Considering the freelance digital marketing route? It’s incredibly rewarding but can be extremely challenging. Lucky for you, you can avoid common pitfalls and learn from my own experience as an established freelance marketer.
In this guide, you’ll discover everything you need to know about starting—and boosting—your career in freelance digital marketing.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How to become a freelance digital marketer
- Freelance digital marketing salary
- Freelance digital marketing tips and tricks
- Pros and cons of freelance digital marketing
- Key takeaways
Ready to discover the exciting world of freelance digital marketing? Let’s go!
1. How to become a freelance digital marketer
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 extremely daunting.
This step-by-step guide will get you on your way.
Step 1: Develop your skills
Freelance digital marketers typically specialize in one of the many digital marketing domains (we’ll get more into specialization in the next step), but as a freelancer, you’ll also often be asked to wear many hats.
Common freelance skills that are common to most jobs include:
1. Content marketing, writing, and copywriting
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 is all about organizing and optimizing content so search engines (mainly Google) recognize it as useful and rank it highly in search results.
Freelance digital marketers are typically expected to have at least basic SEO knowledge when working on content marketing or writing content, or may even work with a content team to optimize content for search engines.
3. Social media management
Social media platforms have become a marketing pillar in many industries. 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 platform growth.
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.
SEM is all about researching keywords and monitoring the performance of pay-per-click (PPC) ads.
Learn more in our guide, which poses the question: What is SEM?
5. Video marketing
Video is now established as a popular and highly valued content format. Videos can be used across marketing channels and shared on platforms like YouTube or TikTok for greater engagement.
Freelance digital marketers in video marketing conceptualize, script, and oversee video production.
But you may be asked to oversee a quick TikTok video, offer your opinion on a video marketing campaign, or even record something on your phone.
There you have it—some of the top skills to develop for your new freelance career. Read about these and other digital marketing skills in our complete guide.
And if you want to dive in further, short courses like our free digital marketing short course are a great way to go.
Step 2: Choose your specialization
Choosing an area to specialize in is important to your freelance success. But take time to try a variety of roles and industries before you decide—and don’t be afraid to change your mind and pivot later.
Freelance digital marketing is a broad industry, so deciding which area to focus on is key.
For example: My digital marketing specialization 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 specialty.
Ideally, your area should be at the intersection of your interests, capabilities, and the 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. 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 specialization.
Need some help deciding which suits you best? Try our free digital marketing quiz.
Step 2: Showcase a portfolio
Every freelance digital marketer needs a website and an online portfolio. To prove yourself as a digital media/marketing expert, start with your business and highlight your marketing skills on your site.
Regardless of your industry and specialty, you need a website as a freelance digital marketer. Digital marketers work online, making your website your office or shopfront. 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. You can show off various skills on your site, 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? 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.
Step 3. Find a network
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, joining freelancing communities, and patiently building relationships with other freelance digital marketers.
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 the last year, I found three out of five 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.
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!
LinkedIn is a great place for supportive freelancer groups and communities. Run a quick search for groups with freelancers in your specialization area. Join and participate actively.
Depending on your digital marketing specialty, you can also join freelance communities outside of LinkedIn. For example, I have benefited from being part of Peak Freelance—a community for freelance writers.
Step 4. Promote your business
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.
Promoting your freelance digital marketing business requires a multi-pronged approach. Self-promotion is key to finding new clients—particularly high-paying ones. However, it 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!
Step 5. Make it legal
When your business starts to take off (it will!) then 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 applicable in your country, and start tracking your income and expenses before 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.
More of a visual learner? Watch the following video with digital marketing guru Ed Wood, who goes over these steps and other insider tips:
3. Freelance digital marketing salary
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.
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 27% 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 an average salary of $54,874.
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.
4. Freelance digital marketing tips and tricks
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.
5. Pros and cons of freelance digital marketing
With the freelance economy continuing to grow, increasing numbers of people are 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.
- Freedom to choose your work projects, specialization, and clients based on your preferences
- A flexible work schedule
- Ability to scale your business and salary as desired
- You get all the credit for your work
- All business profits belong to you
- Unpredictable income
- You’ll need to wear all the hats and market your business
- Work-life balance can be challenging to achieve
- 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.
6. Key takeaways
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:
- Develop your skills
- Choose a specialization: Which marketing channel would you rather focus on? And in which industry?
- 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.
- Find a network: Build a referral engine by befriending other freelancers and joining communities on and off social media.
- Promote your business: Tell people what you do on social media and by cold pitching.
- 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:
- Should you do a digital marketing degree or a digital marketing bootcamp?
- How to become a digital marketing manager
- The 8 best online courses to learn digital marketing
7. Freelance digital marketing FAQs
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.
2. 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.
3. 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!
4. 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.
5. 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, you could take an upskilling digital marketing program, then 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.