The Rise of Digital Marketing Consultants

The Rise of Digital Marketing Consultants
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If you’ve ever considered ditching your 9:00-5:00 “day job” or wondered what it would be like to be your own boss, you aren’t alone. A revolution is taking place: more Americans are starting their own business.

According to the Freelancing in America: 2016 Survey, an annual report conducted by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, freelancers now make up a whopping 35% of the US workforce and contribute around $1 trillion to the economy annually. In the face of job cuts and hiring freezes, this survey underlines just how many Americans are taking matters into their own hands and creating their own full-time jobs.

If you’re a digital marketing professional thinking about creating your own business or are already in the process of setting out on your own as an independent marketing consultant, it can feel like a weight has been lifted. However, starting your own digital agency means there are a whole list of other things to think about and a ton of decisions to make. One of the most important first steps is deciding how you are going to find clients for your consultancy business and what should you charge your new-found clients.

As an independent digital marketing consultant, you’ve got a lot going on. Big to-do lists and probably even bigger ideas. This is your chance to create something independently and work on your own terms. So let’s look at what it means to be part of this new consultant revolution and how to win business as you get started.

Why do people want to be Independent Consultants?

Forbes contributor Elaine Pofeldt, who specializes in the growing solopreneur business industry and its ecosystem, says that one of the biggest perks of going it alone and setting up your own consultancy is the better work-like balance. She notes several findings from the Freelancing in America survey – namely that many independent contractors work less than a 40-hour work week, have easier access to job prospects thanks to a proliferation of platforms and technology, earning potential and the flexibility of the lifestyle.

Having chosen the digital consulting path, you’re likely already experienced in the digital marketing industry, but this is also an opportunity to add to your skill set. If you do go back to school, invest in a training course from an industry expert or take online classes, any SEO, content marketing or PPC expertise you develop will ultimately translate into tangible benefits for your fledgling business. That translates to a healthier bank balance and the credibility needed to charge higher rates.

Many professionals like my self have no idea what local SEO even is, yet how to do it. Bright Local puts it all together. Highly recommended.

Richard Lipman South Miami, FL

How should you position yourself?

In the face of an ever-competitive industry and more people making the switch to consulting, there is a knack to positioning yourself as a consultant rather than a do-er or technician. This is crucial to charging higher rates, winning better commissions and establishing stronger client relationships. It also means that to be successful as a digital marketing consultant, you have to learn to say no and be very selective about who you actually consult for.

Nela Dunato, a contributor to the Freelancers Union blog says, “The expert is the consultant who advises the client on the strategy, as well as the implementation. Strategy can bring disproportionately more value to the client than pure implementation does, so as an expert you can charge higher prices from your average technician freelancer.

“In order to keep your status as the expert, you cannot take on just any client who comes your way – you need to be discerning and selective, only taking on those clients who perceive you as an expert and are open to listening to your ideas and proposed best practices. This requires a thorough vetting process using your sales page copy, inquiry forms and questionnaires, sales conversations and proposals. Some clients don’t play well with experts and are just not worth taking on.”

How do you go about finding work?

If you come from an agency background, you might already have a strong network of contacts to tap into for your next project, but there are other ways to grow your digital consulting business, too.

Many consultants will benefit from a two-tier approach – which means creating your own job opportunities by using platforms such as Upwork, People Per Hour, LinkedIn ProFinder and SimplyHired and also nurturing relationships with agencies. As Donato observes, consultants are valued due to their expertise and strategic insight, something that not all agencies have on tap. Being able to bring your value to the table makes you a hot commodity, especially for those ambitious dynamic agencies executing their own growth strategies.

You can also just go out into your local city and find local businesses as clients. Look for companies that are running TV commercials, newspaper ads, the local phone book, local print and online directories, etc.

Starting your own agency can be challenging – but very rewarding when you’re successful. If you decide to start your own digital marketing agency, good luck!

Let us know what you think

Are you considering a move into digital marketing consulting? Have you recently made the leap and created your own job as a freelancer or independent contractor? We’d love to hear your stories about going it alone and advice you’d give to those setting out on the same path.

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9 thoughts on “The Rise of Digital Marketing Consultants”

  1. Great blog! Skill and experience are key factors in digital marketing. Keeping yourself updated with the latest in the world of SEO will help build the trust on which you can script your success as an online marketing consultant.

  2. Awesome article and indeed a guide not only for those who want to start a Digital Marketing Agency but also to those who would be around it from the employees, audience and everyone that will be involved this is quite a map you made to guide a lot of interested parties. Thank you SERPED for this helpful and timely article. Thumbs up for this!!!

  3. Sherry,

    I agree starting your own agency can be challenging yet rewarding when you’re successful but I think people are starting digital marketing agencies without having good budgets in hand and as the result they follow spam practice to rank website higher and end up getting no ROI. I think one must only start digital marketing agency if he/she has realistic budget to perform ethical digital marketing activities or have enough clients to mange digital marketing company day to day operations otherwise it is useless to start digital marketing company.

  4. Thanks for the post Sherry,

    I’ve been freelancing for over a year now doing local seo and web design. There’s no doubt a lot more saturation with lower quality work being done but if you know what you’re doing and you can produce tangible results – it’s still a good business to be in.

  5. I’ve done moonlighting as a consultant before, but just beginning to make the jump to consulting full time recently.

    I think it helps to have a fairly niche set of skills thats in high-demand. I’d hate to be trying to make a go of it with SEO/PPC/SEM type practices. I do marketing automation and tech stack management, and there is a decent demand for this.

    The piece of advice I’d give to people considering making the jump is really to consider what the competitive differentiator they offer. There are a proliferation of people who do “digital marketing” but if you refine what you do and expressly state the particular areas, the types of clients you’ve had the most success with, and the specific (not buzzwords) things you help with, its the easiest to pitch.

    For example, instead of saying “I do digital marketing consulting” I tell clients “I work with SMBs who are new or relatively new to marketing automation (usually Marketo or Eloqua) and I help them get their CRM and other digital tools working together, basic lead scoring, nurturing, and recruitment/training for full time in house talent.”

    Yes, I dramatically limit the number of potential clients by limiting my scope, but 1) when I do get new clients I am confident I can rock their world (because I do this all the time) and 2) I have a much higher conversion rate on prospects that fit that model.

    Specialize. Think verticals you are good at, client size, revenue ranges, specific software or tools, what part of business growth, etc. Don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades, because the second half of that cliche is “master of none”. And it’s a crowded marketplace…

  6. The problem as I see it is the number of ‘experts’ who aren’t, offering advice about things they know little about to clients who know even less.

    Unable to defend themselves against these ‘false prophets’ who profess to be able to do SEO or lead generation often leaves clients worse than they were when the engagement started.

    I’m not encouraging government regulation of the industry but choosing an experienced online marketing advisor is, in its own way, as important as choosing the right doctor. In this case the health of your business hangs in the balance.

    1. Scott — I 100% agree. I talk with business owners who are bombarded by scam artists and they’re skeptical of anyone that calls them out of the blue about SEO (and rightfully so.) It is a shame that people who proclaim to be an “expert” give those of us who are true SEO professionals with years of experience a bad name. — Sherry

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