This guide will show you the steps to follow to become a freelance digital marketer. It’s a complete guide for beginners to freelancing or those who want to make a career switch and enter the exciting world of digital marketing.
The following topics are covered:
- What is freelance digital marketing?
- What does a freelance marketing professional do?
- How to become a freelance digital marketer
- How much do digital marketing freelancers make?
- Where to find the best freelance digital marketing jobs?
I started my freelancing career 15 years ago as an SEO professional and later as a digital marketing consultant. I’ve done freelancing work for a number of years before starting a digital marketing agency.
Over the years I’ve learned many things and made a lot of mistakes and in this guide, I’ll explain the best and quickest path to follow to build a freelance business and start making money by offering digital marketing services to clients.
So, if you want to learn how to become a freelance digital marketing professional, keep reading and keep an open mind.
What is freelance digital marketing?
Freelance digital marketing is the name given to marketing professionals who offer freelancing services to clients. Digital marketing freelancers usually work from home and help companies with various digital marketing related tasks.
The demand for digital marketing jobs is on the rise and this makes freelance digital marketing a great career option.
As a marketing freelancer, you can be your own boss, set your own hours and rules, and at the same time doing something productive and valuable.
If you ever decide to stop freelancing, you can utilize your experience and skills to start your own online business (can be a digital marketing agency or any kind of online business) or even secure a high-paying job and work as a digital marketing manager.
What does a freelance marketing professional do?
Unlike other freelancing jobs, a freelance marketing professional has to wear many hats. Digital marketing has a number of channels and processes and you need to have the required skill set to offer a range of services to clients.
In addition to the technical tasks, as a freelancer, you also need to know how to prepare work proposals for clients, manage invoices and accounting, project management, and reporting.
To give you an idea of what the actual job looks like, these are the most common tasks executed by marketing freelancers:
- Monitoring job posting websites for new project opportunities
- Submitting job proposals to secure new clients
- Meeting / communicating with new and existing clients
- Responding to emails
- Connecting with other freelancers
- Working on your own website or blog
- Building your personal brand
- Optimizing client websites for search engines (SEO)
- Running PPC campaigns on platforms like Google Ads and Bing Ads
- Executing campaigns on Facebook (free and paid)
- Designing email marketing campaigns
- Creating content to satisfy the needs of the various online marketing campaigns
- Creating a digital marketing strategy and action plan for clients
- Preparing monthly project reports
- Issuing invoices to clients
It’s certainly a lot of work that is sometimes overwhelming but don’t worry, as you’ll see below with the right approach, you can build the required skills and mindset to handle all the tasks in a professional and timely manner.
How to Become a Freelance Digital Marketer
These are the steps to follow to become a digital marketing freelancer.
- Build the necessary skills
- Build your personal website
- Start a digital marketing blog
- Build your personal brand
- Make connections with other freelancers
- Choose your specialty
- Learn how to create a services proposal
- Set your prices
- Register your business entity
- Pick up your tools
- Get your first client
- Gather customer reviews and build your portfolio
- Organize your time wisely
- Plan your next steps
1. Build the necessary skills
One of the prerequisites to work as a freelancer is to have the skills needed for the job.
In a ‘regular’ job environment, you have other team members that can help you with a task, or in many cases, the company will offer you training and development options but that’s not the case when running a freelancing business.
As a freelancer, you’ll have to take care of your training and build the necessary skills using online digital marketing courses, other resources you can find on the web and with a lot of practice.
Solo-entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of escalating issues to management or outsourcing work to other companies but they have to be in a position to provide solutions and solve problems without external help.
There are a couple of ways to build skills fast:
The first and most efficient way is to work as the assistant of an experienced marketer. There are many entry-level digital marketing jobs you can apply to provided that you know the basics.
Spend some time going through a course and get a certification. This will help you secure a job as a junior digital marketing professional.
Use your time working as part of the team to learn how a digital marketing agency works. Ask questions and try to replicate the steps and practices of other professionals.
Don’t forget that your goal at this step is not to make a career in a particular company but to learn as many things as possible about how digital marketing works.
When you’ve had the chance to work on a number of projects and you feel confident that you can do the job on your own, you can quit and start a freelance digital marketing career.
Practice on your own properties
If you don’t want to take this path, another way to equip yourself with the necessary skills is to practice digital marketing on your own websites.
This is different than step two below (building your business website) to advertise your freelance services. This part is about creating websites so that you can test and experiment with the different digital marketing processes.
For example, to learn how to use Google Ads to drive targeted traffic to a website, you need to have a website that sells products or services. To learn how to use email marketing to make sales, you need to have a big list of email subscribers.
This process will take time, especially if you’re a beginner to digital marketing but it’s the only way to build the necessary experience and confidence so that you can later offer this as a service to your clients.
Digital Marketing Resources
- Best Digital Marketing Certifications – a list of the best and most recognized digital marketing certifications to pursue.
2. Build your business website
This is an important step and something that many freelancers either skip or not give the necessary attention to.
Your website is the focal point of your business. It’s the place to showcase your achievements, describe your services, and the medium for clients to contact you. It should be easy to use, optimized for SEO, and professional.
Business or Personal Website?
A decision you need to make at this point is whether to make your website personal i.e alexchris.com or business-oriented.
If you make it personal, it will be easier to promote in the beginning since your name will be your brand but it will not be a good fit if you decide at a later stage to turn your freelance business into a digital marketing agency.
So, before making a final decision, spend a few minutes thinking about the future. What do you want to achieve 5 years from now?
In your thinking take into account that as your freelance business grows, you’ll reach a point that you won’t be able to handle all the work yourself and you’ll need to hire employees.
Also, in the future, you might consider making a business partnership or selling your business and this would be easier with a business-oriented website and not a personal brand.
3. Start a digital marketing blog
Regardless of what you will choose, one thing that you definitely need to do from day one, before even start taking clients, is blogging.
Start a digital marketing blog and publish content that will help your potential clients understand how you can help them with digital marketing.
Content is a very powerful way to ‘close’ new clients without having to ‘sell’ yourself or services.
For the last 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of clients either as a freelancer or agency, and 99% of them requested my services because of an article they read in my blog.
With blogging, you can eliminate the need to advertise your services using paid ads and save a LOT of time trying to find clients in job portals.
When writing content for your blog, try to cover topics that are closely related to the freelance services you offer.
The secret of using your blogs for lead generation is to show your potential clients that you understand the problems and issues they face when running digital marketing campaigns.
When you explain this in detail, it’s easier for them to trust you as a possible solution provider.
In addition, when you grow your blog traffic to a decent level, you can use the content for affiliate marketing purposes and make money by recommending products to your readers or eventually sell your own products, like I’m doing with my digital marketing full course.
Resources to Learn More About Blogging
4. Build your personal brand
Besides publishing content on your blog, you should also promote your personal brand on other websites and social networks.
This is something you need to do regardless of your choice of freelance format (business or personal).
Even if you decide to operate under a business name, it’s your personal brand as a freelancer that will drive traffic and clients to your door.
There are two main ways to build your brand as a freelancer:
The first way is to get your content published on high-traffic websites, related to your freelance services. This is known in the digital marketing world, as guest posting.
By publishing your articles on well-known websites you gain a number of benefits:
- Links to your website – This is good for your off-page SEO efforts and rankings.
- Traffic to your website – Big websites get thousands of visitors per day and if they like your content, some will eventually visit your website.
- Reputation – When potential clients search for your personal name on Google, they will see your guest posts and this is good for your reputation.
- Establish yourself as an expert – Reputable industry websites have strict rules on who they accept as a guest poster and those that finally made it are perceived as the ‘experts’ for a given topic.
The tricky part is that it’s not easy to get published on the ‘big’ websites, especially if you’re a beginner. You first need to prove your digital marketing expertise and one way to do this is by maintaining an active digital marketing blog (as explained above).
The second way to build your personal brand is to utilize the power of social networks. Create personal pages on business-oriented networks like LinkedIn and Twitter and start connecting with other marketing professionals.
To increase your chances of being followed by other people, make sure that your profile describes who you are and what you do, and publish relevant to digital marketing content on your pages.
5. Make connections with other freelancers
One of the mistakes I did, at the beginning of my career, was not connecting with other freelance marketers and digital marketing professionals. I concentrated on building my website and publishing content and did not allocate the necessary time for making ‘real’ connections with other colleagues.
When referring to connections, I don’t mean becoming friends on a social media network but starting a ‘real’ conversation by email or even skype.
There are many reasons why you need to do this consistently.
- First, you can exchange ideas and experiences with like-minded professionals.
- Second, you can use your connections to promote your personal brand and content.
- Third, you can get and send referrals.
- Fourth, you can work with them for services you cannot provide but still keep your relationship with the client.
- Fifth, being a digital marketing freelancer is a lonely job, so it’s good to have someone to talk to that understands the difficulties of the business and provides advice.
How to make ‘real’ connections with other freelancers
The best way is to start by following and interacting with other freelancers on social media and then approach them with a personalized email.
Remember this is not something you’ll do in bulk so you can spend more time learning more about a person before making a contact. Try to explain from the beginning the reason you’re making a contact and how both parties can benefit from a possible co-operation.
This can be anything from exchanging ideas, promoting each others’ content, or working on a joint project.
There are no guidelines to follow as to who you will contact, this is up-to-you but take my advice and don’t omit this step. Having ‘real’ connections in the industry can help you a lot as you grow your business.
6. Choose your specialty
Digital marketing has a number of processes and a freelancer has limited time. If you try to offer a full range of digital marketing services from the beginning you may get lost, so it’s wiser to choose a specialization.
It’s better to become an expert in a couple of areas than to try to wear many hats at the same time.
As you gain more experience and clients, you can expand your offerings. You’ll also learn what type of services are more profitable and easier to handle and adjust your processes accordingly.
The different areas of digital marketing you can specialize in are:
- SEO expert
- Content marketing specialist
- PPC specialist
- Email marketing specialist
- Social media marketing specialist
- Digital marketing specialist (person of all trades)
The way to become an expert in a digital marketing disciple is the same as before i.e. learn the theory by following a course or reading reliable resources on the Internet and apply the different techniques on your own websites.
While in the ‘learning phase’ try to come up with a plan and a checklist so that when the time comes to apply the same techniques on a client website, you’ll know exactly what to do.
7. Learn how to create a services proposal
Part of your job responsibilities as a freelance online marketing professional is to write and submit a proposal for services to potential clients.
This can be a time-consuming and cumbersome process, especially in the beginning so it is highly recommended to make some preparation work in advance.
What worked for me is creating a couple of templates (in Google Docs) that covered the most common scenarios.
I created the templates after carefully examining related job postings in the various job portals.
A services proposal for any type of digital marketing work has some common areas. Things like the introduction, portfolio, description of how your services work and pricing, are common to all.
So, spend some time doing this exercise and creating a couple of templates to use for your first projects and you can improve them as you go along.
If you want to take it a step further, you can also create a series of templates for the client onboarding process.
For example, when you agree to work with a client, you may have to sign a contract (so it’s good to have this ready), you’ll need to access their website (Google Ads and Facebook accounts, etc) so you can create an email template with instructions and a Google Form.
It’s impossible to know everything from the beginning but if you don’t make the effort to ‘standardize’ some of your processes, you may end up spending your time on non-chargeable activities and this can negatively impact your business in the long term.
8. Set your prices
The next task in your journey to becoming a freelance digital marketing professional is to decide on your pricing model and set your prices.
‘How much do you charge?’ will be among the first questions you’ll hear from clients, so it’s better to have an answer ready.
There are different ways to structure your pricing model:
- Per hour
- Per project
- Per month
- A combination of the above
Clients will have different needs and they expect freelancers to have some flexibility when it comes to pricing models (and rates).
What you need to do is decide what would be your hourly rate, what kind of projects you want to work with, and what is your minimum charge for monthly services.
I’ll cover it in the next section, but what is important to understand at this stage is that you should approach freelancing the same way as running a real business.
This means that sometimes your prices need to be lower than market prices so as to build your portfolio, or on certain occasions, you may have to give discounts to existing clients or for ‘bulk’ orders.
9. Register your business entity
As soon as you finish with your first project as a professional freelancer, you’ll reach a moment that you’ll always remember in your career, and this is no other than the time to get paid.
For most freelancers, this might be obvious but with all the other things you have to do, you may forget the basics.
To get paid for the freelancing services you’ll need:
- A bank account
- An account with a payment provider like Stripe, 2checkout, and PayPal.
- An invoice processing system (doesn’t have to be an accounting software – a Google Docs invoice can do the job)
- A registered business (for tax purposes)
- A business agreement with an account
Don’t confuse the fact that you’re a freelancer working from home and not a ‘brick and mortar’ business. You still need to have a legal entity to accept payments.
If you don’t do this from the beginning, as your income grows, you’ll have trouble with the tax authorities in your country so better get this done right from the very beginning.
10. Pick up your tools
Digital marketers need tools to perform their work efficiently. There are so many metrics to track and monitor and so much data to analyze that makes it impossible to do this without the help of dedicated tools.
Digital marketing tools cost a lot and as a freelancer, you need to keep your monthly expenses to the minimum so you need to choose your tools wisely.
I prefer to use platforms instead of individual tools. A platform will give you access to a number of tools and you only have to pay for one subscription.
Besides paying for the subscriptions, to make the most out of them, you need to know how to use the different tools efficiently.
The best way to learn the features of a tool is to follow their training courses. They are free and any time you spend learning a tool, it’s time you’ll save later, and at the same time, you’ll do your job more efficiently.
For freelance online marketing professionals, I recommend the following tools:
SEMRUSH – All-in-one digital marketing platform. Actually, this is the only platform you’ll need for all the technical and reporting tasks you’ll have to perform. You can use SEMRUSH to do keyword research, track your rankings, spy on your competitors, optimize your SEO and PPC campaigns, monitor the performance of your social media accounts, and much more.
Optinmonster – The best tool to grow your email list and increase conversions on your website and client websites. Optinmonster makes lead generation tasks easy and it’s one of the most valuable tools you’ll use on a daily basis.
MailChimp – It’s one of the most reliable options to build an email list and run email marketing campaigns. You can read this guide for other email platforms you can consider (explains the features and cost of each platform).
Google G-Suite – The platform to use for email, document management, spreadsheets, reporting and collaboration, meeting platform, etc. It’s the most cost-effective platform for freelancers.
Grammarly – The last thing you want is to send proposals with spelling and grammar mistakes. Grammarly is affordable and integrates well with Google G-suite.
Besides the paid tools, you should also learn how to use the following free tools:
11. Get your first client
Once you reach this step, it means that you’re ready to start offering digital marketing services to clients. You have built the necessary skills, created your processes, registered your business, and know how to use the different tools.
Now comes the tricky part, how do you get clients? Where can you find leads and how to turn those leads into customers?
There are three ways you can get clients as a freelancer:
The first way is through your blog. As explained above, blogging is a very powerful way to get new clients but if you’re starting out now, it will take a number of months until you have decent traffic on your blog. So, while this is the best method, it won’t work in the beginning.
The second way is to apply for digital marketing jobs posted in various job portals. I will explain below which portals to use and how to increase your chances of being considered for a job. For beginners, the problem is that without having a portfolio or some success stories to share, it will be difficult for new clients to trust you.
The third way is to start offering your services for free to selected clients. Actually, this is my recommended method. I know it sounds crazy but let me quickly explain how this can help you boost your business fast.
Becoming a digital marketing freelancer is tricky. No matter what you have read or what experiences you have gained working as the assistant of others when you start doing this as your ‘real job’, it’s a completely different story.
Even if you manage to secure some paid clients from the beginning, there is a chance that you’ll get lost, get stressed, and don’t know what to do.
Everything in digital marketing is measured so it’s not a matter of doing things the right way, but it’s all about results. Clients will expect you to deliver real-measurable results and if this does not happen in a relatively short period of time, they will move on and you’ll have to start over again.
So, instead of rushing to getting your first payment, you can give yourself more time to adjust to the new reality by working on projects you choose, refining your processes, and building a small portfolio.
The best way to do this is to contact friends, family, or friends of friends that have a business (local or online) and offer them to help them for free. Nobody will refuse such an offer and you’ll get a chance to work on the project without having the pressure of time or the need to deliver results fast.
This will help you improve your process, learn from your mistakes, and build a small portfolio that will make it much easier to secure your first paid client. This period doesn’t have to long, you can do this for a few weeks until you feel confident that you are ready to take on new challenges.
12. Gather customer reviews and build your portfolio
One of the things that you need to do from the beginning is to create two dedicated pages on your freelance website. The first one is to publish customer reviews and the second one to keep track of all the companies or projects you have worked with (including those that you did for free).
For each review make sure that you add the customer name and website. Potential clients will check and read past reviews so they need to be real and transparent. It doesn’t matter if the reviews are published on your website, as long they have a name and website, they serve their purpose.
Here is a tip for you. You don’t have to wait for a project to finish to ask the client for a review. When you feel that they are happy with your work and results, ask them for a review and publish it on your website.
13. Organize your time wisely
When you start freelancing, everything will be exciting at the beginning but soon enough you’ll reach a point that you’ll be running out of time.
As you grow your portfolio, you’ll have more work to do for your clients, more emails to reply to, more invoices to handle, etc. and if you don’t learn how to manage your time efficiently, it will become difficult and stressful.
Some tips that worked for me (and still do) are:
Spend more time on tasks that will generate revenue for you (billable tasks) and minimize the time spend on non-billable tasks. Do you really need to be on Facebook for more than 5 minutes per day? Do you have to reply to every email you get from strangers? Do you really need to follow 20 blogs per day?
Do the important tasks in the morning and leave administrative tasks for the afternoon. For most people, the morning is the most productive time of the day. Use it to work on your client tasks and leave meetings and administrative tasks for the afternoon or night.
Keep a to-do list for each client. The secret of becoming a successful freelancer is to create a pool of repeating clients. It’s faster and more efficient to work with an existing client than looking to find a new one.
To keep them coming back for services, you need to always suggest new tasks and activities you can perform for the online marketing campaigns. The way to do this is to keep an internal to-do list for each of your clients to record ideas you can introduce to them once you’re finished with a particular task.
Allocate time to work on your blog. Once you start working on client projects, it’s easy to forget to work on your blog and this is a huge mistake. Your blog is the most important asset of your freelance business and something you need to work on a daily basis.
So, make sure that you pre-book in your calendar one or two hours per day for blogging. It’s the best investment you can make for your business, don’t forget this.
Perform tasks in batch. It’s easier to execute tasks in batch rather than trying to do different tasks on the same day. A good way is to book in your calendar dates for specific tasks. For example, Monday is to work for client A, Tuesday for client B, and so on.
Allocate time for training. As mentioned above, you’re responsible for your own training and development so make sure that you spend time learning new things and following the changes made in the digital marketing industry.
Allocate time to rest and relax. Freelancers don’t have formal working hours. When you’re passionate about your business, you can work long hours without complaining (and actually enjoying it).
Nevertheless, you should set some time to rest and relax. It doesn’t have to something official (like a leave) but a few hours during the day to clear your mind so that you can focus on your work and avoid job burnout.
14. Plan your next steps
As you get more experienced and your clientele grows, you’ll reach a point that you’ll need to make some decisions.
You’ll have to decide whether to keep doing what you do, hire people to help you with specific tasks, or make the transaction from freelancer to a digital marketing agency.
Continue as a freelance marketer – It’s perfectly fine to continue doing freelancing work on your own. You can set your own hours and rules and you can choose the projects to work on. As long as your job is profitable and you’re making enough money, you can do this for years.
Create a small team – Most successful freelancers don’t do all the work on their own. It’s impossible to handle big projects alone so you’ll need the help of other people. As far as the clients are concerned, they will still be talking with you but in the background, you’ll hire other people to do the work.
The tricky part is that you need to find people you can trust, and be careful not to allocate more time than needed on management tasks. You don’t want to end up ‘losing’ time on tasks that won’t increase your revenue.
Start a digital marketing agency – That’s the path I followed when starting my own online marketing agency. A decided to make the transition from a digital marketing freelancer to an agency. This is more ‘formal’ than option two. You’ll start spending less time on client work and more time on hiring the right people and running your business.
The disadvantage of this option compared to being a solo freelancer is that you’ll have to find and secure new clients to pay for the salaries and bills. You no longer care for your self but you’ll also have to look after your team and constantly trying to find ways to grow your business.
How much do digital marketing freelancers make?
This is the most popular question from beginners to digital marketing and those thinking of making a career switch.
The answer is, it depends.
When working in a company, digital marketing specialists earn between $44K and $90K per year based on years of experience. Freelancers don’t have a fixed pay scale so how much money you’ll make depends on your hourly rate.
Now, how much money you can charge per hour depends on your skills and experience, the kind of job, the monetary value it will generate for the client, and how much money the client is willing to pay you.
The last point is important and something that you need to understand from the beginning. The rate you’ll get paid for a job is not necessarily your standard rate. During negotiations, the client may set a maximum hourly rate and it’s up to you to accept or decline it.
If you have a big portfolio and a lot of clients waiting in the queue, you can reject it but if you’re short of new leads, you may have to work below your ‘normal’ rate so that you don’t go out of business.
According to studies, the most widely used hourly rate of digital marketing freelancers in the United States is between $51-$200 per hour.
How much money you can earn, depends on your rate and the number of billable hours you work per month.
For example, if you manage to get to 5 billable hours per day at an average rate of $100 per hour, then you can make $10,000 per month (5 days a week).
From that amount, you’ll have to deduct around $1000 per month (for paying tools, servers, etc), which leaves you a net of $9,000 per month or $108K per year.
This is just an example. Each freelancer will earn different amounts but for certain, this is a profession that can generate a good income for you. It’s high in demand now and with the use of the Internet, it’s expected to grow even more for years to come.
Where to find the best freelance digital marketing jobs?
Until you’ve built your blog and reputation and get to a point that clients will come to you and ask for services, one of the fastest ways to find a job as a freelancer is in job portals.
There are hundreds of digital marketing jobs you can apply to by monitoring the job postings in these websites:
Some tips to help you during the application process:
Prepare in advance – Visit the above sites and view a number of job postings that you think would be a good fit. Take note of their requirements and try to create a couple of templates you can use to send your application. This will save you a lot of time than trying to do this for every job application.
Submit your application fast – A typical job posting may receive 50-60 applications in a matter of hours. People looking for services may not go through the full list but select the first candidate that is a good match. So, it’s important to submit your application as fast as possible.
Personalize your application – While you’ll have your templates ready, try to personalize each application to match the requirements of the specific job. If employers realize that it’s a template-based reply, they will probably not take it into account.
Read the requirements carefully – One of the tricks employers use to help them with the screening process is to ask specific questions in the job posting. Applicants that don’t reply to their questions are not taken into account. So, before submitting your application make sure that it provides answers to all their questions and concerns.
Keep your rates low – In the beginning, you’ll have more chances of getting a project if your rates are low. Make sure that you mention in your application that your rates are negotiable. Once you start a conversation with a client, you’ll get a chance to convenience them that you’re the right person for the job and secure a better rate.
Becoming a freelancer in the online marketing industry is a great experience. Digital marketers can choose which tasks to perform and it’s a job that you’ll never get bored with.
On the other hand, it’s not a profession for everyone. To work as a freelancer you have to be motivated and have high-level self-confidence. When your life and family depend on it, it can quickly become a very stressful job.
The best way to build your confidence is to first build your skills. To offer digital marketing services to clients, you need to be an expert in a number of areas. This won’t happen from day one but it’s something that you can build by learning and practicing.
Once you feel that you know how digital marketing works, and have a few success stories in your portfolio then you can relax and enjoy the ride. The demand for digital marketing consultants is on the rise and it can only increase in the next years.
Take it step-by-step, build your portfolio gradually, and never stop learning and experimenting. Digital marketing is an exciting industry to be in and you’ll never regret it.