This is one of those posts which I've been meaning to write for ages, but which until now has only existed in the realms of my half-finished drafts. It took me indulging in my first ever Instagram Q&A (loved it - felt v. famous - will do it again and screenshot for Mum) to realise that I needed to pull my finger out and get it published, because I had so many questions about what freelance marketing entails and how to break into the industry. By way of a disclaimer, I am by no means an expert. I've worked in-house at a marketing agency, for myself as a blogger, and then as a freelancer marketeer. I have a basic working knowledge of most activities but I specialise in project management, social media management and blogger outreach (as does every other blogger who freelances - welcome to the club gals), and I started working in marketing about 3 years ago. Everything included in this blog post is based on my personal experience and what has worked for me, but it goes without saying that you should take all advice with a pinch of salt and do your own research which is personal to you.
AND BREATHE. With that formal malarkey out of the way, let's crack on with the good stuff. I've divided my most commonly asked questions into subheadings below, each with a little information and/or advice in relation to freelance marketing and my place within the wider industry. If I've missed anything or there is anything you'd like to pick my brains about, do the usual and pop a comment down below or shoot me a message on social (Twitter/Instagram). Enjoy!
P.S. I fucking love this suit! I had to wait a little while to wear it properly because - surprise, surprise - I needed the tailors to take the length up on the legs, but now it's with me, a passionate love affair has begun. Well done, H&M.
Blazer - H&M*
Trousers - H&M*
Tee - Primark
Necklace - Carrie Elizabeth Jewellery*
Earrings - Jane Koenig*
Bag - X Nihilo*
Shoes - Zara
Headband - Amazon
How I got my first client and broke into freelance marketing
Funnily enough, my first freelance client came to me through LinkedIn (I know, right?). I received a message one day from a guy who had just launched a beachwear brand for fathers and sons, and he wanted to know if I'd be interested in picking up some social media bits. He'd seen my profile (which included my blog, my social channels and the fact that I had previously worked in-house for a marketing company), and thought I had the necessary skills to get the brand off the ground. Spoiler: he also got in touch with me because he knew I'd be cheaper than an agency or an already established freelance marketeer, so it was financially beneficial for him on a small start-up budget. Instead of diving straight in and agreeing to take on the role, I proposed a review of the marketing activities already in place and set a strategy moving forward. We didn't end up working together because I was too busy at the time to commit, but this did give me a flavour for how freelance marketing could fit into my work life and how it could generate some extra cash. Moral of the story: even though LinkedIn seems useless, keep it up to date. You never know.
How I found other clients
I've had three other clients since the beachwear brand, one of which has become a long-term, monthly partnership and constitutes a part-time portion of my income. All of my freelance marketing clients have found me through blogging (annoying answer, I know, but that's what's happened!), either having contacted me directly or through an agency to discuss a collaboration. In all three cases an opportunity had naturally presented itself for me to extend my marketing services; one brand was newly launched and was asking how blogger outreach typically works (so I then offered to manage this for them), one company actively asked me about my marketing background and if I'd be interested in working for them, and the third was my old marketing company who I would occasionally pick up work for on a freelance basis. I never tried to aggressively sell myself and I didn't necessarily pitch to brands, I just offered what I knew I could do, if and when I thought it would be beneficial. I had the luxury of not needing clients because I was already generating income through blogging, so I was able to pick up clients in a slower, more organic way.
How to retain clients for the long-term
Some clients will want or need individual project works, such as a year-long strategy plans or smaller campaign concepts, and other clients will want or need ongoing, regular works, such as blogger outreach, social media management and SEO. It really depends on what they have in place already and what their end goal is. If you're working with someone on a project basis and you're keen to extend your arrangement into an ongoing retainer, think of what value you could bring to the table. You have to match their monthly outlay with a return on investment, so when you're pitching the possibility of some other services, focus on how this will manifest in tangible terms. Say you're working on an e-shot and some custom graphics for a one-off digital campaign - whilst you're pitching the project at hand, mention how regular blogger collaborations could increase their click throughs on Instagram by [x] amount, or how continued SEO could help to boost their overall ranking by [z]. Offer to draft up a 3-month plan of activities as a taster of what you could do, and share examples of previous works (even if this is only for yourself as a blogger - growing an audience is still growing an audience, no matter who it's for!). You want to impress that consistent, structured and strategised long-term work will yield greater results than the occasional bit of work here and there, but don't oversell yourself. If you don't think there's value in what you can offer or you aren't sure you can deliver what the company needs, don't push it. You'll end up in a sticky spot with an unhappy client.
How I decided which services to offer and why
So you've decided to move into freelance work, and now you need to decide what to offer. But how? It might be tempting to promote yourself as a one-stop-shop for all marketing needs, but unless you have the proper experience or technical knowledge, this can be a slippery slope. In short: if you can't do it or you aren't confident that you can learn and execute an effective service at the same time, then don't offer it. I understand the basics of SEO and I have a working knowledge of AdWords, but not enough that I offer management of these to clients. There are plenty of other specialists who are more attuned to the intricacies of search engine rankings than I, and the last thing I want is a client questioning why they've been paying me for something which could have been done better elsewhere. Instead I stick to what I know I do well:
- Blogger outreach (including the sourcing of appropriate bloggers/influencers, drawing up necessary contracts, distributing these and chasing them up, booking bloggers/influencers in, proposing posting dates and campaign hashtags, chasing up late posts, issuing invoices when breaches of contract have occurred and providing performance reports)
- Social media management (including daily posts, responding to messages, utilising new features such as highlights, regularly updating stories, creating custom graphics for offers and strategising to consistently build following and engagement),
- Graphic design (including custom business cards, postcards, loyalty cards and web banners/ads etc.)
- Paid social media advertising (including concept creation, deciding which platform/channel of advertising will be most beneficial, acquiring budget, monitoring progress and providing a performance report on impressions, click throughs, conversions etc.)
- Email marketing (including e-shot design, send out, performance tracking and any custom graphics work)
- Content writing (including basic SEO, blog writing, copywriting press releases, updating regular page content on the website and any other necessary written work)
- Project management (including liaising with internal and external team members, delegating tasks, issuing and paying invoices and liaising with the financial team/accountancy firm, sourcing specialists and shit loads of admin)
My advice for those new to social media and marketing
If you've never worked in social media and marketing before but you're keen to break into the industry, then it's best to begin with being honest about your abilities. It may be that you're a blogger and you want to transfer some of your social media skills over to freelance work, in which case you should think about how these will be valuable to a client. Just being able to upload once a day to Instagram is not enough - most clients can do this themselves already - so you need to demonstrate how your specialist skillset will make the difference. What do you know that they don't? What have you done which has worked? How could you build an effective social media strategy for them and what will this entail (side note: don't give too much information away in the initial back and forth, because they could just pinch your ideas and run)? Will you make social media management your solitary offering, or will you incorporate content writing and blogger outreach as well? It may well be that you're not ready to start working with clients yet, in which case you should consider working on a pro-bono basis for some charities and building up your portfolio and experience. If you think you are ready, then get organised. You'll want to provide performance reports for every piece of work you undertake in order to show the client what their money has paid for, so prepare some templates and give yourself a good working structure for keeping track as you go along. For example, if you're going to be offering blogger outreach, then do some research into contracts and draft up a spreadsheet which will act as your database. Start adding bloggers and influencers in differing categories so you have a good pool to pull from as soon as you begin. Basically just get prepared as fuck - the more streamlined and professional, the better.
My advice for those already in social media and marketing who want to break away into freelancing
If you work in social media and/or marketing already, then you have the advantage of experience. You'll have proof of your work, you'll have tried and tested many different methods, and you'll likely have lent your hand to just about anything. Demonstrating your value to a client is not necessarily the issue at hand - you already know that you're a capable marketeer, and you can prove it - instead, it's making the switch from a consistent 9-5 to an unpredictable new venture as a freelancer. The easiest way to transition is to build up your client base whilst you still have the security of employment, but this could constitute a breach of contract and/or conflict of interests, so you need to be careful. If your boss is a decent person and you have a good working relationship, don't underestimate the effectiveness of just being honest with them. When I took on my first freelance client I made sure to communicate the terms of our work to my boss at the time, who understood that since the brand had an extremely limited budget, the agency would never have won the work anyway. If your boss isn't so accommodating (and awesome - my boss was so so awesome) and you're unsure of your contract terms, my advice would be not to risk it. It's not worth getting in shit over, and potentially jeopardising the steady stream of income you have now. Instead, I would suggest saving up a nest egg, getting yourself prepared in terms of documents and organisation, learning as much as you possibly can, and then when the time is right, taking the plunge. Make sure you have enough saved to act as a buffer should the work not be so forthcoming, and be practical: have a plan B. You can always pick up a part-time in-house role should you need to, and it's easier to go to an employer with pre-existing clients than it is to explain freelance work whilst you're full-time employed.
Guiding lessons I learned from working in-house at a marketing company
Be organised, and communicate well. Never delete emails (you may need to use them as evidence that no, you never promised to work for free, and yes, they did agree to your payment terms). Be honest with your clients and make sure you manage their expectations. Tell them if they're hoping for too much, or it could end up biting you both in the arse. Be confident, be thorough, and pick up the phone. Clients like to hear your voice - it's more professional and instils more trust.
Guiding lessons I've learned whilst freelancing
Be even MORE organised. You only have yourself to rely on, and even if you source other specialists for the likes of design or paid advertising, they will then become your responsibility so you need to make sure everything is getting done, and getting done right. Again, communicate well. A quick message to say you're not at your desk today but you'll be picking up the work tomorrow will go a long way, and speaks volumes about your professionalism. Be confident discussing money, set boundaries for your work and be strict with adjusting the fee if the client asks to adapt these. Some people will inevitably try and get as much for their money as possible, so if you aren't direct, you could find yourself working for free. Know your worth and be sure to communicate that.