How To Get Started in Freelance Digital Marketing: The Ultimate Career Guide for 2022

Afoma Umesi, Contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

Are you considering the freelance digital marketing route? Then look no further. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about starting—and boosting—your career as a successful freelance digital marketer. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. What does a freelance digital marketer actually do?
  2. Is a career in freelance digital marketing right for you?
  3. How much could you earn as a freelance digital marketer?
  4. How to get started in freelance digital marketing (A step-by-step guide)
  5. Tips to help you succeed in your freelance digital marketing career
  6. Freelance digital marketing FAQs
  7. Key takeaways and next steps

Want to skip ahead to a specific section? Just use the clickable menu. 

Ready to discover the exciting world of freelance digital marketing? Let’s go!

1. What does a freelance digital marketer actually do?

A freelance digital marketer is a self-employed individual who uses one or several marketing channels and techniques to help businesses promote their products and services. Freelance digital marketers typically specialize in one of the many digital marketing channels available. Some of the most common freelance digital marketing fields are:

1. Content marketing

Freelance digital marketers specializing in content marketing promote brand awareness using written content. Content marketing encompasses content strategy, copywriting (writing webpage copy), and long-form content writing (like this blog post you’re reading!). Often, content marketing works in tandem with other digital marketing channels like social media and SEO.

2. Search engine optimization (SEO)

SEO refers to organizing and optimizing content so that search engines (like Google, Bing, and Ecosia) recognize it as useful and rank it highly in search results. Freelance digital marketers specializing in SEO typically work closely with the content team to optimize content for search engines using industry best practices.

3. Social media management

Social media platforms have become a marketing pillar in many industries. Whether it’s Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, or LinkedIn, freelance digital marketers specializing in social media management work to improve engagement and growth on social media. They manage brand accounts, experiment with effective strategies, and monitor growth across platforms.

Curious about social media management? Learn about what a social media manager actually does in this guide, and learn how to become a social media manager here.  

4. Search engine marketing (SEM)

Although similar sounding, SEM is different from SEO. In SEM, the freelance digital marketer focuses on creating, placing, and monitoring ads on search engine results to promote a business. They research keywords and monitor the performance of pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

Learn more: What is SEM?

5. Video marketing

Video is becoming an increasingly popular and highly valued content format. Videos can be used across marketing channels and shared on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo for greater engagement. Freelance digital marketers in video marketing conceptualize, script, and oversee video production.

We’ve outlined just some of the areas a digital marketing freelancer might focus on. You might also end up as a digital marketing consultant, helping companies to develop their digital marketing strategy. Essentially, any kind of marketing job that can be done in-house can also be done in a freelance capacity, too! We’ve rounded up some of the most in-demand digital marketing skills and professions here.

A freelance digital marketing expert working outside on a laptop

2. Is a career in freelance digital marketing right for you?

In 2020, there were 59 million Americans freelancing, a trend that continued through 2021 and beyond. With the booming freelance economy, many people are considering leaving their full-time jobs and working for themselves. But is freelance digital marketing the right fit for you?

There are two parts to consider: freelancing itself, and a career in digital marketing. Let’s look into both aspects and help you figure out if this is the best path for you.

Pros and cons of freelancing

On surface evaluation, freelancing can seem like abundant freedom—and it is in some ways. But from experience, I can tell you that there are other aspects to think about first. Here are the pros and cons of freelancing.

Pros

  1. Freedom to choose your work projects, niche, and clients based on your preferences
  2. A flexible work schedule
  3. Ability to scale your business and salary as desired
  4. You get all the credit for your work
  5. All business profits belong to you

Cons 

  1. Unpredictable income
  2. You’ll need to wear all the hats and market your business
  3. Work-life balance can be challenging to achieve
  4. No health or other employer benefits

Now you’re aware of some of the pros and cons of a freelance career, let’s look closely at the skills and qualifications you should master before becoming a digital marketer—freelance or not. 

What to consider before becoming a digital marketer

Before you hand in your resignation and dive into the industry, figure out if this career is the best fit for you, your interests, and your abilities. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I creative enough to develop marketing strategies across various platforms and media?
  • How strong are my writing and editing skills?
  • Do I enjoy analyzing campaign results and adjusting strategies until I find the right fit?
  • How well do I know SEO? Am I willing to learn more about it?
  • Am I tech-savvy?
  • Do I have an eye for design?
  • How good are my community-building skills?

These questions highlight just a few of the skills you’ll need to possess to excel at digital marketing. Granted, not every skill is necessary for all facets of digital marketing, but you’ll at least need an understanding of them and why they’re so important to the broader digital marketing strategy and efforts.

If you’re convinced that this is the job for you, perhaps a look at your potential earnings as a freelance digital marketer will seal the deal.

A freelance digital marketing specialist sitting on a sofa, working on a laptop

3. How much could you earn as a freelance digital marketer?

Freelancing earnings, in general, vary widely, depending on industry and years of experience. This also applies to freelance digital marketers. Your annual revenue will depend mainly on your specialization and your niche within that specialty.

For example, a study by Peak Freelance showed that over 50% of freelance writers (content marketing) earn less than $30,000 per annum. However, the same survey showed that over 20% of writers earn over $50,000 per year. It also highlighted that all freelancers making over $100K have been writing for at least two years, showing how experience plays into annual income.

Earnings for other digital marketing specialties are slightly different. According to our research, social media managers earn anywhere from $41,000 to $62,000. You can read our social media manager salary guide for more details.

Zip Recruiter reports that freelance digital marketing managers earn $68,970 per year. Other outlets report varying average salaries between $84,000 and $123,000. For comparison, read our full guide to digital marketing manager salaries for in-house roles.

So, how much could you earn? The possibilities are endless. It just depends on what you do and how well you do it. You can learn more about how to price yourself as a freelancer in this guide

With that in mind, let’s show you how to get started as a freelance digital marketer.

4. How to get started in freelance digital marketing: A step-by-step guide

Digital marketing can be intimidating if you’re a complete newbie. And even if you’ve worked in the field, starting as a freelancer can feel daunting. Follow this step-by-step guide to get started.

1. Establish your niche

Digital marketing is a broad industry, so niching is key to the success of your career. Try to do everything, and you may find yourself spread thin and constantly feeling like a rookie starting from scratch with every project.

However, niching doesn’t mean you only have to do the same thing every day. For example, my digital marketing niche is content marketing. Within content marketing, I focus on content writing specifically. In content writing, I’ve decided to write long-form content for mostly B2B audiences. In that context, I’m open to more fields such as SaaS, digital marketing, healthcare, and cybersecurity. I’m also happy to try new subject matter—all within that niche.

Ideally, your niche should be at the intersection of your interests, capabilities, and high availability of well-paying gigs. For example, perhaps you’re interested in social media marketing. You’ll quickly learn that you enjoy some industries or jobs more within that niche. Maybe you prefer Instagram strategy to Pinterest management, for instance. You’ll also learn that some jobs pay better than others. You can then use that information to choose a niche.

TL;DR: Choosing a niche is crucial to succeeding as a freelance digital marketer. However, take time to try a variety of specialties and industries before you decide—and don’t be afraid to change your mind and pivot later.

2. Build a portfolio

Regardless of your industry and specialty, you need a website as a freelance digital marketer. Digital marketers work online, which makes your website your online office or shop front. You can find cheap site hosts and simple setup options like Notion to get started. 

Your website is foremost proof that you have the tech-savvy and expertise to market yourself. On your site, you can show off various skills, from SEO to copywriting, design, video production, and content writing. You can also host your work portfolio and testimonials, all in one place.

No portfolio or testimonials yet? Then be your first client. Write blog posts, grow a personal brand and social media following. Tell clients the SEO results you’ve accomplished with your site. Be your first success story, and watch other clients roll in. You can learn more about how to create an awesome digital marketing portfolio here.

TL;DR: Every freelance digital marketer needs a website and online portfolio. To prove yourself as a digital media/marketing expert, start with your business and highlight your marketing skills on your site.

3. Find a network

Marketing without an audience or network feels a lot like screaming into the void. Networking is essential to a successful freelance business. Peak Freelance’s study quoted earlier shows that 42% of freelancers find high-paying gigs from word-of-mouth referrals. In 2021, I found 3 out of 5 new clients through referrals!

Networking with other freelance digital marketers will also help you determine how to set rates based on the market and your experience. The best place to find like-minded freelancers is on social media. Create a profile that reflects what you do (or what you hope to do if you’re just starting).

On social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, be curious about other freelancers—especially those in your niche or industry. Befriend them, share what you’re doing in your business, and even that you’re looking for work!

Facebook is known for having supportive freelancer groups and communities. Run a quick search for groups with freelancers in your niche. Join and participate actively. You can also join freelance communities outside Facebook, depending on your niche. For example, I have benefited from being part of Peak Freelance—a community for freelance writers (also how I got those referrals).

TL:DR: You need a network to win at freelancing. Hiring managers and marketing leads tend to rely more on referrals from trusted contacts than job postings. Build your network by actively participating on social media (if you’re not sure who to follow on Twitter, start with me!), joining freelancing communities, and patiently building relationships with other freelance digital marketers.

4. Promote your business

Promoting your freelance digital marketing business requires a multi-pronged approach. Self-promotion is key to finding new clients—particularly high-paying ones. However, self-promotion can be tricky when you’re new to the business and don’t have many contacts or much of a portfolio. Thankfully, it’s not impossible.

In addition to the tips we’ve shared so far, try these two effective promotion strategies to find new clients:

  • Cold pitching: This involves reaching out to business owners or marketing leads in your preferred industries and pitching them your services. Many marketing leads need a freelance digital marketer but either don’t know it or have no idea where to find one. Before pitching, research how your skills can help. Can you help their site rank on search engines? Do you have a strategy to help them grow their social media platforms? Show them. Use stats from your website or social media profiles (hello, portfolio!).
  • Working for free: This may be contentious, but for some people, it’s the only way to gain experience in the field. It also looks different for every specialty. For example, writers can submit guest posts to big brands in their industries. Social media managers can pitch themselves for unpaid internships, and budding SEO experts can barter their services to another freelancer who can offer them a service in return. Win-win!

TL;DR: Being a successful freelance digital marketing expert requires salesperson skills. It’s good practice for marketing other people’s businesses. Don’t be afraid to pitch businesses and marketing leads or work for free at the start of your career.

5. Make it legal

As your business starts to take off (it will!), it’s time to make things legal. Register your business (either as a sole-proprietorship or LLC—I prefer the latter), get a tax ID if it’s applicable in your country, and start tracking your income and expenses ahead of the tax filing season.

Even before you register your business, learn basic business skills like sending invoices—yes, even for your first job. Something else to implement from day one is using a contract for every business engagement (you can send yours if your client doesn’t send one) and including payment terms within.

A freelance digital marketing expert working from home, typing on a laptop

5. Tips to help you succeed in your freelance digital marketing career

1. Treat it like a business

You’re not just a freelancer; you’re a business owner. Some ways to treat your freelance career like a business include creating a separate bank account, paying yourself well (set competitive rates), and showing up to work whether or not you’re feeling “motivated” (as long as you’re mentally and physically healthy).

2. Keep learning

Invest in yourself by learning about your industry and updating your skills as much as you can. It’s tempting to focus on scoring gig after gig, but it is vital to set aside time in your schedule to pour into yourself. Digital marketing requires creativity, and you can’t draw from an empty well. 

3. Set boundaries

Being your own boss is a double-edged sword. You have the flexibility to work 9-5 hours, but also to overwork yourself and work round the clock with no coworkers to pick up the slack. It’s easy to overbook yourself or find yourself tethered to your inbox, responding to client requests at all hours. Set firm boundaries about when you will work and what time to reserve for your hobbies and loved ones.

4. Raise your rates regularly

Be a good boss to yourself by raising your rates regularly. This shows that you value your work and what you do for clients. It also allows you to grow your business (you can’t scale by charging the same rates for years and years). I raise my rates every six months, and when I was starting out, I raised them with every new client. How you choose to raise yours is up to you.

5. Take breaks frequently

Finally, nourish yourself. Creating a sustainable freelance career depends a lot on how you care for yourself. You are the engine of your business. Hustling yourself into burnout is the quickest way to ruin all your hard work. So, plan breaks every quarter—or every week! I work a four-day week and try to take one week off every quarter. It’s always worth it.

6. Freelance digital marketing FAQs

Before we wrap things up, we’ll answer a few common questions about getting started in freelance digital marketing.

Can I do freelancing with digital marketing?

Yes! Freelance digital marketing is a sustainable career. The nature of work, regardless of specialty, lends itself to a freelance schedule. Just pick a niche!

How do I become a digital marketer with no experience?

Learn about the field by taking introductory courses and then practice what you learn in your business. If you want to go into SEO, start an SEO blog and hone your writing skills along the way. Don’t want to invest in a blog of your own? Then help a friend optimize theirs for free or little pay. There’s your experience and first portfolio client.

What qualifications do I need for digital marketing?

Digital marketing does not require specific educational qualifications. A degree in marketing or journalism might serve you if you already have one. But if you don’t, focus on gaining experience as that counts the most. We talk more about whether or not you need a degree to become a digital marketer here.

7. Key takeaways and next steps

Figuring out how to get started in freelance digital marketing can be tricky. I’ve been there! But I can also tell you that it is possible. As discussed, follow these steps to start your freelance digital marketing career:

  1. Choose a niche: Which marketing channel would you rather focus on? And in which industry?
  2. Build a portfolio: You can do this by working for free, being your first client, or trying an internship. The one thing you must do? Have a website.
  3. Find a network: Build a referral engine by befriending other freelancers and joining communities on and off social media.
  4. Promote your business: Tell people what you do on social media and by cold pitching.
  5. Make it legal: Make sure your business follows legal guidelines. Treat your work like a real business by starting a separate business account and showing up consistently.

Ready to take the plunge? Start by learning more about digital marketing in our free, 5-day course, or read any of the following recommended articles:

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