How To Become a Marketing Consultant: A Step-by-Step Guide

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for marketing professionals is forecast to grow by 10% between 2020 and 2030. We may be biased, but we can see why: marketing rocks! You get to tackle fascinating business issues using cutting-edge techniques and figure out the answers to all kinds of problems. If you feel the same way, you might want to consider becoming a marketing consultant.

Marketing consultants get to do everything the average marketer does, but with even greater rewards—and yes, the challenges, too! They get to work with diverse clients, develop their skills on all sorts of interesting projects and, once established, earn much more than most marketers do.

So, how to you become a marketing consultant? In this step-by-step guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about marketing consultancy. We’ll look at what marketing consultants do, what skills you’ll need, and a clear roadmap for launching your career. It might not happen overnight, but if you love a long-term goal or two, you could be on to a winner!

Use the clickable menu to jump to the topic of your choice:

  1. What does a marketing consultant do?
  2. What skills do you need to be a successful marketing consultant?
  3. What is the average marketing consultant’s salary?
  4. How to become a marketing consultant (step-by-step)
  5. Key takeaways and next steps

Without further ado, let’s dive right in. 

1. What does a marketing consultant do?

First things first: What does a marketing consultant actually do?

Broadly speaking, marketing consultants advise businesses and brands on how best to connect with their customers. However, this can involve a variety of activities, including:

  • Dissecting a brand’s goals and strategies to spot improvement areas 
  • Identifying gaps (as well as things that work well) and using these insights to devise improved approaches
  • Using hard data to measure the success of campaigns, tweaking as necessary
  • Creating new systems and procedures for achieving the client’s objectives
  • Training individuals and groups on the latest marketing approaches and technologies

Ultimately, whatever activities are involved, being a marketing consultant is all about connecting brands with their customers, generating leads, and building brand awareness. 

Marketing consultancy: how does it work?

Okay, we get what the goal is, but what does a marketing consultant do every day?

Perhaps a company wants to improve its reputation with some with well-placed PR. Perhaps they want a new social media and content strategy. Maybe they’re looking to launch a new product and need support deciding which demographics to target. Or maybe they want a full company rebrand, complete with new look-and-feel, tone of voice guidelines, website, brochures, social media presence, and more.

All these tasks can fall to a marketing consultant to carry out. Don’t worry if this sounds like a lot to take on, though. Marketing consultants need to cover a lot of bases, yes, but they aren’t expected to be experts at everything. Instead, a marketing consultant’s role is primarily strategic. More often than not, they’ll leave the hands-on work to in-house teams or agencies. While they will be familiar with different digital marketing approaches (and when best to use them) they don’t need to understand the in-depth workings of every task in order to execute it themselves.

Ultimately, it’s down to the individual to decide what services they wish to offer. Which is kind of the best part. Want to focus on SEM strategy? You’re on. Love devising compelling copy? You can do that too. So long as you keep your broad goal in mind: helping companies connect with their customers, it’s up to you how best to help them get there.

2. What skills do you need to become a marketing consultant?

Now we know what a marketing consultant does—but what skills do you need to thrive? We can split the answer to this question into three categories:

1. Qualifications

Marketing consultants will have at least one of the following:

  • An undergraduate or bachelor’s degree in any field (ideally business-related)
  • A master’s degree in a subject related to marketing, preferably recognized by an illustrious industry body such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing
  • Certification of skills from a recognized online provider, maybe a marketing bootcamp or appropriate project management qualification
  • A combination of the above

Ultimately, you’ll find there’s no single set of qualifications required to become a marketing consultant. The simple reason many marketing consultants have a degree is that, early on, employers tend to favor those with degrees over those without. Others choose to take a master’s in order to specialize their skills. Whatever your approach, the main thing is to demonstrate your knowledge of marketing theory and to prove that you have the associated skills required to successfully carry out the role.

2. Work experience

There are only a few jobs in which success is measured so closely using predefined metrics (like return on investment, percentage lead generation, or conversion rate). Marketing is one of them. Perhaps more important than your paper qualifications, then, is the ability to show that you can deliver. This means having plenty of hands-on experience in a range of marketing roles, demonstrating that you have the knowledge of marketing practices (from search engine marketing to social media, content strategy, and more) and the ability to use these to deliver on a plan. 

While work experience isn’t a precise science—there’s no prescribed number of years of experience you need before taking the plunge—in most cases, you’ll really need a minimum of three to five years in different marketing positions. We’ll cover the skills you need in a bit more detail in section 4.

3. Additional skills

Whether you’re studying at college or learning on the job, there are several additional skills that will serve you well in your marketing consultant career. These include:

  • Interpersonal and communication skills: Marketing consultants work with many people, in varied contexts, from graphics artists to software developers and senior management. Communicating with these different groups means developing an understanding of how they think, tailoring your messaging to each individual’s preferred communication style. This is an invaluable skill, necessary for getting ideas across clearly and effectively.
  • Analytical skills: Before hoping to advise a company on their marketing strategy, you’ll need to be able to dissect their existing approach. This means understanding their goals and customer motivations, creating segmentations, choosing KPIs, and so on. Using various data tools, you’ll pick apart existing strategies, analyze customer profiles and industry trends. You’ll also be familiar with numerous data platforms and be capable of generating and interpreting reports from CRM systems like Salesforce.
  • Creativity: A key part of any marketing strategy is combining the tools at your disposal in novel and imaginative ways. While you’ll work well with analytics tools and know about many different marketing techniques, the key is constantly finding new and creative ways of applying these to each client’s business problem.
  • Organizational skills: Devising marketing strategies can be highly rewarding but this is also high-stakes stuff we’re talking about! Get it wrong and not only will your client fail to meet their objectives, but you can also more or less guarantee you won’t be getting any repeat business. As such, you’ll be an expert at managing your client, your own time, their budget, their teams, and at ensuring that resource is in place where it’s needed. Project management is a vital part of the role.
  • Adaptability: Finely balanced with organizational skills is the ability to adapt, often quickly and under pressure. Things can change fast in marketing, and being too rigid in your approach can quickly make a small problem into a big one. Adaptability means choosing between different approaches at short notice, keeping calm when others are losing their heads, and bringing everyone along for the ride when the ship drastically changes direction!
  • Industry knowledge: Marketing consultants need to be familiar with their client’s industry. Although there’s a degree of transferability within the field, if a financial services client comes to you with a problem, they’ll want to know that you understand the ins and outs of marketing as it applies to financial products, for instance. This is often what people mean when they recommend ‘specializing’ in a particular area. 

Balance these three skill requirements—qualifications, work experience, and additional skills—and you’ll be well on your way to thriving as a marketing consultant, whatever challenges the role might throw at you.

3. What is the average marketing consultant’s salary?

As salaries go, marketing consultants can get paid pretty well. The exact amount you earn varies depending on your experience level, whether your work for yourself or a firm, your specialist area, and the client you’re working with. But you’re not likely to go hungry.

Here are some average marketing consultant salaries from around the world, according to the pay comparison site, Salary Expert:

While these are just estimates, they offer an encouraging guide. You might not earn this much from the word go, but it’s something to work toward. Play your cards right and there’s even potential to earn more than these figures in the longer term.

4. How to become a marketing consultant (step-by-step)

1. Get a qualification

As explored in section 2, most marketing consultants have some sort of degree, albeit not always in a marketing-related field. However, this is mostly because marketing consultants need plenty of experience, and to get the experience you first need to be hired, and hiring companies will often choose graduates over non-graduates.

If you’ve already got a Bachelor’s and a few years of experience in marketing roles, you may be ready to launch your consulting career. If you’re passionate about becoming an expert, consider doing a Master’s degree. If that’s not an option for you, there are also many great online digital marketing courses you can explore. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide exactly when you’re ready to go for it.

2. Get plenty of work experience

The best piece of advice for pursuing a strategic career like marketing consultancy is to start at the bottom, work your way up, and try a little bit of everything along the way. With hands-on experience from the word go, you’ll have a much clearer idea of which marketing techniques you enjoy, which work best in different contexts, and why. There are lots of options to explore, and playing around with them will help you understand the tools of the trade so you can create winning strategies later down the line. Key techniques include:

  • Affiliate marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • SEM and SEO
  • Email campaigns
  • Organic growth
  • Influencer marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Pay-per-click marketing

In addition, it helps to start with an entry-level role and work your way up. Even if you have the training, going straight for managerial positions means you’ll miss a lot of real-world experience. Better to learn how things work as part of a team of writers and designers, communicating with different stakeholders, and so on. It will serve you well in the long run.

3. Specialize (but don’t overspecialize!)

One piece of advice you’ll often hear when launching a career as a marketing consultant is to specialize. To an extent, this is good advice. Promise too much to too many clients and you’ll spread yourself thin and risk underdelivering. On the flip side, though, the opposite can be a problem, too. Specialize in too narrow a niche, and you may not find any work at all. 

Take our friend Johnny No-Job, for example. He’s a specialist in influencer marketing for the horticultural sector. And poor ol’ Johnny finds it hard to land enough work to make a living!

Instead, aim to specialize gradually, as you progress. 

We’d recommend casting the net fairly wide at first. One approach is to pick a handful of marketing techniques you’re familiar with, and to apply these in a sector you know well (like our friend Geordi La Forge, an affiliate and influencer marketing and live events consultant for the engineering sector.)

Another option is to choose a single specialism that you excel at and to apply this in several sectors, such as our friend Will Shakespeare, a copywriting consultant for the technology, travel, and automotive industries.

Eventually, you’ll start to build a client base in a particular field, allowing you to hone your specialism more safely. And the more specialized you become, guess what? That’s right, the more you can charge.

4. Familiarize yourself with finances and resourcing

A common mistake many marketing consultants make when they first set out is to devise strategies that aren’t feasible within a brand’s budget and resources. Unrestrained for the first time, it can be tempting to develop an all-singing, all-dancing marketing strategy that would indeed achieve a brand’s goals if they had all the time and money in the world. While this might be okay for a large multinational with a bottomless budget, these aren’t the organizations that tend to hire lone-ranger consultants. More likely you’ll be working with smaller businesses with limited resources, especially when you’re starting out. 

Familiarizing yourself with budgeting, financial accounting, and HR approaches will greatly help you inform your strategies. To illustrate, consider a social media strategy for a lone marketing manager with almost no budget and tons of other projects on their plate. The strategy you devise will look quite different from the one you might create for a team of graphic designers, copywriters, and social media experts with thousands of dollars in their budget. It might seem a shame to rein in your best ideas, but necessity is the mother of invention, as they say—and you’ll have happier clients in the end!

5. Keep networking

By the time you launch your career as a marketing consultant, you’ll likely have a fairly good network of contacts from past marketing roles. But contacts need cultivating. To thrive, you’ll have to keep up with your existing contacts—both to maintain your skills and to keep track of industry trends. You’ll also need to create new contacts—and not just as clients. Beyond the obvious (trawling LinkedIn or attending networking events) there are many ways you can carry out effective networking. For instance:

  • Secure your position as an expert by offering to write a guest post for a well-known marketing blog or industry publication
  • Offer to interview other experts (or those you’d like to work with!) on your own blog or website
  • Consider partnering with major events organizers or companies who are running competitions, offering some free consultancy as a prize
  • Attend workshops with other marketing professionals—it’s a great way of meeting new people while keeping your skills fresh
  • Simply ask for introductions—you’ll be surprised how willing people are to connect you with other professionals in the field

6. Don’t undersell yourself

Our last piece of advice is never to undersell yourself. Especially when you’re new to the field, it can be nerve-wracking when a client approaches you as an expert. But if you’ve reached this point, have faith in your abilities and let your passion carry you the rest of the way. Some suggest that when starting out you should say ‘yes’ to everything and figure out how to deliver afterward. 

We wouldn’t advocate quite such a risky approach, but there’s a kernel of truth to stretching yourself. If a client discussion heads into unfamiliar territory, focus on listening to their needs, upselling what you know, and how this could help them.

Finally, when we say don’t undersell yourself, we also mean don’t underprice yourself. It’s tempting to lower your rate to win new clients, but once you’ve established a low rate it’s hard to increase it. Trust people to see your confidence and to accept a higher rate as a sign of value. If it’s too low, they might underestimate your abilities. You’re a professional, so charge like one!

Related: How To Price Yourself as a Freelancer

5. Key takeaways and next steps

There we have it, marketing consultancy in a nutshell! In this post, we’ve explored exactly what marketing consultants do and how to go about becoming a marketing consultant. We’ve learned that marketing consultants:

  • Advise businesses and brands, devising and executing strategies to help them connect with their customers
  • Often (but not always) have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree
  • Have plenty of practical work experience (necessary for honing skills and forging an expert reputation)
  • Are analytical, adaptable, creative, and organized. They’re also excellent communicators and should have unrivaled industry knowledge
  • Earn quite well depending on their location, but make an average of $80,000 a year in the United States

If you want to become a marketing consultant, it won’t happen overnight, and you’ll be faced with challenges along the way. But that’s all worth it for the satisfaction and variety you’ll get from the role. 

Want to learn more about a potential career in digital marketing? Why not check out CareerFoundry’s free 5-day course, or read one of these guides:

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