Looking to Start a Social Media Consulting Business? Here's How in 6 Steps

How to Launch a Social Media Consultant Business in 10 Steps

As a leading marketing speaker and consultant myself, I often get asked about how to become a social media consultant and develop initial clients. As someone who has been doing this for more than a decade, I am happy to mentor a new generation of social-media-savvy marketing consultants. The launch of a new venture is always the most difficult, but based on my own experience, I wanted to offer you all a roadmap as to how you can launch a successful venture like I have, whether it is for a side hustle or full-time employment.

Starting any new business is a risk, and while I find many people might have the expertise in any given field, they might not have the sales skills nor even the social media management and marketing skills to develop a marketing consulting business and build up a company. 

(Yes, I have met social media consultants who, themselves, are not good practitioners.)

I will not comment on what types of projects these individuals might be appropriate for, as every professional brings a unique skill set and plethora of experiences to the table, but I will say that going forward, if you cannot display your own social media marketing expertise with your own brand, it will be very difficult to establish the credibility that is necessary to develop a successful business. This is because, although I have done social media consulting on customer service-related projects in the past, the majority of inquiries I get are related to social media marketing consulting.

What Does a Social Media Consultant Do?

A social media consultant is a professional who helps businesses leverage social media for a variety of business objectives.

While it can be argued that companies began their journey on social with public relations departments and crisis management as a key objective, these days most budgets are owned by the marketing department. With that in mind these are some top objectives that social marketers have for social that your work will probably include:

what goals do companies have for using social media?
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Of course your work won’t be limited to social media marketing as social is also being leveraged by sales departments (social selling), customer service, and even research and development.

A social media consultant might be in charge of doing any or a combination of the following work:

  • creating a social strategy
  • implementing
  • teaching how to implement
  • monitoring
  • reporting
  • training

Assuming that you are qualified for the job and are committing enough time and resources to make your social media consulting business a success, here are the 10 most important steps in how to start social media consulting:

1) Research and Choose Your Niche

Although “doing it all” might make for an interesting tagline for working parents in the early 90s, it is extremely detrimental to any form of marketing, management, and consulting.

Why?

Companies’ brands, mission statements, and practices are all extremely different, especially across markets. What will work for one brand – say, a sports brand – will not work for a brand looking to promote sugary confections. While not all cross-market companies will be quite so extreme, there are specific niches for specific products and services, and identifying which type is your specialty can make marketing your services and boosting your clients’ that much easier.

Generally speaking, you should begin seeking work in the niche in which you have the most professional experience.

2) Take Online Courses

Everyone has to start somewhere.

Before launching your consulting business, take some online courses about the industry, and practice your craft. You can do this by offering your services for free (which most would not recommend), or by simply practicing on your own time. Look up a smaller, local brand, and ask yourself how you can apply what you’ve learned in your online courses to that company or brand. Taking courses and applying what you’ve learned in hands-on practice will pull double-duty as preparing you for the challenges you’ll face as a consultant, and can give you a backlog of ideas for potential clients.

3) Begin by Establishing Credibility

This is a no brainer. Without credibility, no one will hire you. How to establish credibility as a social media consultant is a whole separate conversation, but you need to think hard and imagine: if you were on the other side of the table, why would they trust you with their business? Why should they?  

Assuming you don’t have any previous experience consulting with clients, a given here is that you have your own robust social media presence and at least can showcase your own online brand to gain some credibility with potential clients. A website is a necessity, and a blog showcasing your knowledge and experience will help build trust through your content, as will maintaining a consistent body of followers. Writing your own ebooks or hosting your own webinars are other ways of establishing credibility through showcasing your knowledge and successful social network strategy.

4) Gain Experience in Social Media Consulting

Combined with credibility, you need to show the experience that you have, which equates to why you can make money off of others. If you don’t have any social media management or social media campaign experience, you can’t expect to get any business. Start with your own social media presence, and then lend a helping hand by offering pro bono consulting services to others in your family and/or network that you can assist and build a track record from. 

There are also a lot of non-profit organizations who would appreciate your contributions. Of course, you could offer your services at a very low price on the likes of Fiverr or Upwork as a growth strategy, just to gain that initial experience if you can’t find other organizations in need of help.

The important thing is this: as you gain experience, you begin to build a portfolio of case studies that you can both display on your website, as well as talk about on the social media platforms on which you are active. Businesses with a visible body of work are preferred, even if that body of work was completed largely as a volunteer effort.

5) Show Up on Social Media

Social media strategies are all about getting found online, so you obviously need to have proper online branding that permeates your own website, as well as your social media networks, so that there is a sense of trust in your company. If you tell your clients they should be on Snapchat, yet you don’t have an account there yet, your online branding is incomplete! Just think about all of the sites in which business owners would have an online presence and make sure you camp out there!

6) Become a Content Creator

Anybody can go onto Twitter and re-Tweet everyone else’s content. But what is your opinion on utilizing online social networks for business?

If you aren’t contributing your own unique and insightful blog or social media posts, why would someone who finds you want to visit your website and find out more about you?

How can they be confident that you can apply your expertise to their particular situation if your online presence is not robust and engaging?

This content can be displayed as a blog post, an ebook, or a regular newsletter you send out to prospective clients. Leveraging Stories and video is another way to showcase what you know and how you can help others.

7) Make Connections, Both Online AND Offline

People buy from people they know and rely on the recommendations of trusted friends via word-of-mouth. While social is relatively new, the same old rules of business apply. Consultants need to work hard to engage with others on any given platform to build out the reach of your network, but don’t forget to take those relationships offline and expand upon them. 

Chances are, your first deals are going to come locally, so I would concentrate on local networking before being too ambitious and thinking nationally or even globally. Over time, you WILL begin to generate leads from your social media presence.

8) Learn from Your Customers on How to Start a Social Media Consulting Business

Pretty soon, assuming that you have followed the above steps, you will undoubtedly meet someone who might be interested in your services. Well, what exactly are your services? It’s time not to spy on the sites of other social media consulting companies for ideas, but to take a tally of what you have done pro bono for those in your network. It’s also time to learn from your customers and understand their pain and needs and provide solutions that solve their problems. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s time to pick up a copy of the classic book Solution Selling for an education that most sales professionals and consultants go through early in their career.

9) How Much to Charge?

Underselling your services can do one of two things: make it seem as though you are not qualified to do your work, or set up a dangerous precedent for future clients, who might expect you to continue working for extremely low amounts. Overselling your services is similarly problematic, as it can give you a reputation for being expensive, and can keep clients away, who do not feel they can afford to pay for social media managers’ expertise.

How do you decide how much to charge, then? The best solution is to evaluate people and companies who are doing similar work in your area, and base your prices on those businesses. If you want to make your rates more competitive, you can charge just under the standard fee in your area. Glassdoor and other sites have information liike this arranged according to states, and may offer more detailed information about your location. 

10) Scale by Hiring People

Many businesses start out with a single employee, and experience little growth, making the one-person operation perfectly functional. It can be problematic, however, when a one-person show grows exponentially, and is not able to keep up with sales, services, or service requests. To make sure you are offering all that you can to your incoming and potential clients, hire out any services you cannot commit yourself to. If you have so much work, for instance, that you are working 12-hour days, and you have the finances to bring someone else on board, delegate the tasks that you can to another person (or a team of people). 

Having a team will demonstrate that your business is experiencing growth, and that you are capable of taking on additional clients. As you hire more people, be sure to bring people on board who can focus on a specific area, to make sure you are making the most of your team’s individual talents, skills, and strengths.

Are You Ready to Launch Your Social Media Consulting Business?

My background is in business-to-business (B2B) sales and business development, so developing business is natural for me, but I realize that many consultants are not experienced sales people themselves, especially when it comes to developing leads from online channels. I have personally been able to successfully develop business through a combination of the above things, and I believe it can be a successful formula for you, as well. 

I am also not trying to make my answer seem “zen-like” or abstract, but I do believe that it requires a lot of hard work of combining the above, not to mention creativity with some additional luck regarding the timing of conversations and opportunities. There are a lot more specific things that I can point out, but I will leave them for future blog posts and webinars on the subject.

Would love your feedback: is there anything else that experienced and successful consultants and social media managers can add to help everyone out in how to start a social media consulting business? On the other hand, if you are an aspiring consultant, does this give you more confidence to pursue your passion?

Photo by Marília Castelli on Unsplash

Looking to launch a social media consultant business and find your first clients? Here's a 10-step guide based on my actual experience!
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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.
Articles: 186

47 Comments

  1. This article gives great insights!

    Neal,

    Having a well designed website, creating high quality content and experienced social media services can help a business increase brand awareness and succeed.

    With more and more people hanging out in social media today, startup businesses and established firms are now investing in social media advertising and content management.

    Therefore setting up a social media consulting firm that can searve these needs should be a welcomed idea.

    These tips will help interesting individuals understand what to expect from any social media team that will grown a business.

    (link edited by admin)

    We hope this would help too.

    Thanks for this great post Neal!

    • Appreciate the comment – and sorry for deleting the link – bit that is our policy on links in comments. Thanks!

  2. Hello Sir Neal,
    As an entrepreneur I really have interest on Information Technology of which Social Media Constant is also one of the Top 10 business most in this age, and these six points listed above are the major key to skyrocket me in this aspect of Information Technology.

    Thanks a lot.

  3. Hi Neal, I have been following you on social media. You provide great advise and insight. I have spent my entire career in sales development and very successful at it. I have my own website. I blog about Sales, Marketing, and Mobility. I would like to focus on social media consultancy. All the blogs I read, no one have created a “blueprint” to follow that would lead to XYZ. I read a lot of books but much of the information is generalized, not tactical. Do you have any suggestions?

    • That’s why I wrote this blog post Jeffrey ;-) What specific additional information were you looking for?

  4. Hello Neal! I am a little late reading this post, but it is very helpful. I have been a social media moderator for a huge company for three years now and I absolutely love my job. I have finally decided to create my own social media consulting business. There’s so much information to learn when starting a new business and it can be a bit overwhelming. This article has helped put my plan into perspective. I have already started managing a few local businesses’ social media platforms pro bono and did some consulting before I came to a final conclusion of wanting to start my own business. I have learned a lot about what services I want to provide specifically and how managing small businesses is different from giant corporations. Thanks for the help with starting my business. I’m even more excited now!

  5. So then here is my actualy question. How do you actually start your own social media marketing service? I meant, like how do you actually do it. Do you need some sort of a business license to get started with? Ihave great amount of followers on Twitter and Faceboook as well.

    • It would be best if you create an LLC to separate your company assets and protect your personal assets! Go to LegalZoom and get one done!

      • So if creating a LLC through LegalZoom is the right way, then what is the next step for this one then? Are there any fees I should be worrying about it? And also, with creating a LLC through LegalZoom is that like the same thing as creating a business license? Thanks!

        • Hi John, were you able to figure this out? I’m creating an LLC through LegalZoom but I’m not sure about the licenses. Thanks!

  6. Well first and foremost thing is thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful post with us and really I like the post. I was too planning to start business in this field but I was confused from where to start so I dropped the plan.

  7. Thank you for your simple but informative article. I have just started researching to start a local social media consultancy business as I see a real need in this beautiful place I live (regional Australia). Unfortunately most business here still don’t see the value of online marketing and social media which will be half the battle. I would love to be mentored as I feel the rise of anxiety that one feels with starting any new business venture, and a reassuring virtual hand on my shoulder would help me to me move forward with the project.

  8. Loved your article, very informative! I recently just started my consulting services and it seems that I am on the right path. Your tips also put my goals in a better perspective.

  9. I am new to social media marketing and landed my first client about three months ago. They are very satisfied but my question is now what? How can I target local business and get them to sign up for my service? What is the best way to approach them in your opinion?

    • Congratulations! While the list below is by no means comprehensive, here are five basic ways to find your next client:

      1) Ask your client for referrals
      2) Ask your network for referrals
      3) Network in your local community
      4) Create content as part of an inbound marketing strategy
      5) Advertise on Google/social media

      Just as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to social media marketing, there is no one singular approach that will apply to everyone! You will need to experiment and find one that works best for you and your situation.

      Good luck to you!

    • If you are selling locally, ask your current client for a referral, then walk into the referred business and tell them that you have been helping xyz company down the road and they had mentioned that yzx company might benefit from your services. Cold call if you must but dropping a name of someone they trust sells your service for you.

      • Great point Ray! This post was more about how to find your first customer, but once you do so, referral marketing is the way to go!

  10. Neil, I have been following your stuff on windmillnetworking.com
    simply love your actionable approach.. This post has given me the inspiration to self publish on Kindle.. Thanks!

  11. Thanks for the helpful article. It’s great to be able to see it laid out like that. I got my first job with a local business last month, and am starting a pro bono job this month.

  12. Interesting article. I can write great content and am considering marketing my blog-building and content creating services to some local businesses. Thanks for the tips!

  13. Thanks for this useful list Neil!

    For myself I follow one more step: Gain Knowledge: gain indept knowledge of the business, in this case social media – by reading relevant blogs, books and speaking to old and new generations.

    • Thanks Brigit…of course, my blog post assumes that you already have the knowledge you need to succeed, which is why I didn’t put it in the article…but if you don’t, then, yes, you will need to acquire enough knowledge to compensate for any experience that you might lack.

  14. Thanks for the comment, Shobhit, and good luck in building up your consultancy! Do stop by and let us know how things go!

  15. Neal – I agree with all your recommendations, but I feel a critical one is missing: know yourself and what you want to achieve.

    “Social media consulting” can run the gamut from strategy development to policy creation to training to website changes to social networking site management. It’s important for people to understand what their strengths and unique value proposition are, as well as the kind of work they most want to do. For example, even though I manage my own social media platforms, I have no desire to do that for clients. I also recognize that even though I can provide tactical solutions, helping organizational leaders be more strategic about their approaches to social media is something for which I am better suited and addresses a need I think is more critical and less easy to fill.

    Having a clear sense of what you want to offer and why will help you focus your energies on the most critical activities and help you refine your business development efforts. It’s tempting to say “yes” to everything at first, but that’s not necessarily in your long-term best interests. And having a framework for approaching Neal’s recommendations will enable you to maximize both your efficiency and your effectiveness.

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community
    Principal, Renaissance Strategic Solutions

    • Thanks for your thorough comment Courtney. My advice was dependent upon professionals already knowing what their strengths are and what they want to do, as you suggest. It is true that “social media” and what companies needs are can create varied demands on a social media consultant that can have them doing auxilary things that they may not have intended to do nor have the strength to do. I agree that the framework is important, and I do believe that it can only happen naturally after having some experience under your belt for most unless you can really think things through thoroughly beforehand before you embark on this professional journey.

  16. Neal – I really enjoyed reading your article. I am a Social Media Enthusiast and Currently I am working for a Social Media Consultancy and intend to start my own soon. Your article was really valuable and I will be waiting to read more from you.

    As for Experience – I totally agree with your comment. I am planning to build a social media strategy to develop online presence for my own family business which I assume would act as a portfolio, when I start my own small consultancy.

  17. neal,

    I enjoyed reading your posts on the topics that you chose. They were truly detailed and specific on how you should focus on building an online business. I liked how you put “luck” in there as well because there would be times where “luck” becomes a factor in closing deals and gathering on new clients for your business.

    • Thanks for the comment, Justice…and, yes, luck is a component in many things in life that cannot be ignored!

  18. Neal

    Very helpful article, got it bookmarked, not sure if my LinkedIn email was part of the reason you wrote it as you said you’d had loads of people asking about it!

    I actually have started by what you suggested doing, getting pro bono work, but unforunately the two businesses I came up with a zillion ideas for weren’t keen to try any of them out, so cant actually use them to add to my portfolio.

    Thanks again, RSS’d your blog and got your LinkedIn article to read still!

    James Mishreki

    • Glad you found value in the post James. Entrepreneurs get lots of ideas…they say the secret to success is “focus.” Good luck with it all!

  19. As for credibility, and want to add this: publish. Write a book. And while you write your book, add value to relevant blogs, as I am doing here. When you do so, don’t be shy to show peers in media what you do, such as a link to http://www.osakabentures.com
    Also, be a supporter, and communicate. Check out what you find with a search of “osakasaul,” and I believe you will see I practice what I preach, particularly in Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

    • Thanks for the comment Saul. Publishing a book is one way to gain credibility, but, of course, the content of the book has to be credible ;-)

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