That was the sound the ATM machine made after it had just dispensed the first ever earning of $400 I had made from my first freelance gig. I was ecstatic!
This was in 2009. I had the winning bid for a SEO project on Freelancer. My first project was to perform SEO on an insurance website.
There was one problem.
I didn’t know SEO.
Although I knew a little bit about it I hadn’t actually gone and performed SEO on any site. This was basically my first ever attempt at actually performing SEO on a full-fledged website.
But how did I win the project in the first place, you ask?
Basically, I opened a project on Freelancer for a non-existing website of mine and invited bids for it. I looked into all the bids and saw what these guys were pitching to the clients. These were freelancers with high ratings and hundreds of projects completed so I knew what these experts were talking about.
I took the best parts about all of these pitches and since I knew SEO theoretically, I could compile my own pitch and used it bid for many projects on Freelancer.
I eventually won my first client, but I had to deliver. So, I spent 16 hours a day understanding what I had promised them and actually implementing it.
Eventually, the hard work paid off. The site began to rank and my client was happy with that.
Pretty creative huh? But it took me close to 2 years to get here. Failures and frustrations were common in these 2 years but I just didn’t give up.
Looking back, I wish I had someone who could guide me in the right direction when I made mistakes and put me back on track.
I am sure many of you feel the same and can relate to the situation.
The nice guy that I am, I have created this kickass guide for you which will help you tonnes in the journey to becoming a successful Freelance Digital Marketer.
I hope you learn from my mistakes and shorten your learning curve significantly.
But Why Even be a Freelance Digital Marketer?
It’s good money.
There I said it.
It’s as simple as that. If you are consistent and good enough, you can make good money out of it and create a very healthy stream of income. Back in 2010, I was about 20 and I was earning 4 times more than a fresh graduate would.
Opportunities are still around, but the market is quite disorganized, especially in the context of the Indian market, which makes it important for you to stand out as a digital marketer.
This kind of a “job” will give you good flexibility and can even support a laptop lifestyle. Your costs are low and income is high; giving you options to explore other aspects of life.
You definitely don’t have to commute to the office, sit there for 8 hours or follow a dress code.You have complete freedom to do whatever you want to.
I wouldn’t say you will be your own boss, because technically speaking, your boss(es) will be your client(s).
All of this sounds great but how do you actually become a Freelance Digital Marketing Consultant?
Step 0: Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses.
This is step 0 because this is more of a prerequisite than a step.
Before you jump in you need to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. This will help you in two ways:
- It will allow you to focus on the skill that you’ll be best at, profitable from and won’t get bored doing.
- It will allow you to identify your weakness and address it either by learning or outsourcing them to other people who are good at it.
A simple way to think about this is to visualize yourself in a place where money is irrelevant or even non-existent. What is that one thing you would still wake up every day and do?
Would you like to spend your entire day writing content? Or would you like to run through numbers and crunch them in excel sheets? Or you get sheer joy out of building links and getting websites to rank?
More importantly, are you willing to do this every day for 5 years?
That’s, approximately how long it will take you to become really good at something.
Which is why it is very important that you choose something that you really want to do.
Eventually, you will naturally grow horizontally and learn other skills including some you might not even like (I haven’t gotten myself to learn how to code yet).
Also, the things you learn through your primary skill will rub off on your other skills making it easier for you pick other skills.
That will slowly lead you to become a full stack digital marketer.
Step 1: Pick a Skill Which is The Most Comfortable & Most Profitable for You.
My Global Business professor in my MBA always tried to drill down the concept of comparative (not competitive) advantage into our brains.
Back then it seemed difficult, but now I can completely relate to it.
It basically says that you would make more money doing what you have been doing but more efficiently than trying to do something else.
It’s like saying Sachin Tendulkar should start playing international football because there is more money in it.
Will it work? Of course, it won’t.
He is better off playing cricket and making money out of it than try to make money out of football just because its more lucrative.
In exactly the same way, you don’t need to do everything at the start.
Pick one skill that you are most comfortable in and which might also be the most profitable.
Imagine you are an SEO guy. Instead of taking up 3 SEO projects and 2 PPC projects, just because those PPC clients will give you money, you would be better off taking 5 SEO projects and getting the most out of it.
Do this initially until you gradually acquire more skills.
Here is a broad list of skills you can choose from :
- Search Engine Optimization (On page, link building etc)
- Pay per click Marketing (Adwords, FB Ads etc)
- Content Writing and Marketing
- Design (UI/UX, Graphic design)
- Email Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
- Mobile App Marketing
There are more but this a good list to start with.
Also, you can be much safer if you pick a niche in the above skills. For example, instead of trying to enter into SEO as a whole, how about start off with just providing link building? Or just on-page? Or in fact, just keyword research!
The more focused you are, lesser the competition will be.
Pick a skill and get to it.
Step 2: Walk the Talk; Case studies, Results & Certifications.
Before you can get clients you need a proven track record. No client is going to trust you with his project if you don’t one.
For this to happen there are two things you can do :
- Set up your own project and implement your skills
- Perform these activities for free or a lower fee for the first few clients.
Setting up your own project, like a blog, will help you get hands-on experience for your skills. It will also allow you to experiment with various things.
If it works out you can make money from the blog you set up, which is not a bad thing I guess.
Initially, it will have a few costs but you can always reduce it to large extent and start off with the lowest possible budget.
You can approach a few clients and provide them with free services.
Again, not everyone might agree for this because their asset is at stake. But there will be clients who would want some free work done.
It’s the law of averages. Approach as many clients as possible and give them a clear plan as to how you are going to execute and how they will benefit.
Create a case study on what the problem was, how you solved it and how it benefitted them.
Now you can use these case studies to find paying clients.
But where to find paying clients?
Step 3: Finding Paying Clients
There are two ways to look at this.
Either you find your clients. Or your clients find you. Push or Pull.
Here is a list of all the places you can find clients who post projects
|Website||What it is good for||Comments|
|Freelancer||Everything||They also have contests/tests to prove your skills.|
|Upwork||Everything||My favourite of the lot. Has a lot of opportunities.|
|Toptal||Web Development||You have to pass their screening you will get access to very good projects|
|Guru||Everything||They have a daily job matching feature which might increase your chances of getting a gig.|
|People per hour||SEO, Content||Good place to start off.|
|Freelance Writing Gigs||Content||Good place to if you are a decent writer.|
|iWriter||Content||They pay pretty less, but nevertheless, you can make some money and build your portfolio|
|99designs||Design||Great place for designers to compete in contests.|
|Facebook||Almost anything||Join relevant groups and keep an eye out for local projects.|
|Almost anything||Groups and job portals would have listed good paying gigs. Also would be a good place to reach out to potential clients|
I would recommend that you sign up every website that is related to your skill and start bidding for as many projects as possible. Eventually, you will find good gigs which will pay you good money.
Here is a list of websites where you can advertise your work and attract clients
|Website||What projects is it good for?||Comments|
|Fiverr||Almost anything and everything.||Started off as a website for services for only $5 and absolutely great place to advertise your services.|
|Warrior Forum||Mostly related to SEO but anything under Digital Marketing.||Their marketplace is a very active place. You have to pay a fee to get listed there.|
|SEO Clerks||SEO||Similar to fiverr but exclusively meant for SEO.|
|Email List||Everything||Always remember to create a list of your clients. Even if its a small list it can be really powerful.|
|Facebook||Everything||Kickstart FB ads and probably build an email list and market your services to them|
Step 4: How to Pitch your Digital Marketing Services to Potential Clients.
This is a very crucial step and is usually where most aspiring freelance digital marketing consultants fail.
And most of them fail here because they pitch a template. Do you really think you are the only one who knows to Google “Digital Marketing Pitch Template” and shoots it across to the client?
So, you obviously need to stand out from all the pitches to be heard.
Here is how you can ensure your pitch is heard :
- Understand your client and their needsYou really need to understand what your client is looking for. Ask them the right questions if you feel that the information they have given is inadequate for you to understand the entire landscape.
Also, do a little bit of homework in terms of their competition and try to understand how you can make it better. Certain clients would have overlooked what their competitor is doing and you bringing this information to the table will make your pitch better.
Whatever their end objective is work
backwards. Design a strategy that will take you and your client to the desired result.
This will mean every pitch of yours will be customized to their needs and when they read your pitch they will relate to it.
- Why should they choose you or even listen to you? This is where all your case studies and experience come into play.
Show them what you have achieved in the past. This helps in creating social proof for your services. It goes without saying that a proven track record will make them more comfortable in entrusting their needs to you.
Certificates will definitely help you to a certain extent by giving out a signal that you are very serious about what you are doing. It shows a level of commitment. It might not necessarily showcase your expertise but it helps.
- What and how are you going to do it
?LikeI mentioned before work backwardsfrom the desired goal. This will ideally help you in creating a strategy for youclients.
an exampleof an SEO pitch.
Assume that the client has told you he needs better rankings for his website xyz.com
First, you need to understand the client’s requirements well by looking into his website. Is everything in place to perform SEO? If not, what are the things that you can provide?
What are his competitors doing and what does the landscape look like? This will help you gauge how long it’s going to take you to rank for their keywords.
Now, what are the things that you are going to do for him to achieve this?
First up is On page SEO, if it is not on point what are the things you will take care of.
Next is technical SEO. In terms of page speed and website architecture what are the things that you need to do?
Next comes Off page. Educate him as to what his competitors have done. And make a report out of it either from Ahrefs or SEMrush.
Make a detailed list of deliverables. All the different kind of links you will be needing and building to outrank his competitors.
Last, give him a timeframe. Give him a time frame that you can stick to instead of something that he wants to hear. Be honest and straightforward about it.
- How is it going to impact? Talk numbers here. Help them visualize how whatever you will be doing is going to impact them across the time frame.
You need to talk to him in a language he understands. Just throwing around a few
jargonis not going to help you. Don’t try to confuse him but try to convince him.
Go an extra step if you have to paint a picture of how it is going to actually help in achieving his desired goals and more.
Taking the same example of our SEO pitch, make him understand how his top of the funnel traffic is going to get impacted which in turn will give him more leads/sales/ad revenue.
You can literally apply this to any service that you will be offering.
Step 5: Reporting to Clients
Great! You have won your first client! Time to keep him happy.
When you are signing the contract and accepting the gig on any freelance website, ensure that you also tell him how often you will be reporting to him and what channels you will be available for communication ( email/skype/slack ) etc.
You have already given the list of deliverables you are obligated to deliver, so depending on the time of reporting, shoot them across a report.
Also, while signing the contract, ensure you have got access to all the important tools like Google Analytics, Search Console, Adwords, etc depending on what services you are providing.
The best way to do this is through an excel sheet. It will be easier for you to document all the tasks you have done and also the clients will find it easy to verify them.
If time permits or if you need to justify the cost hs is paying you can also get on a call with him to educate him about all the things that you have done for him.
With the help of Analytics and other tools, you can then also show the impact your work has had on his objective.
Step 6: Retaining Clients and Up-Selling/Down-Selling/ Cross-selling
The most obvious way to retain a client is by providing the service that you have promised him the first place.
Not only that, don’t shy away from showing how your services have impacted his business.
With regular communications and adding constant value, you are more than likely to retain him on a retainer ( monthly recurring payments ). If not don’t forget to ask him to refer some of his friends to your services. He will be more than happy to do so if he is satisfied with your work.
The idea behind any business trying to make revenue is to increase the lifetime value of a customer. How much can you make a customer spend on you?
The more you get the same customer to spend the less time you would be spending in getting new clients and it’s much easier for you to convince existing clients than get new ones.
You have 3 choices: Upsell/ Down-Sell/ Cross Sell
Upsell is where you encourage your existing customers to buy a higher priced service from your OR if he is a one-time customer convince him to sign up for a retainer.
Taking the same example of SEO you can bundle up other services like Conversion Rate Optimization or Email Marketing and Upsell it to him. Ensure that these services are a natural extension to what you have already sold.
Cross-sell would be to pitch him a service which might complement the service you have already given.
In our example, if I were you, I would probably pitch for content management or Online reputation management if it fits the bill
The last option you have is where you down sell where you try to sell him a lesser priced service with an intention to retain him as a client.
You can probably give him services like website monitoring, negative SEO monitoring etc.
Eventually, you need to have enough clients that are paying you enough that you can easily focus on just servicing them rather than spend your time in getting more.
At this time you can decide to set up a virtual team or even set up an agency for that matter and start the process all over again. Having said that, please remember that all of this will take time so patience and perseverance is key.
Step 7: Laundry List of Things to Keep in Mind to Increase Your Chances.
- Reliability : This is one thing that can make or break your career as a freelancer. More than the meat of what you are providing ensure that you are a reliable freelancer.
This is key to pretty much anything you do in life. But when it comes to freelancing it becomes so much more important.
Think about it. Someone, most probably remotely sitting in another country, has entrusted you with their work. And they WILL expect you to be reliable to call you credible.
This is where setting expectations in terms of deliverables become very crucial.
And also brings us to the next point.
- Underpromise and Overdeliver.
And never the other way around.
Once you have done your homework about the clients and their requirements, you will have a fair amount of idea as to what is the kind of work that is required and how long it will take.
When you are promising them in terms of deliverables and time, as a rule of thumb, try to reduce the deliverables by 25% in terms of quantity in the tasks and add 25% to the timeframe that you might be agreeing to.
This is basically under promising.
Now when it comes to delivery give them what you had initially had thought in terms of work required and time frame. This is over delivering.
Imagine yourself in your clients’ shoes. Wouldn’t you like to have some deliver something extra sooner than you thought?
- Learn to communicate better, “dear”.
I have spoken to so many of my international friends and have seen people discussing in various forums if it is one thing that international clients absolutely cringe about it is the fact most of us address them as “Dear”
I get where it is coming from.
Our entire schooling life we have started our letters in English class with “Dear Mr. ABC..”
This is actually not wrong but in this context, you are trying to convey politeness.
Having said that, it is not the same when you say “ hey dear, we will send you the reports by tonight”
In this context the word conveys endearment, meaning; you say that to someone you love, like your girlfriend, wife or something. Not to your clients.
And it is also very weird for your clients when you “address” them like that because they are used to using in the context of showing love.
When you think about it sounds funny and absurd. But believe me, when I say this, you have no idea how many people have shown me their love like this.
Stop doing this.
I know it can be quite different and difficult for us Indians, but they seem to be more comfortable in using first names to address them or their last names with a preceding Mr. ( ex: Mr. Sachs )
Same goes with local clients also.
- Respect their Privacy
This goes in line with the previous point.
Don’t ask personal questions, unless you have developed a professional relationship that has started accommodating personal matters.
Again it feels like it goes without saying but a lot of people don’t seem to get this.
Pinging at odd hours, asking questions that are too personal and the worst:
Adding them as a friend on Facebook.
Facebook is primarily very personal and has very little to do with professional work.
You may refute saying that I am doing this to communicate with that person please do that on email. It is very professional and can document everything in an orderly manner.
If you are on a freelancer site, stick to the message box there and suggest them that you are also available on Skype/Slack and give them your id.
That is far more professional than adding them on Facebook. Not everyone appreciates you adding them your and their personal space.
Again, this is not a blanket rule but unless absolutely necessary, Facebook shouldn’t be your mode of contact.
- Never stop learning.
There is no way you are going to be an expert in a particular field over a short period of time.
Imagine you had to learn how to play the guitar. You would need hours of practice for years together to become a really good guitar player.
If you put your heart and soul to it for years you might actually make it.
Now imagine the rules for playing the guitar changes every few months. The learning curve would be never-ending.
That is what Digital Marketing is when it comes to learning.
It is a never-ending learning curve and it will need continuous improvement in your skill to improve.
What SEO was 5 years is not what it is today.
What Facebook was 1 year ago is not the same today.
What’s more? There are more channels coming up every day.
Push notifications, both on web and app was unheard of a few years ago.
It is continuously evolving and becoming bigger and so should you.
Having said all of this, let me tell you something very important.
You WILL make mistakes.
You WILL realize that there are more things to freelancing than that can and has been captured in this blog.
And it is very important that you go through this phase because it will shape you very organically.
This blog will help you in guiding through that process and shortening the learning curve.
And I hope it has. If there is more than you would want me to add to this and explain certain things in depth let me know in the comments below.