom or the promise of a better living.

For me, the most important was the ability to choose my projects, organizing my life as I want, proposing a range of services fitting to my vision of marketing.

I had some experience, some contacts who wanted to work with me, and there was little competition out there. If I had to start now, it would surely be more difficult, even if still possible.

One of the coolest things is to work from wherever you want

Something nice about becoming a freelancer is that you can work from wherever you want, choose your workplace. Working in your living room? Possible. At the terrace of your favorite coffee shop? Also possible. Traveling the world while you’re working? This is a reality for more digital nomads every year.

When working hard, two possibilities stand out: Work from home, if you prefer quiet atmospheres. Or coworking spaces if you like the company of other workers.

These options are both affordable. While the first one is undeniably the cheapest, many prefer the second to not mix their personal and professional lives. Personally, I like to do one or the other depending on the mood of the day.

You want to become a freelancer but don’t know where to start?

Before anything, think of your target income. Being an employee is a pretty comfortable situation because someone fills your paycheck every month. Once a freelancer, you have to define your offer, your rates, set your goals. Like the clients that you will advise, it is better to know how to market yourself.

Study the market

What you need to do is to look at the competition. Study the marketing services that are offered around to the target you want to reach. While most marketing pros rarely publish their pricing, you can still search for some information on search engines, freelancer marketplaces, LinkedIn groups. On the other hand, you can also investigate by pretending to be a prospect. As simple as a phone call!

Don’t give low-cost or free service

Most young freelancers tend to undervalue their rates for many reasons.

First reason: a low rate shows your ignorance of the market

If many companies are outsourcing, there are a lot fewer that have a reasonable budget. Many freelancers do not make a living from their activity. Only a few make a living from it and last. Don’t rely too much on the rates and project descriptions you see on freelance marketplaces. Many offers are made outside of any market reality.

Second reason: a low rate shows your lack of confidence

Am I too expensive? Will I find customers? Most beginners know this fear. But, who reasonably believe that marketing is a superfluous and expensive thing? In a market-driven economy, any organization not doing marketing is doomed to fail. And they are probably many to need your expertise.

Third reason: a low rate shows you won’t last in the business

If your net hourly wage was €20 per hour as an employee, you have to triple this figure to arrive more or less at what you were earning. Plus, as a freelance consultant, you charge only a part of your working hours. Even a successful full-time freelancer has many non-billable hours. Between sales, marketing, and paperwork, you will be lucky to bill 50% of your working hours. And when you pay someone to do the job, it adds up to your running costs.

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

The most critical mistake a freelancer can make is giving an unpaid service to people who will dare to ask. This is the worst way to show the value of your work. And the worst way to reward your precious time. Those who didn’t pay for your services? Don’t expect them to be serious 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. Short-term projects are usually billed at the end, with a payment required within 30 days. However, many projects being long-term projects 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 a wire transfer. If you work remotely anyway, this is the only option.

How to survive in an increasingly competitive environment

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 learning

You probably heard that before: knowledge is power. It could not be more true for a consultant. Never stop learning and experiencing new things by dedicating time to your weekly routine for this purpose. A good consultant must assume that he is never a complete expert in his field and has new things to learn all the time.

Focus on your client satisfaction

Once you collaborate with clients in a thoughtful and mutually beneficial framework, think of them as partners. And think of yourself as a problem solver. It means being a good listener. Bringing your expertise to their level of comprehension.

Because no matter how good your work can be: when you don’t interact well with them, they are left in uncertainty. And most likely unhappy with that. On the other hand, make sure you always have as much information as you need in your work. The division of labor leaves some people with bad practices. Follow up with your client when they keep too much to themselves.

By adopting this approach, you will avoid uncomfortable situations and certainly keep your clients longer.

When networking, don’t neglect anyone

You may have realized that a large part of success is based less on skills than on a professional network. And if, like everyone else, you first let your friends and professional contacts know about your freelance activity, do not underestimate as well the power of more distant relationships.

When they are diversified, weak ties allow entering new professional networks.

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 because this is your most precious asset.

A word in conclusion

Being a freelance 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 greater autonomy: I developed a natural sense of adaptability and the ability to find solutions to each problem. As a contractor, it has given me a taste of what it is to run a business, being at the same time my own business manager, 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 ambition of fulfilling myself, it has given me an incredible intangible capital by expanding my skills and building a network full of amazing people.

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