The world of digital marketing is an exciting and expansive one. It moves quickly, and businesses that use it well see an incredible return on their investment.
It’s also an industry very friendly to freelancers. Whether you’re an experienced marketer considering stepping away from your in-house employee position or looking to pivot into something new entirely, freelance digital marketing is an attractive option to those with the right creative skills.
Today we’ll show you how to get started and what you need to succeed in this field.
What is freelance digital marketing?
Freelance digital marketing is performing one or more professional services or functions within the sphere of online marketing, but as an independent entity rather than an employee and usually for multiple clients. A freelance digital marketer could support an organization’s broad range of digital marketing efforts or focus on one or just a handful of disciplines and specialties.
In other words, some freelance digital marketers will do it all, including social media marketing, paid and organic search, graphic design, video creation, content strategy, and a half-dozen other things. Others will specialize in one discipline (graphic design) or offer a handful of services (content strategy, creation, organic and paid search).
What does a freelance digital marketer do?
A freelance digital marketer's duties are broad, covering numerous marketing channels and methods and requiring a wide range of skills.
Content creation/content marketing: Writing informational and useful blog posts (like this one — you’re reading content marketing right now!), planning a schedule for content creation
Search engine optimization (SEO): Using both technical and creative skills to improve search engine ranking placement (SERP)
Search engine marketing (SEM) and paid advertising: Content and strategy for paid ads across digital channels, including Google ads, paid social ads, and others
Social media marketing: Planning, creating, and scheduling organic social media posts
Video and graphic design: Creating visual elements to support all digital marketing efforts
Influencer and affiliate marketing: Improving sales through two additional marketing channels
Depending on the freelancer’s offerings and the client’s needs, freelance digital marketers may be asked to do numerous other tasks as well.
Now, if that sounds like a lot to master, it certainly is — but don’t worry. Few (if any) solopreneurs are highly skilled in every single one of those areas, so contracting out certain skills is commonplace.
Here’s an example. Say you’re good at marketing strategy. As in really good — a true master of your craft. Chances are, you aren’t equally good at using Adobe Illustrator, right? So you’ll likely use a freelance graphic designer to execute the visuals your strategy requires.
The combinations are nearly endless: You might be great with words but not so great with strategy, or fantastic at graphic design and strategy but clueless about social media.
Is freelance digital marketing profitable?
It certainly can be. If you’re good and you set your rates appropriately, freelance digital marketing can be a rewarding career. Top performers can earn six figures (per ZipRecruiter) and constantly implement strategies to increase profitability.
Making more in terms of annual salary than you would in an internal employee role is also common: Upwork finds that 44% of freelancers report making more than they did or could with a traditional job, and this percentage has climbed steadily for several years.
This isn’t to say success is instant or guaranteed. Building a client base is tricky, and plenty of businesses ask for (and get) freelance marketing support for bargain-basement prices that can’t support a sustainable career.
Pros and cons of freelance digital marketing
Becoming a freelancer can be the key to unlocking higher earnings and better work/life balance, but it isn’t right for everyone. You should know these pros and cons if you’re on the fence about taking your marketing skills to the freelance market.
Setting your own schedule
One of the most attractive reasons to pursue a freelance career is the ability to choose when (and how much) you work.
Let’s be honest: These days, the classic 9-to-5 just isn't ideal for many people. Maybe you’re an early bird or a night owl. Maybe you’re balancing other life responsibilities, such as caretaking or education, that require schedule flexibility. Or maybe you just want the flexibility to go on a hike, work from a tropical island, or eat stinky fish sandwiches with no coworker judgment — when you work for yourself, you can make those calls.
Deciding who you work with
Freelancers also have the luxury of deciding who they work with. As an internal employee, it doesn’t matter how much you hate working on that one account; if your boss assigns it, you have to work it.
Freelancers can break up with clients whenever they like. Obviously, there are plenty of reasons — like getting paid — why you shouldn’t make it a habit, but you do have that power.
Controlling your own workload
Do you want to work a typical full-time load? Or does 60 (or 20 or 5 or 29.3) hours per week sound more your speed?
We all have different answers there, with different factors informing our answers. As a digital marketing freelancer, you can control how much work you take on. Of course, there’s a connection to how much you can earn, but you still have control.
Working directly with clients
If you’ve worked at a large marketing agency, the layers of bureaucracy can be infuriating. Your great idea gets chopped up and reshaped six times before the client sees it, and you may be just as many steps removed from that client’s feedback.
As a freelancer, you often have a more direct line to your clients, and you may even own the entire digital marketing strategy. If you’re a niche specialist (say, a stellar graphic designer), you may still prefer to work with agencies rather than direct clients. But you’re still cutting down the number of variables in a way that simplifies your life.
Being your own boss
Last, being your own boss can be freeing. When you score a big win, there’s no one else swooping in to steal the credit. And you can give yourself a raise whenever you want! (…Sort of.)
Establishing credibility and trust
Established marketing firms and other freelancers have already built a level of name recognition and trust. Getting to that same level will take years, and some freelancers may struggle to bring in the work or command high enough rates until that credibility is established.
Challenging to work for larger clients
There's only one of you, and only so much of your time to go around. Larger companies may need more marketing support than you can give them. If you’re not careful, you’ll be relegated to a pool of undifferentiated talent.
Lacking a fixed income
When you’re an employee, having an isolated bad day doesn’t cost you anything. When you’re a freelancer, having a bad day may mean making exactly zero dollars for the day. The same goes for vacations, sick days, and so forth. Lacking that steady, fixed income can be a source of stress.
As an employee, you’re part of a team. As a freelancer, you are the team. That works well for some, but it can be isolating as well.
Balancing skill investment (broad vs. deep)
For a digital marketer to do it all, they have to know a little about a lot. But to do something well usually requires knowing more than a little. Balancing your investment in your own development can be a challenge because you can pursue a deep specialization in only a few areas — yet your clients expect high-level results in all.
Essential skills a freelance digital marketer must have
To succeed in the world of freelance digital marketing, pursue the skills listed here, either as part of your skillset or by finding the right vendors and partners to fill in the gaps.
Content writing and copywriting
You’ll see the terms “content writing” and “copywriting” used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Content is longer-form and more informational content (like this post), while copy is the short, punchy, high-impact stuff (like email marketing or ads, or social posts). The ability to write these kinds of content is crucial.
People may tell you that video is king, but the truth is that the internet runs on words. Every single thing you read online, someone had to write it. And the difference between professionally written copy and amateur hour is easy to spot.
Even if you don’t do much public-facing writing, you’ll still be writing plenty of emails, Slack messages, and other content that clients will see. The clearer and more compelling you are, the better your results will be.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization (SEO) combines technical and creative content tactics that improve your ranking on sites like Google and Bing. Knowledge of this discipline matters for freelance digital marketers because the best creative collateral in the world can sell products only once you get that material in front of prospects’ eyeballs. SEO helps you do that.
Next up is paid advertising, which includes multiple categories of paid ads. These are conversion-oriented digital marketing campaigns where business owners pay to get their message in front of readers.
Google ads (including dynamic, search engine marketing [SEM], PPC, and more), social ads (Facebook ads, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, TikTok, etc.), and other web ad services (like Amazon) each have their own parameters and best practices, and the digital marketer must know the difference.
Social media management
Social media management is a blanket term that includes some mix of these:
Strategizing for social channels
Building social calendars
Creating content for social posts
Scheduling/posting social content
Responding to interactions and comments
Most digital marketers will deal with social on some level. Even if you outsource your social media management, you’ll need to understand these digital marketing skills well enough to manage it.
Your clients will want to be able to draw a straight line from what they’re paying you to do and the results your work generates. Better yet, they want you to be able to draw that line.
That’s essentially the world of marketing analytics: measuring results of ad campaigns, SEO campaigns, and more. Google Analytics and Search Console are free for any website owner and can be a great place to start.
In addition to the skills we’ve covered already, you’ll also need the ability to run and manage your business effectively. Your incredible social media skills are only truly valuable if you can keep clients straight and reliably post on time. And if you’re drowning in invoices and purchase orders, you aren’t doing the more important strategic work.
Teamwork can help you automate processes, improve collaboration, and improve efficiency so you can manage your business better. See the app in action.
Becoming a freelance digital marketer: How to get started
Considering leaping into the freelance world? Here’s a step-by-step guide to leverage your skills as a digital marketing specialist or digital marketing manager into a rewarding freelance career.
Establish your skillset
Start with defining what you will (and won’t) offer. If you plan to offer a full range of digital marketing services, you probably need to expand your skills or add some new ones (since most in-house digital marketing jobs specialize a bit more).
Pick your niche
Conventional wisdom says the further you niche down and specialize, the more you can charge. (So do all sorts of experts, including Carol Sankar, consultant and founder of The Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership.)
It feels scary, especially at first, because if you narrow your focus, you could lose out on clients. But narrowing the skills you offer and the industries and types of businesses you offer them to can greatly improve the quality of your work.
Build your portfolio and website
Remember when we said that establishing credibility as a solo act is tough? Your main weapons for doing so are building a portfolio of work (that you have permission to share and use) and a capable website to house it. Even if web design isn’t one of your services, your prospects will look at your site as a measure of your digital marketing capabilities, so invest appropriately here.
Make your ideal client profile
Before you start earnest outreach to potential and new clients, you need to determine what sorts of clients you want your freelance business to attract. Your own skills and background play a part here, and be aware that the more you can specialize, the better you can differentiate yourself (and the more you can typically charge).
Maybe you’ve previously worked full-time at a digital marketing agency that focused on a specific sector (like tech). Perhaps your business could target something narrower, like tech startups, restaurant tech, or SaaS businesses.
Network with potential clients and other freelancers
Once you know what kind of client you’re seeking, start seeking them out. Network where you can, whether through industry events, knocking on doors, contacting leads online (perhaps via LinkedIn profile or other social media platforms), or leveraging existing professional contacts.
You should also network with other freelancers — you’ll eventually run into a client you want to take on who wants something you can’t do yourself. Having a network of highly skilled specialists gives you the flexibility to take that job and figure out the details later.
As you grow your business, you may eventually start sending work out to multiple other freelancers. If you’re already there, congrats! It’s a big step. As you make this transition, managing your freelancers well becomes a top priority.
See how Teamwork helps creative and professional services businesses manage work better — including their freelancers.
Set your rates (and flex them as needed)
Setting rates as a freelancer is usually a perplexing and anxiety-ridden exercise. In creative fields, there are no “set rates.” Where you can find competitors posting prices, they will be all over the map.
It’s crucial not to undersell yourself by setting rates too low, but if you’re just starting out with little brand recognition or network, you might need to flex those rates downward to get an initial client base.
Develop and expand your personal brand
At first, you may just be “that one person that’s good at social media” and get by running social for a few friends and their referrals. That’s not a good long-term strategy, though. You need to build brand awareness; to do that, you first need a personal brand. Come up with a brand and business name that fits your services, and develop your digital presence as time and resources allow.
As you continue growing and improving, reducing wasted time and time spent on manual tasks is a crucial priority. See how Teamwork’s advanced task features helped one digital agency do exactly that.
Manage your digital marketing effortlessly with Teamwork
Building your freelance digital marketing business is an exciting process. As you grow your client base, you’ll soon reach a point where notepads and spreadsheets aren’t enough to keep all the details straight and all the deliverables arriving on time.
When you’re ready to step up to a better way to manage your digital marketing projects, Teamwork is worth a look. It’s the only project management platform built for creatives, agencies, and those doing project work.
Sign up today to see Teamwork in action for yourself!