How to Become a Freelance Digital Marketer in 6 Steps

Headshot of CareerFoundry contributor Afoma Umesi.

Freelance digital marketing is incredibly rewarding and flexible, but not always easy.

I’m an experienced freelance digital marketer, primarily for software companies in the marketing industry. I’m happy to share with you what I’ve learned, and a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

I’ve written this guide to share with you everything you need to know about starting—and boosting—your career. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. What is freelance digital marketing?
  2. What does a freelance digital marketer actually do?
  3. Pros and cons
  4. How to become a freelance digital marketer
  5. What qualifications do I need?
  6. Freelance digital marketing salaries in 2024
  7. Freelance digital marketing tips and tricks
  8. Key takeaways

And if you’re already ready to get hands-on, check out our free 5-day short course in digital marketing here.

OK, let’s go!

What is freelance digital marketing?

Career terms can get jumbled, so let’s define it clearly.

A freelance digital marketer is a self-employed contractor who supports and assists companies, organizations, or individuals with their marketing goals, strategies, and tasks.

Freelance digital marketers can play many roles, depending on their specialization, their clients’ products, and their experience. Most freelance digital marketers work remotely, sometimes in collaboration with the organization’s marketing team.

What does a freelance digital marketer actually do?

A day in the life of a freelance digital marketer can vary widely–which is why it is such an appealing career option.

Here are a few examples of tasks that a freelance digital marketer can do:

Pros and cons

There are two aspects to consider: freelancing itself, digital marketing. Let’s look into both aspects.

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, specialty, 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 marketing. 

Questions to ask yourself about becoming a digital marketer

Before you dive into the marketing industry as a freelancer, 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?

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.

How to become a freelance digital marketer 

Because the field changes rapidly, digital marketing can be intimidating. 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.

More of a visual learner? Watch the following video with digital marketing guru Ed Wood, who goes over these steps and other insider tips:

Step 1: Explore the areas of digital marketing

Freelance digital marketers typically specialize in one of several digital marketing domains.

If you’re not sure yet, it helps to get some practice in all of the domains before you start. 

And it’s 2024, so most digital marketers are required to know a little bit of everything. A good option for getting experience in all domains is to take a digital marketing program or course. We offer a top-rated one here at CareerFoundry.

Content marketing, writing, and copywriting

Freelance content marketers promote brand awareness using written content. Content marketing encompasses content strategy, copywriting (e.g. 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. 

Find out more in our content marketing guide.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

SEO is all about organizing and optimizing websites so that search engines (mainly Google) recognize them as useful and rank it highly in search results.

Freelance digital marketers are typically expected to have at least some basic SEO knowledge when working on content marketing or producing content.

Learn more about SEO in our guide for beginners.

Social media management

Social media has grown from being something “for the interns” to an entire industry with specializations within it.

Freelance digital marketers manage brand accounts, experiment with effective strategies, and monitor platform growth.

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

 Search engine marketing (SEM)

Although similar sounding, SEM is different from SEO. In SEM, the freelance digital marketer focuses on creating, placing, and monitoring paid 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?

Video marketing on YouTube, Tiktok and Reels

A successful video or series can launch and sustain an entire business. Video marketing is a huge sector of the space that grows each year.

Freelance video marketers conceptualize, script, and oversee video production. 

Read about these and other digital marketing skills in our complete guide.

Step 2: Choose your specialization

After you’ve chosen your specialization, you’ll want to consider specializing even further—to specific industries, audiences, tools, or functions.

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.

For example: My digital marketing specialization is content marketing. Within content marketing, I focus on writing.

In content writing, I’ve decided to write long-form content for mostly B2B (business-to-business) audiences. In that context, I’m open to more fields, such as SaaS (software as a service), digital marketing, healthcare, and cybersecurity. 

Ideally, your area should be at the intersection of your interests, capabilities, and the market for well-paying gigs.

For example: If you’re interested in social media marketing, maybe you prefer Instagram strategy to Pinterest management.

Need some help deciding which suits you best? Try our free digital marketing quiz.

Step 2: Build and showcase your portfolio 

Regardless of your industry and specialty, you need a website that showcases your marketing skills. A top-notch LinkedIn profile can also work.

There are plenty of  inexpensive site hosts and simple setup options like Notion

Your website is foremost proof that you have the tech-savvy and expertise to market yourself. Host your published work, testimonials, and list your skills all in one place.

No portfolio or testimonials yet? Be your first client. Write blog posts, grow a personal brand, and social media following. Remember that specialization is key. 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

Hiring managers and marketing leads tend to rely more on referrals from trusted contacts than job postings.

You can build your network by:

  • actively participating in conversations about marketing and your clients’ industry on LinkedIn and X (Twitter)
  • joining freelancing communities
  • attending meetups
  • patiently building relationships with other freelance digital marketers

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 your rates.

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 that you’re looking for work! Candor can get you places.

Step 4. Promote your business

Being a successful freelance digital marketing expert requires sales 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.

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 them specifically. 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, 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) which includes the payment terms.

What qualifications do I need?

Digital marketing does not require specific educational qualifications. A degree in marketing, media production, data analysis, or journalism might serve you if you already have one.

The thing is: digital marketing is changing every. Single. Day. But this is exciting: it means that there’s always room for newcomers.

There are many digital marketing certifications and programs out there. Check out our widely-respected digital marketing course. Or read our list of best courses.

Freelance digital marketing salaries in 2024

Your annual revenue will depend mainly on your specialization, industry, and years of experiences.

A study by Peak Freelance showed that over 50% of freelance writers in 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.

Learn more about how to price yourself as a freelancer in this guide

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)
  • 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 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.

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:

  1. Explore areas of digital marketing
  2. Choose a specialization: Which marketing channel would you rather focus on? And in which industry?
  3. 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.
  4. Find a network: Build a referral engine by befriending other freelancers and joining communities on and off social media.
  5. Promote your business: Tell people what you do on social media and by cold pitching.
  6. 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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