Do you have what it takes to be a social media consultant? Amid “the Great Resignation,” with 56% of non-freelancers saying they’re likely to freelance in the future, it’s a good time to explore this career path.
But if you’re fantasizing about working four hours a week on a beach and making twice the amount of money, you’re in for a shock. This career takes time and work.
Let’s break down ways to become a successful social media consultant and how to get started.
Something something personal news: Tomorrow’s my last day at @WeAreOwnUp + next week, I’ll be starting work as a full-time freelancer. I’m excited + terrified!
If you need writing, social, or marketing/comms help, I’m taking clients! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org ✌🏻
— Nicole Tabak (@nicoletabak) November 4, 2021
What do social media consultants do?
Social media consultants are individuals or agencies who work with clients to improve upon, optimize and grow their social media presence. Every social media consultant’s day-to-day work will look different depending on their offerings, which can range from one service to multiple. We’ll go over these a little later.
What are the pros and cons of being a social media consultant?
With self-set hours and locations, you have more flexibility as a consultant. And according to recent data, consultants and freelancers can have higher earning potential and a wider salary range than other social media professions.
But remember—you’ll be a business owner. That means unless you have the money to outsource, you have to do the accounting, billing, tax payments, marketing, sales pitches, content development and networking (i.e., all of the tasks that keep a business running).
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, follow these seven tips to help you become a successful social media consultant.
1. Do your research
Just like starting any new business, researching your industry, pricing and potential client base is key.
Saying that you’ll offer consulting services is not enough—creating a business plan helps you work through how you’ll generate revenue.
Research your potential competitors through LinkedIn and Google searches. Who comes up when you search “social media consultant Houston” or “hospitality social media consultant?” What services do they offer? Do you have the skills needed to be a social media manager working solo?
2. Decide on services and specialty
Niche or general?
This is a constant battle for consultants. Is your goal to handle social media marketing for any company or to specialize in specific industries that you’re passionate about? There are pros and cons to both.
For Jen Thorne, London-based social media consultant and beauty blogger, the key is ensuring you have enough business. “Whilst niche is good, you want to make sure you can generate enough ongoing work.”
During the research process, look at both what you want to offer and the matching client base. For example, if you only want to handle social media marketing for restaurants, look at the restaurants around you to see if any need help.
If you want to specialize in pizza restaurants, how broad is the addressable market for your services? How will you stand out from others offering the same expertise?
The scope of a social media consultant is vast.
Oftentimes, the role overlaps with SEO, content creation and social media strategy. As a consultant, you have many choices of offerings. Here are just a few:
- Social media auditing
- Coaching sessions or retainers
- Community management
- Account creation and setup for new businesses
- Social media strategy development
Providing a mix of products and services allows you to diversify your income stream. But having too many can also be prohibitive, splitting your focus.
Whichever you choose, be sure to be as specific as possible on what you will do for your client and how work will be delivered. Setting boundaries is key in any healthy relationship.
Pro tip: Whether you’re niche or general, using social listening can help direct you to the audiences and conversations that matter most to you and your client.
Setting your fees
Deciding on fees can be challenging. In your research phase, take time to look at what other consultants are charging.
“Personally, I prefer charging by the project vs. by the hour. In my world of content creation, assignments can take a few hours or a few days, so per project rates are what work for me,” says Nicole Tabak, freelance copywriter, content creator and brain behind the Social Media Detox newsletter. “I suggest laying this all out in a spreadsheet and breaking that down into your hourly and project rates.”
Jen tells us, “A good starting point is to find your goal salary and work out your day rate from there (salary, divided by number of days you anticipate working each year, allowing for holiday/sick days).”
The most consistent tip we heard from freelancers and consultants was to value your worth. As social media professional and podcaster Jon-Stephen Stansel puts it, “It’s tempting to shoot low, but this will hurt you in the long run and attract clients who are just looking for a good deal.”
Pro tip: Remember to build your expenses and self-employment taxes into your pricing. Freelance rate calculators can help you decide.
3. Get organized on the administrative side
Beyond setting up your physical workspace, there are processes and workflows that you need to establish to run a smooth consulting operation. This includes finding the right people or software to handle invoices, client appointments, insurance, quarterly tax payments and more.
The best way to set up a client intake process is to picture yourself as the client. Document every step in detail.
- Prospecting: How do clients find you? How do they book a consultation with you?
- Proposal: Will you send out a proposal? What are the steps for review and approval?
- Contract: Do you have your contracting system set up? Is it easy to understand and how do they sign?
- Onboarding: How do you officially start working with the client? Do you need to give them access to your invoicing software? Do you need to collect social account password information?
- Invoicing: How do you deliver invoices and how do you want to be paid? Is your client clear on your payment terms and late fees?
If you can afford it, consider enlisting an accountant. As Jon-Stephen tells us, “You might not think you need one when you first start out but it will make your life immensely easier if you hire an accountant on day one.”
In the words of Adrienne Sheares, social media consultancy owner, “I’d rather my accountant try to be a social media marketer than me try to navigate the U.S. tax system.”
She also emphasizes the importance of putting protective processes in place early. “Having insurance, separate bank accounts, and an LLC can give you much-needed protection from lawsuits.”
Take time to set yourself up for success on the business side before diving in.
Pro tip: We want to all believe that people will pay on time and stick to an agreement. Unfortunately, as a small business owner you need to protect yourself—contracts are the best way of doing so.
4. Secure the right tools
Your time is precious. Build out your tech tool belt with software programs that can automate some of your processes. A social media management platform, analytics program, content calendar and invoicing app, to name a few, can be life savers.
If you plan on offering analytics in your services, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to put together your own reports or generate them with a tool.
A tool like Sprout that pulls data and creates sharable, presentation-ready reports for you can save hours of time.
5. Start small
For some, it’s a slow transition from working a 9-5 while building their side hustle to becoming a full-time consultant—especially if you’re not 100% sure this is the job for you.
Taking on one or two clients at the beginning gives you the safety net of your current job while figuring out your ideal role. If you’re having trouble finding your first clients, here are some places to look:
- Built In
- LinkedIn’s new Service Marketplace
- Networking in local freelancer groups
- Facebook Groups
- Attending social media conferences
- Participating in industry Twitter chats or Spaces
- Job boards (LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, etc.)
Putting myself & my services out there as I continue to navigate through freelance! Appreciate how supportive Twitter can be so please share if you know anyone needing…
– content creation/UGC ads
– social media help (mngmt, engagement etc. – all platforms)
— Emily M-G (@emilymajorg) February 2, 2022
Pro tip: When you have multiple clients, keeping yourself organized is key. Take this time to experiment with your workflows and how you manage work for each client.
With Sprout Social, you can organize your clients into Groups where your publishing calendar, reports and more are all dedicated to one specific client. Many agencies that use Sprout, for example, use this system to organize multiple clients.
6. Put yourself out there
Practice what you preach
A good part of your time as a consultant involves self-promotion and establishing expertise. No one will hire someone who can’t demonstrate that they know what they’re talking about.
Set up a website featuring case studies and past work, and keep up with your social channels. Potential clients will research your pages—you don’t want them to see that you haven’t Tweeted in two months.
A prospect told me recently:
"I didn't need to look too deep at your portfolio; I looked through your tweets and that was good enough for me."
Every tweet and interaction is a portfolio piece. Your presence here can/should build your cred & do much of the selling for you.
— Nia Gyant (@optimized3x) January 28, 2022
Keep up with social media news and exhibit your expertise. Here are a few ways to do so:
- Blog—for yourself and as a guest writer for visibility
- Be a guest speaker on podcasts
- Chat on Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse rooms about your craft
- Keep up on social trends
- Start an email newsletter (if you have time)
Network, network, network
Building your network of industry professionals can be just as important as building your client base.
Jon-Stephen considers networking part of the job. “Schedule some time each day to dive into conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn, write your own posts and build yourself up as an expert in your field. Make it a habit like exercise.”
Your network can also help connect you with clients.
Nat also was a huge help to me last year, taking the time to give me some thoughts, advice, and kind words. I can't say enough good things about her.
If you're looking for a freelance social media manager who really knows their stuff, Nat is an absolute gem! https://t.co/EUwRCh5OwL
— Jon-Stephen Stansel (@jsstansel) January 18, 2022
Nicole tells us that thanks to her network, she landed clients as soon as she started freelancing. She also mentioned that networking can look different for everyone—from events to digital spaces—and to start where you’re comfortable.
“For me, I enjoy networking most through social media. Most of my leads have come from building a community on Twitter—a huge area of opportunity for anyone in marketing across different levels and niches.”
The more you engage with fellow consultants, the more they recognize you as an expert.
Let's talk about freelance contracts!🗒
Many freelancers have been burnt by not having a freelance contract. Until they discovered the importance of a contract.
Join us as we talk about what makes up a freelance contract on Freelance Tales by 6:00 PM NGT. https://t.co/qgprOOvgs5
— Rosemary Egbo (@rosemary_egbo) January 29, 2022
7. Don’t forget to take care of yourself
When you work for yourself, battling burnout is very real.
Adrienne spent the first few years in her consulting business acting like an external employee rather than a consultant, and following her clients’ lead.
“This mentality would make me a stellar employee. However, it was horrible for my business, mainly because it hindered my growth. I worked all of the time for clients, and when it came to working on my own business, I was exhausted.”
Keeping up with your clients doesn’t mean you have to be constantly on. You don’t have to answer emails within five minutes to be a great communicator. The better your communication and the smoother your workflows, the easier the rapport will be.
Setting boundaries and prioritizing time for yourself also doesn’t have to mean taking a month-long vacation right away.
“I’d recommend starting with easy, simple things,” says Nicole. “Take an actual lunch break. Don’t jump on every notification that comes in. You can easily feel like every client and every project is a priority, but at the end of the day you control your own time.”
Ready to be a social media consultant?
It may not be easy, but becoming a social media consultant can be incredibly rewarding. If you think this is the job for you, do your research and follow our social media consultant checklist below to start strong.
If you’re ready to reclaim your time and take some of the manual work out of your daily workflows, try Sprout Social for free with a 30-day trial.
Social Media Consultant Checklist
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