Guide: 7 steps to launching your career as a marketing consultant

by | Jan 24, 2023

Blocks that say 'step by step' representing the 7 steps in our guide to becoming a marketing consultant
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The allure of the full-time freelance lifestyle has gained traction in the public eye lately, thanks to the empowerment, flexibility, and earning potential it offers. But even for the most experienced marketer, it can also feel like a daunting prospect. You might be asking yourself, “How do I get clients as a marketing consultant? How will I manage admin stuff like taxes and health insurance? Will I miss having coworkers? Will I ever get to take a day off?”

Good news: using the information in our 7-step guide, you CAN launch the next phase of your career as a marketing consultant and take advantage of all the benefits that freelancing has to offer. Keep reading for details on all 7 steps:

1. Nail down your expertise and offerings as a marketing consultant
2. Create (or polish) your online presence to help you find clients
3. Determine how much you’ll charge
4. Make a plan for benefits coverage and health insurance
5. Prepare to run a small business
6. Set yourself up to take time off
7. Join freelance communities for marketing consultants and more

 

1. Nail down your expertise and offerings as a marketing consultant

Highlighting your wide range of skills and experiences might work when you’re looking for a full-time role at a brand or an agency, but you’ll find the most success looking for freelance marketing roles if you lean into your deepest, most specific niche.

Expertise: Think of your expertise as a combination of your passions and your credentials. If some of the work experience listed on your resume isn’t the work you would most like to continue doing as a consultant, we’re officially giving you permission to let it go. The joy of choosing the consulting path is in doing more of the work that lights you up. Reflect on what projects you’ve enjoyed and consult trusted colleagues on your strengths to figure out what that niche is for you.

Offerings: Your offerings (aka the services you’ll advertise to clients) should have a clearly defined value proposition in which you highlight not just the tasks you’ll complete for them (like an audit of their email marketing program) but the results your work will deliver (like a 50% increase in open rates).

It’s also helpful as you work through the process of building your offering to know what types of roles you’ll be looking for. There are pros and cons to taking on short- or long-term contracts or working on one-off projects. For example, will you want health insurance? Long-term contracts with larger companies like those offered by We Are Rosie tend to offer certain benefits. If that’s not a necessity for you, a higher cash offer and greater flexibility in working hours might be available on a smaller project.

 

2. Create (or polish) your online presence to help you find clients

Your online presence is how you’re going to find clients and help clients find you, so it’s important that it reflects the expertise and offerings you clarified in step one. A polished, professional online presence that makes it easy for potential clients to find you and see examples of your work will make a huge difference in your ability to quickly scale your client load. Get started by considering how you show up in the following places.

 

LinkedIn

If it’s been a while since you updated your roles and responsibilities, now is the time to dust off that profile. Make sure you have a professional photo and your most recent roles listed. Take advantage of the features available to create easy links to your published works, like articles you’ve written or websites you’ve designed. Take the time to follow fellow industry professionals, so you can easily see when folks in their network are seeking consultants with your skill set. Consider making a post announcing that you’re available for freelance projects and asking your network to spread the word!

Some other social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter can also serve up connections with potential clients too, especially if you make an account just for your consulting business to follow leaders in your area of interest and post projects related to your work.

Get more tips on setting up a great LinkedIn profile in our LinkedIn tips article.

 

Portfolio & resume

It’s essential that you have a professional, informative, and up-to-date resume and portfolio of work to share with prospective clients. Even more than LinkedIn, a portfolio and resume serve as a first line of defense when providing potential clients with evidence that you are the right person to help them with their marketing needs.

For our best advice on building a freelance resume and portfolio that stand out, see this article with insights from our talent team.

 

Website

Consider hosting your resume, portfolio, and links to your social media on your own website if you have the resources to create one. Templates and no-code builders like Wix and Squarespace make it easier than ever for even the non-technical among us to have our own sites that we can easily share with potential clients.

 

Other platforms

Concerns about where clients will come from and if the work will be steady enough is top-of-mind for many marketers considering full-time freelance work. You can give your transition to freelance a jumpstart by signing on to a platform or community that helps you find work, like We Are Rosie, or tapping into your network and reaching out personally to past managers, colleagues. And once you have your portfolio, resume, and website set up, it’ll be much easier for them to share info about your services with other people in their network.

Kaylin Tomlin is a We Are Rosie marketing consultant working in media. Of her experience transitioning to full-time freelance work, she notes, “When I first transitioned from working as a full-time employee (FTE) at an agency for my entire career to freelancing, I was definitely nervous. I was nervous I would have large gaps between projects, I was nervous about how I would integrate into teams and whether I would be able to make an impact. Mostly I was nervous about the unknowns and about lack of stability. After 2+ years being freelance through We Are Rosie, I feel much more confident that this is the right path for me. I’ve been fortunate to have been working with We Are Rosie for 2+ years and have had a continual contract with the same agency. It’s been a good way to get adjusted from the FTE agency world to more flexibility with freelance.”

 

3. Determine how much you’ll charge

Figuring out pricing is one of the most common questions for people launching their marketing consultant journeys. In fact, the debate and uncertainty over how to price freelance services continues even in communities of highly experienced consultants.

Money is a complex and emotional issue for many of us, and it’s one of the biggest unknowns when deciding to strike out on your own, so we get it. It would be weirder if you weren’t asking yourself, “How do I decide how much to charge as a freelancer?”

Most people struggle because they start their full-time freelance journey by asking “What can I charge?” (i.e., what is the most the average client is willing to pay for this type of service) and then “What should I charge?” (i.e., what is the going, competitive rate that other freelancers are charging for this type of service).

But we recommend a slightly unorthodox approach to figuring out your pricing.

 

Our freelance pricing method

Start by setting a dream goal for yourself. In a perfect world, how much would you earn from your freelance career? How many hours and weeks per year would you like to work?

Say you hope to earn $105,000 annually as a freelancer. Keep in mind that you’ll owe about 30% of that in taxes, leaving you with $73,500 as your take-home pay, before you pay for any health, life, or disability insurance or save anything for retirement. Freelancers do pay more in taxes, but we’ll get to that in the next step.

Now, say you want to work 30 hours a week and take 6 weeks of vacation (you became your own boss for a reason, right?).

  • 52 weeks in a year – 6 weeks of vacation = 46 weeks of work
  • 30 hrs per week x 46 weeks of work = 1,380 hours of work in a year
  • $105,000 a year / 1,380 hours of work = about $76 an hour

Adjust accordingly for more or fewer hours per week, more or less vacation, and a higher or lower after-tax number depending on your personal circumstances and needs. The hourly rate number you land on is your target. This formula also works if you’re just here because you’ve recently been asking yourself, “How do I make an extra $1,000 a month?” The number that works as your target is highly personal!

 

Set your floor

Next, we’re going to determine your floor. This is the number you simply can’t go below. Essentially, this is the amount that an hour of your time “costs” and doesn’t make financial sense for you to go below. Factor in things like current contracts you’d be leaving behind, benefits like health care or retirement matching, childcare costs for time when you’re working, and the value of the flexibility that consulting has to offer.

For example, say you currently have a W2 job that pays you $75,000 a year plus benefits to work 40 hours a week in person, with no flexibility to come in late or leave early for personal obligations and only 2 weeks of paid annual leave.

Using the same weeks/hours formula as above, we can calculate that your current contract is worth $37.50 per hour. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume the benefits offered by the full-time job are offset by the reduced hours and extra vacation time available when you become your own boss.

Now you know you can accept projects starting at $40/hour (we rounded up for inflation, and because you deserve a raise) to essentially be making an even trade. This is okay as a starting point to build up your portfolio or client list, but don’t worry—you’ll be raising those rates quickly as you gain experience!

This is where understanding industry benchmarks becomes important. Seek out information about standard or average industry rates not as a starting point for what you should be charging, but as a reality check: is the range between your floor and your target rate reasonable for someone with your experience and specific expertise? With this method, there’s less stress because you know you’re charging enough to meet your personal needs and eventually, your goals. Your goal can grow annually as your experience increases as well.

Some industry benchmark pricing guides we like are the Superpath content marketing report and Sprout’s social media manager salary breakdown. You can also find valuable discussions or ask specific questions in various freelance communities and message boards–see communities we love in step 7!

 

Don’t forget about the Experience Value Factor

There’s one more really important element to consider here. We call it the Experience Value Factor.

It starts with an old joke that you’ve likely heard some version of before: an electrician was called to a home to fix a blinking light. The electrician looked briefly at the light, then opened the panel and clipped a stray wire, resolving the problem. He then handed the homeowner a bill for $350. The homeowner exclaims, “That much? You were only here for a minute!” The electrician responds, “I’m not charging you for the minute it took me to clip the wire. I’m charging you for knowing which wire to clip.”

The more experience you have, the less time it takes you to do great work. You can account for this by charging a higher hourly rate to capture the value of your expertise, or by charging on a project basis.

Many experienced marketing consultants recommend charging on a project basis. This method involves making a calculation based on the time you think it will take you to complete the work along with the value you bring to the table. When you charge on a project basis, the scope of work should be clearly defined in your bid, including things like the number of revisions you’ll do without incurring additional charges. To figure out how to calculate your own value-based price, we defer to this pricing model from Wethos.

Project fees are not always the right choice, however. In fact, We Are Rosie consultant Kaylin Tomlin actually prefers to charge hourly because, as she says, “It translates to a 1:1 output on hours worked vs. compensation and I feel puts more value on my time, both personally and professionally!”

Pro tip: NEVER start working on a project without a contract in place that defines how much and when you’ll be paid, and clearly delineates the scope of work. This protects you and the client, but it’s one of the biggest and most common rookie mistakes we see with those going freelance full time.

 

4. Make a plan for benefits coverage and health insurance

Most people are familiar with the concept of benefits that accompany W2 employment. While specifics vary, most company benefit programs include health insurance coverage, life and disability benefits, retirement savings accounts, and at least some amount of paid leave.

As a new consultant, you might feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of providing all these benefits for yourself. One option when going freelance full time is to obtain independent coverage for health and other insurance through state marketplaces or private providers, and set up your own retirement contributions.

Another option is to take consulting work with larger companies, either directly or through a community like We Are Rosie. Because of legalities around contract work for these organizations, you’ll likely be hired as a W2 worker and your compensation will include benefits.

If you have a spouse whose benefits you can access, that can help bridge the gap but may not cover everything you need to think about. If your household couldn’t meet essential needs without your freelance income, private life and disability insurance are a must.

Farley White, a freelance brand designer from Georgia and Rosie community member, shares some of her strategies for finding health insurance as a freelancer:

“I am unmarried and too old to be on my parents’ insurance, so when I left my corporate job to go freelance, I did a lot of shopping around. For people with simple medical needs, I think the exchange can be a great option, especially in states with good coverage options. I live in the South and have some chronic conditions, however, and the options through the exchange weren’t suitable. Because of this, I actually ended up enrolling in a medical share plan. I was a little nervous to not go the traditional route, but I’ve had a great experience—I broke my foot a few months ago, and they covered pretty much everything and were easy to work with. It can be a pain not to be traditionally insured, but for me it was the best option.”

 

5. Prepare to run a small business

When you strike out on your own as a marketing consultant, you’re not just a freelancer. You’re effectively running a small business (it’s you, you’re the business!). That makes you an entrepreneur (way to go!) and it means there’s a lot more to consider on the administrative, business-running side of things than many freelancers realize when they’re just starting out.

Here’s how to handle the paperwork and admin side of your freelance business.

 

Choose your business structure

Many independent consultants choose to file paperwork for an LLC (aka limited liability corporation) when they start their businesses. But thanks to a status designation called a sole proprietorship, you don’t necessarily have to have an LLC to be a freelance marketing consultant.

There are pros and cons to each, and what’s right for you will depend on your individual circumstances. We Are Rosie’s controller, Hannah Baird, provides some of her expertise on LLCs:

“There are a few pros and cons to going with an LLC. First, the taxation is the same whether or not you’re a registered LLC. If you’re a single individual who has not incorporated the business or partnered with someone else, your taxes will be reported on Schedule C of your individual tax return (LLC or not!).

The pro to becoming an LLC is as the name says: limited liability. This has to do with risk of litigation. When you’re an LLC, a party cannot come after your personal assets: only the assets that fall under the business. Typically the fees to become a registered LLC do not exceed $500 (and are also tax deductible), but it all depends on the state you’re registering with. It’s usually an easy process and there are many services out there that will do it for you. I always consider it a best practice to register as an LLC with the state, but it’s not a requirement in order to have a business.”

 

Set up a project management system

Whether you consider yourself a highly organized person or tend to thrive on chaos, it’s key for marketing consultants to have project management systems in place. You will need a way to keep track of clients, projects, and tasks, as well as a method of tracking your time if charging hourly. Plus, there’s the best part of freelancing: sending invoices and collecting payments!

Some clients will want you to use their systems, but it’s still good practice to have your own in place. You can use tools that have been successful for you in the past, or look into some favorites from our community of independent marketing consultants:

  • For full-stack freelancer management: Harlow
  • For super simple, free invoicing and payments: Lumanu
  • For no-cost project organization: Notion

If you choose any paid tools (including things like Canva, Clearscope, Ahrefs, etc), remember that they’re tax deductible!

 

Don’t neglect your bookkeeping

If any of your work as an independent marketer is classified as 1099 income (meaning taxes aren’t taken out) then keeping an accurate account of your business income and expenses is essential. If this isn’t your jam, we get it—you can always hire a bookkeeper. There are many who focus on helping freelancers and consultants. However, that can get expensive, and we want you to know it IS possible to DIY. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A business bank account: It’s a huge rookie mistake to have your business income flowing into your personal bank account. Keeping a separate account and credit card will make your life so much easier when it comes to accounting and taxes! Plus it’s free, and credit cards often come with benefits, so don’t hesitate on this one.
  • A method of tracking income and expenses: Once you have a business bank account, it’s tempting to rely on your bank and credit card statements alone. But trust us when we say you need to keep a spreadsheet or some other method of recording your income, expenses, and receipts. It will help you stay on top of business finances, never get fined for missing a payment, and not lose track of clients who are slow to pay.
  • Plan to pay your taxes. Many making the switch to freelancing don’t realize that when you earn income that’s paid on a 1099 basis rather than a W2 basis, you have to pay estimated state and federal taxes each quarter. Not only do you have to pay them, you have to figure out how much you’re going to owe! There are online calculators that can help you make that calculation if you put in your info, like this one from Keeper Tax or this one from Ruby Money.

It’s an even better idea to figure out your estimated tax rate (those calculators can help) and set aside that percent of each paycheck into a separate account just for paying taxes. That way, when your quarterly taxes are due four times per year, you’re not scrambling to find enough money to cover the bill. Don’t be tempted to wait until your annual filing in April, either. You’ll have to pay the amount you would have owed throughout the year, plus a penalty fee and even interest on the amount. If setting up a quarterly tax management system sounds like a lot of legwork, some freelancers recommend the Ruby Money app for automating the entire process.

WRR controller Hannah Baird says, “I know taxes can be super scary to those who don’t deal with them more than once a year. My number-one piece of advice is to keep business and personal finances separate, and to keep good records. The first thing you should do when working for yourself is to set up a separate business-only bank account. Second, pick a method that works best for you in order to keep good records. Doing it in real-time will make things so much easier when tax time comes around! If you’re still uneasy about the finances of your freelancing, there are many individuals and companies out there to help. I always suggest looking for a small, local accounting/CPA firm that doesn’t charge outrageous fees for their services.”

 

6. Set yourself up to take time off

During the transition to freelance, it’s only natural to wonder, “Will I be able to take time off when I want?”

If you’re following our pricing method, you’ve accounted for time off in your budget. That’s great in theory, but how does this work once you’re actually taking on specific clients and projects?

Farley White, who shared her health insurance set-up above, also has a few strategies for taking time off:

“I find that if I’m taking more than a day off, I have to do a good bit of planning beforehand. I recently spent two weeks traveling, and had to make sure to complete most of my ongoing tasks, make sure all my clients were aware well in advance that I’d be out of range, and make sure any new projects wouldn’t be starting until after I got back. That said, when you’re a one-woman show, things come up, and I find I always end up doing a few hours of work here and there even while I’m out of office.”

Farley touches on a common plot twist: your biggest enemy when it comes to taking time off as a freelancer is probably going to be yourself. It’s hard to put down your phone or laptop even on weekends and holidays when you’re committed to serving clients and building your business, so scheduling time off and sticking to it is essential. The good news is that you can arrange projects around planned time off so that contracts wind down before you head out and new ones don’t pick up until you return. Many clients are understanding and respectful of these types of boundaries when it comes to their consultants—and if they’re not, well, you don’t have to work with them!

Harlow co-founder Samantha Anderl also has this to say about time off: “Taking time off as a freelancer is so important. One of the greatest perks of running your own business is flexibility, but if we don’t actively plan and prep, it becomes difficult to take a step back from client and administrative work. We actually recently interviewed Adrienne Sheares on taking vacation as a freelancer and loved her process and input.”

 

7. Join freelance communities for marketing consultants and more

The transition to freelance means you lose your built-in coworkers. Many wonder whether it will be lonely as a freelancer. This is where communities come in! There are plenty of other amazing consultants out there looking for their freelance work bestie, and online communities are sone of the best places to bring people together.

When going freelance full time, communities offer a place to ask questions (Is this client request normal? Am I charging enough? Can anyone recommend a great tool for a specific task?) and take advantage of professional development opportunities. And don’t forget that if you choose to pay for a community membership, it’s tax deductible!

Some of our favorite freelance communities:

 

Conclusion: Yes, you can become a successful marketing consultant!

As if the details and information in this guide didn’t give it away, there are a lot of moving parts to consider when you transition to freelance.

Consider starting slowly, and having a few clients lined up or that you already work with on a part-time basis before you leave the security of your full-time role. If your circumstances allow, save up three or six months of living expenses so you can take a relaxed approach to launching your marketing consultant career.

With those building blocks in place and all the information in this guide at your disposal, we know you are going to make the transition from full-time to freelance with ease and start living your best work life.

Written by Isabel Sachs
Isabel Sachs is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and content marketing consultant helping startups grow brand awareness via inspired content & the power of community.

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