So You Want to Become a Freelance Digital Marketer
Learn how to become a freelance digital marketer in this post. We don't hold back. We cover the skills you need, how much you'll make, the pro's and con's, and your next steps, should you decide to pursue this exciting and digital nomad-friendly career. It's not for everyone, but it just might be for you.
If you want an exciting career in digital marketing with the highest degree of freedom and flexibility, then consider becoming a freelance digital marketer. How do you become a freelance digital marketer?
In this post, we answer the following questions:
- What does a freelance digital marketer do?
- What skills do you need to become a freelance digital marketer?
- How much does a freelance digital marketer make?
- Pro’s and con’s of becoming a freelance digital marketer
- So you want to become a freelance digital marketer: Next steps
Let’s dive in!
What does a freelance digital marketer do?
A freelance digital marketer is someone who provides digital marketing services to businesses, nonprofits, and organizations as a contracted freelancer (not an employee).
The range of digital marketing services you provide is wide. Typically, freelance digital marketers are hired for:
- Paid advertising, such as Google ads, Facebook ads, YouTube ads, etc.
- Video marketing, including ideation, scriptwriting, shooting, editing, publishing, and promoting videos
- Influencer marketing
- Search engine optimization, including keyword research, SEO content creation, and building backlinks
- Creating and managing entire sales and marketing funnels
As you can see, work has plenty of variety for a freelance digital marketer.
To inspire you, let me share the story of Arielle Strakhov. When Arielle switched to digital marketing, she had no experience. Today she offers a variety of digital marketing services, such as social media management, content marketing, and brand building. Listen to Arielle share what it was like to get started:
What skills do you need to become a freelance digital marketer?
The skills you need to become a freelance digital marketer depend on the services you want to provide.
Digital marketing has many domains. Each domain has its own set of specific hard (technical) skills. However, there are also skills necessary no matter what domain you want to specialize in. These skills include:
Writing and copywriting
All digital content begins with the written word. That’s why having solid writing skills is a must. Even if you or your client decide to hire a freelance writer or copywriter separately, you still need to know enough to be able to spot good writing/copywriting, critique drafts, and give useful suggestions.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization is essential whether you’re publishing blog posts, LinkedIn articles, Amazon or Etsy product descriptions, or app store descriptions. With SEO, it’s easier for your target audience to find your digital content. Without it, you’ll have to rely on paid ads and referrals to get eyeballs on your stuff. You only need the foundations of SEO, unless you want to specialize in providing SEO services to clients.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to provide email marketing services or manage Facebook ads: you absolutely must know how to collect and analyze marketing data. Almost every aspect of digital marketing can be measured, tracked, and optimized.
On top of hard and soft marketing skills, you also need to have essential business skills. Remember, you’re in business for yourself now. These skills are required to set up and run a profitable business. They include:
- Leadership and vision setting
- Financial management
- Project planning and management
- Problem solving
- Marketing and sales
- Customer service
As your business grows, you may decide to take on staff. In that case, you’ll need to have skills in:
- People management
How much does a freelance digital marketer make?
Since this is not an employed role, the incomes of freelance digital marketers vary widely. It depends on how valuable your services are, the types of clients you work with, and how good you are at hustling to find clients and selling your services.
Some types of digital marketing are more lucrative than others. Email marketing, growth marketing, and paid advertising roles, for example, tend to command higher fees than other digital marketing services.
Certain industries also pay more than others. Finance, electronic manufacturing, sports teams, internet publishing and broadcasting, and well-funded startups tend to pay the highest salaries and contractor fees.
In the US, the annual salaries for freelance digital marketing range from $46,313 for entry-level positions, up to $80,288 for more experienced marketers. The average of 16 data points is $59,963.
Too many variables are involved in determining how much you can make as a freelance digital marketer.
Suffice it to say that you can make from almost nothing to more than six figures a year—especially if you combine your freelancing with other streams of income. More on that below.
Pro’s and con’s of becoming a freelance digital marketer
No career is perfect, and that goes for being a freelance digital marketer, too. Let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages of this marketing career.
Freelancing as a digital marketer has many advantages. These include:
1. Flexible schedule
As a freelancer, you have almost complete control over your working hours. You decide how much you work and when you work—as long as you meet client deadlines, of course. This also means you get paid for the results you get, not for the number of hours you put in. Some freelancers do charge by the hour, but we don’t recommend you do that. Freelance digital marketers’ fees should be based on outputs and results, not the number of hours worked.
2. Do work you like
Another perk of being a freelancer is being able to choose the projects and clients you work with. In the beginning, you may feel compelled to accept any client work that comes your way. That’s perfectly acceptable when you’re still establishing your client base and are looking to build your track record and, of course, to bring in revenues.
However, when you become established and can confidently bring in a steady flow of clients, you’ll have the luxury of picking and choosing which projects to take on.
3. Location independence
Freelance digital marketers usually work remotely. This means you can work from anywhere, as long as you have a computer and reliable internet connection. This career is compatible with the digital nomad lifestyle. You can combine it with your love of traveling. Or if you prefer to work from home, no commutes to and from work.
4. Lower costs of earning money
In business, there’s a term called “cost of doing business.” Employees in turn have a “cost of earning money,” which includes expenditures for travel, clothing, makeup, and lunches and coffees during your work commute. You have none of those expenses if you choose to become a freelance digital marketer.
Yes, you do have costs as a freelancer, but most of the time those are tax-deductible business expenses. (Note: I’m not an accountant, and this is not business financial advice. Consult an accountant to find out which business expenses you can claim in the area where you file taxes.)
5. Unlimited income potential
Technically, your income potential as a freelance digital marketer is unlimited. That’s because you can charge as much as you want as long as clients are willing to pay.
In addition, you can juggle freelancing with another business or even a part-time job. Or you can combine a full-time job with part-time freelancing. Whichever you choose, you can have financial security and ever-increasing potential for growth.
Freelancing as a digital marketer isn’t for everybody. It also comes with its share of disadvantages, such as:
1. You always have to be hustling
As a freelancer, you have to always be hustling to keep your pipeline full of prospects and clients. In fact, you may find yourself working more hours than you ever worked as an employee. That’s because you have to market your services and close clients—on top of all the work you do to serve the clients you do have. (Or you can let Acadium match you with clients who are looking for your services.)
“When you’re a freelancer by yourself, you wear many hats. Half of your time is doing the work. Half your time is finding new work.”
Erik Harbison, Acadium Plus Program Instructor and Career Coach
2. Feast or famine
Another disadvantage of freelancing is the absence of a regular pay check. The demand for your services will likely have peaks and low periods. For example, no matter how good you are at marketing, you may find that clients are more likely to slow down in the summertime and over the holidays.
3. No benefits
As a freelancer, you won’t enjoy the benefits that usually come with a job: paid time off, sick days, health benefits, disability insurance, and so on. In general, if you don’t work, then you don’t get paid.
4. Pressure to earn more
You can, and should, get your own health coverage and disability insurance. However, these will have to come out of your own pocket. And usually, these are not considered business expenses. (Again, I’m not an accountant, and laws may be different where you are. Do your due diligence to see what the tax laws are in your country.) You should also have a rainy-day fund for when you want or need to take time off. This means you have to make more than an employee’s salary to match the entire package you’d receive as an employee.
5. Loneliness and isolation
Finally, freelancing can be a lonely and isolated enterprise, especially in a remote work environment. This can be particularly difficult for extroverts, and it’s often enough to send them looking for office-based work. Even introverts crave interpersonal connections. Either way, you’ll have to devise ways to get the interactions you need for your mental health.
As a freelance digital marketer, you’re in control of your career and your income. This is both an advantage and disadvantage. On one hand, you create your own opportunities. On the other hand, the responsibility is yours and yours alone.
So you want to become a freelance digital marketer: Next steps
If after reading this post, you’re more excited than ever about becoming a freelance digital marketer, then here are your next steps:
1. Decide on what expertise you want to offer. Pick one specific area or domain of digital marketing you want to specialize in.
2. Pick an ideal client. Which types of clients and/or industries are you happiest working with? You can choose to focus only on nonprofits. Or, you can narrow your focus on a specific industry such as software, retail, eCommerce, finance, etc.
3. Build a track record. Start building a track record of getting results for clients. Document everything you do, and track results so you have proof of what you’re capable of. Also, always collect testimonials from clients. You need social proof to market your services.
4. Create a credible online presence. As a digital marketer, you’re expected to know how to create and maintain an authoritative online presence. Potential clients will always check you out and draw conclusions about you even before they connect with you. Make sure what they find shows you in the best light.
Ready to get on track to become a freelance digital marketer, but you don’t have enough experience to attract clients? If you want to strengthen your digital marketing skills, then consider becoming an apprentice at Acadium. We’ll match you with a suitable mentor who’s willing to guide you and give you hands-on experience in their business.
Got enough experience but would rather not do the heavy lifting required to find clients? We can help you with that, too! We have a marketplace of business owners looking for freelance digital marketers. This means we’ll match you with clients, so you can focus your time and energy on serving them. Learn more about freelancing through Acadium.
Lexi Rodrigo is the Content Manager at Acadium. As a marketing and communications professional and course creator, she helps remarkable brands get seen, heard, and known. She has been a digital marketer and copywriter since 2008. She's also the co-author of "Blog Post Ideas: 21 Proven Ways to Create Compelling Content and Kiss Writer's Block Goodbye." When she's not reading or writing, Lexi bakes bread, grows food, and takes long walks.
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