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Many marketers believe that the only way to achieve success in the workplace is to climb the corporate ladder as a full-time employee. What they don’t realize is that they have another choice: becoming a self-employed marketing consultant. The market for independent consultants is growing, partly driven by the fact that some companies are hesitant to invest in expensive large marketing or advertising firms, instead aiming to invest in one individual expert who can train their existing internal team(s).
Of course, self-employment isn’t for everyone; there are pros and cons with any job. Read on to find out more about becoming a marketing consultant, and determine if it’s the best fit for you.
What Does a Marketing Consultant Do?
The job of a marketing consultant varies greatly by company and project but typically involves advising companies on the best way to reach their customers. Marketing consultants might evaluate current marketing efforts and make suggestions for improvements, plan and implement social media or other marketing campaigns, train other marketers on best practices and suggest new content, workflows or methods for reaching consumers. Then they track the success of marketing strategies using analytical tools. According to Simply Hired, the average salary for marketing consultants is $48,000, though they can reach beyond $100k. Marketing consultants are paid by project, so salaries vary greatly.
Qualifications for a Marketing Consultant
If you want to be a marketing consultant, you’ll need to take certain steps to be successful, including earning a degree, developing work experience, and building a client base. Here’s a quick rundown of the qualifications and traits you’ll need:
- An undergraduate degree in marketing, business, or communications (or an MBA with a focus on marketing, if possible)
- A great portfolio that shows a history of marketing success
- Several years of established experience as a full-time corporate marketer
- Expertise in a specific niche or experience working in a wide range of industries
- Strong copywriting and communication skills
- Marketing expertise in a wide range of areas (social media, content, SEO, lead generation, PPC, etc.)
- Marketing automation experience in Marketo, HubSpot, Eloqua, Pardot, or another leading software offering
- Confident in your skills, and ready to defend your work
- Strong Excel, PowerPoint, Salesforce and Microsoft Office skills
- An understanding of strategy vs. tactic (a strategy is a plan of action with a goal, while a tactic is a specific action that is part of implementing the strategy)
- Leadership skills, professionalism, and a motivated attitude
- Ability to listen and empathize
If you have all of these skills (or plan to cultivate them), you’re well on your way to becoming a successful marketing consultant.
Establish Your Reputation
Now that you know the skills you need, there are some actions you can take to further cement your success.
Earn Their Trust
You’re never going to earn the clients you want (or any at all) if you can’t build and earn trust. Linkedin recommendations and website testimonials can help build this trust. There are three things a client needs to trust you: the certainty that you will deliver; the belief that you’re worth more than you are charging them, and a guarantee that you will provide a clear and timely response if they contact you.
Cultivate an Understanding of how Marketing Influences Brands
Some brands are as interested in building a lasting brand that customers trust as they are concerned about maximizing their net profits. Marketing consultants sometimes make the mistake of focusing on maximizing revenue and not also considering brand perception. For example, a half-price offer might temporarily boost sales for a client and increase their profit margin. However, if the client has spent years developing a luxurious image, it could hurt the brand and damage long-term growth.
When you first start off as a consultant, finding work can be difficult. You’ll need to spend a lot of time marketing yourself and earning referrals. But persevere and you will start to see repeat clients and referrals. Earning repeat clients proves you’re reliable and have achieved success. When you start to learn everything you can about your client’s company and the industry it's in, you start to become someone that's difficult to replace. Expertise takes time, and once you have it, it’s irreplaceable.
Audit your skillset to determine what subjects you’re interested in, what you already know, and how you can improve. Then use that knowledge to land clients in that industry.
Continue to Educate Yourself
The best consultants don’t simply satisfy themselves with having a marketing degree or a couple of certifications. They’re constantly learning and working on their skills so they can update their clients on the latest marketing best practices. Marketing is always evolving and it's important to keep pace with the industry.
Set the Right Price for Your Services
Setting a reasonable rate is key. An easy formula for individuals? Start from the bottom of your income statement, and build up to get to your top line (i.e. the fees that you will charge). Profit +Overhead = Daily Fee Revenue. In terms of labor, if you plan to take home an annual salary of $150,000 and work 260 days per year (365 days, minus Sundays, a few Saturdays, holidays and two weeks’ vacation), you’ll need to take home about $577 each day before overhead costs.
Once you know what to aim for terms of earnings, you’ll need to determine your overhead costs. Overhead includes recurring expenses associated with running your business, such as fuel, internet fees, phone bills, postage, and equipment. If your overhead fees add up to $10,000 per year, divide that number by the number of working days per year. At 260 days, this would be about $39 dollars overhead each day.
Once you have these numbers, plug them back into the formula, and you’ll get a total of $616 each day, or $77/hr for an eight-hour day. Make changes as necessary.
Do Thorough Research on Each Client
Before you launch into a project with a new client, there are several steps you should take to ensure you’ve done your due diligence. Here are some tips to do just that:
1. Set up Google Alerts for your client and its competitors to see all the latest news related to keywords you specify.
2. Know basic financial data for your client. Some key numbers include: overall revenue, gross profit, and market cap.
3. Familiarize yourself with the CEO and members of the senior management team. If all else fails, search Linkedin, and memorize as many names and titles as you can.
4. Learn the client’s competitors. Do research to determine the client’s top 5-10 competitors, their relative sizes, key products and services, and their strengths and weaknesses. Periodically review this information to make sure it’s up to date
Don’t be Afraid to Ask Good Questions
If you sometimes feel like Sherlock Holmes as a consultant, you’re on the right track! Questions help you understand the client’s needs and what you’re required to do. Never be afraid to ask for clarification; it’s always better than completing a project incorrectly!
Have Key Promotion Platforms in Place
Even after you start getting repeat clients and referrals, you still need to promote your business so you can earn even more money! Have a great website that hosts your portfolio and provides additional information about your business and yourself as an individual. In terms of social media, pick the platforms that best showcase your business. Linkedin is a must for any consultant, but you may also want to showcase past visually-interesting work on Instagram or keep up with your contacts and promote your expertise on Twitter.
You can also consider blogging to share your point of view, or even speak at conferences to highlight your ideas. Both methods can lend you a huge degree of credibility and get great audio and video clips you can save on your website. Remember, keep it high-level. Don’t talk too much about your own services; focus on what’s happening in the industry.
Keeping up-to-date on the latest marketing best practices is the first step toward working for yourself as a marketing consultant and ditching the cubicle for good. Browse our list of digital marketing courses to find the best fit for your individual needs.