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:
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
- teaching how to implement
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.
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?