As the expectations have grown for businesses to have a solid social media presence, so has the demand for social media consultants.
Do you have a passion for digital communication, a keen understanding of social media platforms, and a desire to help others get the most out of their online marketing strategy? Then becoming a social media consultant might be the perfect avenue for you.
But what does it take to become a successful social media marketing consultant? Aside from a passion for the craft, you’ll need some experience. Once you have that, it’s easy to get started. Below, we’ll explain the five key steps to becoming a social media consultant.
Social media consultants provide social media expertise to businesses and clients. Consultants offer advice and recommendations to help clients build and execute their social media strategies.
Social media consulting work is flexible and can be done anywhere with a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Consultants may work full-time with one client on a project, juggle many clients and contracts at a time, or do it as a side hustle on top of a full-time job.
Social media consultants may offer a variety of services to businesses, including:
- Creating evergreen social media strategies
- Helping launch a new social media channel
- Conducting social media research
- Doing social media audits
- Setting up social listening dashboards
- Planning social media campaigns
- Providing comprehensive analytics reports
- Facilitating social media training sessions and workshops
The keyword in many of the points above is “strategy.” Social media consultants are usually more experienced and senior in their careers than freelance social media managers. Consultants also tend to work more on strategy rather than execution and content creation.
An example of the services offered by Josh Klemons, a social media consultant based in Wisconsin, USA.
While the flexibility and freedom of being a social media consultant can seem very attractive, it may not be a fit for everyone.
First, there are a bunch of consulting-specific skills required on top of social media management skills:
- Content creation. Although consultants may not have to create content for clients, they should still have skills in design and copywriting. You’ll need to be able to edit posts for clients and create mockups to illustrate your proposals.
- Public speaking and sales. Pitching is a crucial step in securing new clients. You must be comfortable selling yourself and your services, often in front of executives. Once you land the client, you’ll often present proposals to them as part of your consulting work.
- Project management. As a business owner and team of one, you are responsible for everything. That includes managing invoices, tracking expenses, filing taxes, communicating with clients, and arranging contracts. And this is all on top of actual social media consulting work.
- Client relationship management. “One thing I do: Reply to emails quickly. Doing this has set me apart from so many others in the field. Prospective clients often say they reached out to several people, and I was the only one to respond” – Josh Klemons
- Advanced analytics & reporting. Clients can do day-to-day reporting, but they often rely on consultants for more advanced, in-depth analyses and reports. For example, social intelligence consultant Ben K. Ellis specializes in social intelligence: “I deliver research and data stories to answer anything from ‘what are the latest trends in our sector and how can we leverage them?’ to ‘what are the whitespace opportunities we could use and to improve our product positioning?’”
Here are some of the pros, as shared by social media consultants themselves:
“Flexibility. Much of the work can be done remotely and in the hours that suit you best. For example, if you do your best work after 9 pm, that’s fine as long as you produce & deliver high-quality content on time!” – Shelly Terry, founder of Sheldon Social
“The variety of work! Every day is different. I get to use various skills, platforms are constantly changing, and I get to work with people across many industries. I’m always learning, honing my existing skills, and gaining new ones.” – Sara Hodge, social & digital consultant
And some of the downsides:
“The never-ending sales process. Even though I had a stable client base, this did not mean the work was constant. To get new clients or upsell the old ones, you have to be constantly pitching.” – Mark Valasik, CMO at Kontentino
“Since social media is open 24/7, you need to be prepared to work at unsociable hours.” – Justine Maher, marketing strategist
“It can be hard to take time to disconnect and stay offline when you need to.” – Jennifer Kolbuc
Still excited about becoming a social media consultant? Keep reading to find out the five steps to get there.
Before you can build a viable business as a social media consultant, you’ll need some experience. That means doing social media marketing for clients or companies, not just your pet’s Instagram account. Experience will give you the confidence to answer any client’s needs and price your services accordingly.
If you don’t have experience yet, have no fear. Check out our guide to getting started as a social media manager first.
We’ve already covered the fundamental skills and knowledge required to be an excellent social media consultant. If you reviewed the list and found any gaps, now is the time to brush up and fill them. One thing that may help you build your authority is to get certified, such as through Hootsuite Academy.
Next, you should identify a way to stay up-to-date on social media trends and updates. If you’re transitioning from working as a social media manager to being a consultant, you’ll spend less time in the day-to-day work noticing trends and what’s working. So, you should find other ways to stay educated about the social media industry. The Hootsuite blog is a good place to start!
Lastly, you should build your toolkit as a social media consultant. Often, clients will ask you for recommendations on what tools to use. You should be familiar with the main categories of social media tools, including scheduling, analytics, listening, and engagement tools. You should also know your preferred tools to work with. Here’s a complete list of social media marketing tools to get you started.
Before pitching yourself to potential clients, you’ll need a portfolio to showcase your past work and skills.
If you’ve only worked in full-time corporate positions, you can use examples from those roles. Just be sure you focus on the results you directly contributed to.
The format doesn’t matter for most clients, as long as the content makes them confident in your expertise. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Share your LinkedIn profile. Ideally, this should have endorsements and links to work samples under each position.
- Create a PDF portfolio. If design isn’t your strong suit, we recommend using Canva.
- Share a Google Drive folder or build a website with past strategy decks and work samples.
Tip: Create a master version of your portfolio containing all your work examples and case studies. Then, tailor it for each new client pitch by removing any examples irrelevant to their industry or business model.
A snapshot of Jennifer Kolbuc’s social media consulting portfolio
One of the best and worst parts of being a social media consultant is that you have complete control over pricing your services. On the one hand, setting your rates can be one of the most challenging mental parts of being a consultant. On the other hand, no one is limiting how much you can earn (unlike a day job).
Before finding clients, you should have your rates in mind. We’ll share some benchmarks and more detailed guidance on determining them below.
Now that you’ve built your skillset, toolkit, portfolio, and rate card, it’s time for the most crucial step: finding clients.
I won’t sugarcoat it — landing clients and consulting opportunities is grueling. And unfortunately, it’s a process that never ends once you become a consultant.
Here are tips and sources that have worked for me, as well as advice from other consultants:
- Facebook & Slack groups. Many Slack and Facebook groups have channels or tags for “jobs” where members can post consulting opportunities. I’ve found almost all my consulting gigs through these types of groups.
- Word of mouth & referrals. “85% of the clients I work with come from previous agency relationships or referrals.” – Christoph Schachner, social media consultant
- Personal branding. “Always put yourself out there for podcasts, workshops, and events.” – Jennifer Kolbuc. “Most of my clients found me through my online writing or speaking at conferences.” – Ben K. Ellis
- Mentorship. “Many of my clients come from mentoring on platforms like Growthmentor.” – Christoph Schachner
- Audience-building. “Build an email list! I’ve spent two years working hard to build an email list that regularly brings in sales and new clients.” – Jennifer Kolbuc
Deciding what to charge is one of the most challenging aspects of being a social media consultant.
Not only is it difficult to know what you should charge, but also to know what clients are willing to pay, what other consultants are charging, and what value you’re giving to clients.
Take a deep breath — we’re here to help. First, let’s start with the different ways that consultants can charge:
- Hourly. Consultant tracks their hours and bills the client based on total hours multiplied by their hourly rate. Best if a client’s needs are unpredictable or the scope of work is unknown. However, this will require more admin work for the consultant (time tracking, invoicing).
- Retainer (monthly). Consultant quotes a fixed monthly rate to cover all work required by the client each month. Best for long-term projects or clients that need the same support on a recurring basis.
- Project-based. Consultant charges a fixed one-time fee. Best for projects that have a clear set of tasks and a definite start and end date.
We surveyed ten consultants to identify benchmarks for freelance social media consultant rates in 2023. The rates ranged from $30 to $200 per hour, varying based on the consultant (years of experience, relevant expertise), the client (size of the company, budget), and work scope (length of project, number of services required, hours required).
With that said, many consultants don’t charge by the hour — most prefer monthly retainers or fixed project-based fees.
Ben K. Ellis shared this example: “If you provide benchmarking reports, consider the number of hours it typically takes you to produce these reports and the skill set and tools needed. Then, pick a price point that honors the value the project provides to your client’s business.”
Remember that as a freelancer, your rate needs to cover your overhead costs (business registration, taxes, supplies & expenses, laptop, software & tool subscriptions, etc.), and the lack of stability of a permanent contract and benefits.
Tip: Once you set your rates, they shouldn’t stay the same over time. Jennifer Kolbuc explains: “With my first clients, I was very affordable (undercharging) so that I could build up a client list. Now that I have 15+ years of experience, I charge more.”
Ben K. Ellis recommends that you find a community of fellow consultants.
“Moving from a job with colleagues to a consulting role can be a lonely experience. I’ve found a community on amazing platforms like The Dots, Social Intelligence Lab, and Contra, engaging with and learning from other consultants and sharing tips, answering questions, and helping each other.”
“Trends come and go, but a good strategy works much longer. Don’t sell your clients on ‘more followers.’ Sell them on the long-term vision of building a community. Social media is not about short-term success, it’s about building something that will benefit your business long-term.” – Jennifer Kolbuc
Christoph Schachner’s best tip is to focus on bottom-line results, not followers or engagement metrics.
“You need to define how you add value to the business. Not everything is 100% traceable or will have an immediate impact. But using a combination of self-reported attribution, qualitative metrics, and correlated revenue will earn you trust and clients.”
Shelly Terry emphasizes the value of experimentation.
“You should always be testing, theorizing what tactics will deliver the strategy you’re working on, and repeating what works until it doesn’t! Everything constantly changes in the social landscape, and we must be adaptive.”
“EVERYTHING needs to be in a contract. Your scope of work, a buffer for out-of-scope work you’re willing to add for free, and your hourly rate for extra work beyond that. Doing this will help you to negotiate work you haven’t agreed on or raise prices.” – Mark Valasik
Social media consultants provide businesses with advice and guidance to help them build and execute their social media strategy.
Social media consultants can charge a range based on various factors, such as their experience, the scope of the work, the size of the client, the project’s length, and more. They may charge by the hour, a monthly retainer, or a fixed fee for the whole project.
Being a good social media consultant comes down to putting your client first. You should always consider their business priorities when providing recommendations and focus on helping them achieve their business objectives through social media.
The main difference is seniority. Consultants are more experienced, specialized and often charge higher rates than social media freelancers. Both roles provide advice and services to help businesses achieve their objectives through social media.
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