How to Become a Freelance Social Media Manager
Why being a freelance social media manager is such a cool job
I’ve been freelancing as a social media manager for about 5 years now. It’s a great job, I get to work at home and can schedule my own hours so that I can work flexibly. Meaning that I get more time to spend with my family and lead a restful and happy life! If I wanted to, I could work anywhere in the world and lead a “digital nomad” lifestyle.
When I was an agency employee I had my commute to worry about, I had no choice over which clients I worked for and I had to get every major decision about how I work (such as which software I prefer to use) approved by the board. I also got no extra money for doing extra work. If my boss took on a new client, that was just more work for me with no reward.
Now I feel like I can do better work because I have full autonomy over how I work, and each new client is a pay rise for me. That’s not only great for me it’s good for my clients too. I care greatly about retaining work because each project I work on for them has a big impact on my security and standard of living. There’s a mutual benefit to us both, we are both trying to make money together. Project success has a benefit to my life, as well as to their business.
I also work on monthly contracts, meaning that my income is relatively stable and predictable. This makes social media management more reliable than other freelancing jobs such as copywriting or design, where you are always waiting on the next big job. Usually, I am at full capacity and can make accurate forecasts of how much I will be earning for the rest of the year. If I feel up to it, I take on a new client.
But it’s not all fun and games
Social media is a medium of the marketing profession. Any job in sales and marketing is extremely high pressure. If you aren’t meeting your targets, you will get fired. And it’s not as easy to do your job reliably well as a sales or marketing person than it is for a job like admin.
As a sales or marketing person, you’re responsible for the growth of the business. You’re responsible for the income of the business. As a social media manager, you are the voice of the business. That’s a huge amount of pressure. If you don’t perform, you will be fired for someone who can.
You not only need a huge amount of understanding and knowledge about your clients business and ideal customer, you need to be confident in your ability to sell. In the case of social media marketing, you need to be confident that you can sell the business digitally.
Before you become a professional social media manager you need one thing
And that’s to be fully confident that you will be able to get results for your client.
How to become a confident and skilled social media manager
Do you need a degree to become a social media manager?
You won’t find many people working in marketing who have a degree in it. I myself don’t have a marketing degree. Marketing degrees are a relatively new field of study, particularly digital-based courses.
In marketing, your work experience and portfolio are priority. If you have a marketing degree but no work experience or portfolio, you’re starting out from the bottom. But, you may have an advantage over people with no degree or portfolio.
If you’re studying marketing, do everything you can to build portfolio and experience up. Even if that’s working on your own blog and social media presence.
If you don’t have a degree, the same applies. Do everything you can to build portfolio and experience up.
If you need to do voluntary work, do voluntary work.
Should you pay for a course?
There are plenty of digital marketing and social media courses you can buy. Should you take a course? Well, it’s really up to you. But make sure you’re doing it to expand your own knowledge and not because you’re trying to qualify yourself. Most paid online courses won’t qualify you to become a social media manager. Your client is not going to give two shits about which course you took, only that you can get results for them.
CIM (The Chartered Institute of Marketing) is one of the most prestigious and recognised training bodies in the marketing industry. Many marketers have a professional CIM certificate. It can look good on your C.V – but it isn’t totally necessary. I took my CIM level 3 foundation certificate when I was doing my first job. My employer had a budget for training and I chose CIM. However, I didn’t find the course very useful. It was over 10 years ago, but I thought the course was a little outdated at the time. You can find a list of CIM courses here. I personally, would like to take an MBA in future, but I don’t think the impact on my career will be that great. If you’re wanting a course that you can actually put on your C.V a CIM certificate will look 100% better than any Udemy course.
When it comes to training that can actually help you get ahead in your career that you will actually find useful – I recommend Social Media Pro I’ve worked with this training provider myself so I can vouch for them. For $97 per month (that’s about £70) you get access to a 20 module training course, community and weekly live training with social media pros like myself who will give you the advice that we don’t write about on our blogs! There’s a certification for you to take too. I honestly wish something like that had been around when I was starting out. It was lonely and I didn’t have anyone to chew over problems with or run past ideas, so I made a lot of (quite costly) mistakes at the beginning.
Free Courses with Certifications
That being said, there are plenty of useful free online courses.
HubSpot Academy: HubSpot is a really amazing marketing resource in general and their free training is quite comprehensive. There are many certifications you can take, which you can put on your C.V or LinkedIn profile.
Google Analytics Academy: If there is ONE certification I’d recommend you get it’s Google Analytics. Google Analytics is massively important for any kind of marketer. Not being able to use it well will put you at a disadvantage in your career. You basically need to take this certification if you’re a newbie.
Twitter Flight School: I personally haven’t taken any of Twitters free courses or certifications, but it’s free so it can’t hurt.
LinkedIn Learning: Formerly Lynda, you can get plenty of courses here and your first month is free. After that, it’s something like $30 a month. Well worth it really if you’re starting out.
Educate yourself in other ways
Courses and education isn’t the be all and end all of education. Reading books is such an important thing to do at every stage in your career, I am constantly reading and each book ads value to me as a marketer. Here is a curated list of books I recommend.
How to build your portfolio
When you’re starting out, get work experience any way you can.
- If your university offers real-life projects to work on, paid internships or work placements. Take them.
- Shadow other people unpaid, if you can. If someone is paying you, they’re going to put you on jobs that have the most benefit for them. If you have no experience, that’s going to be the boring jobs they don’t want to do. They aren’t going to spend time mentoring you, sharing their secrets and let you put your skills to the test if you’re being paid hourly. If you can’t afford to do a full-time unpaid internship, ask if you can do a few hours after school or in your holidays.
- Work as a marketing or social media assistant for another company.
- Volunteer for charities or start-up local businesses so you can get your own campaigns in your portfolio. Make sure this is a time limited offer so they don’t expect it to go on forever. 3-6 months would be enough time for you to start seeing some results. Don’t ever do unpaid or cheap work in the hope that someone will pay you after you’ve done it for free. They likely won’t no matter how good you are.
- Help out with running social media for your friends or families businesses.
- Offer to run an advertising campaign for free, providing the company pays for the advertising spend. It’s a great way to build port and social advertising is not as time intensive as running a content calendar.
- Create your own movements, activism accounts, media outlets, Twitter chats, Facebook Groups etc. If you’ve shown you can build up social media hype from nothing, you’ll look great.
Skills you need as a social media manager
- An ability to run Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram ads and get good results. Good results = low cost per clicks/conversions and plenty of them.
- Good content writing and research skills.
- An understanding of how to create engagement on social media and how to grow audience.
- An understanding of marketing in general. You need to know about stuff like click funnels, pipelines, buyer profiles and conversion optimisation. In fact, not just know about them but be shit hot at them.
- Wider digital skills such as how to create landing pages and web buttons, how to install code on websites, how to use API’s etc.
- Design and video skills to create social media assets, although you could outsource this as part of your strategy if you struggle. I work in a mixture of ways, some parts of design I do myself on Canva.com. Some I do with a pro designer. And often I buy templates from Creative Market Place and just edit them with a clients branding on Canva. This is what many social media managers do. Get started with your own templates here.
- If you’re working as a freelancer, you need additional skills to run your own business such as sales ability.
- Analytic knowledge will help you advise your client. Understanding numbers is important. Familiarise yourself with Excel and Google Analytics and work on improving that knowledge throughout your career.
What should you put in your portfolio?
Once you’ve finished your first social media campaign, make a document for each client that answers the following questions:
- What was the customers business and who was their ideal customer?
- What did the customer need to achieve through social media?
- What plan did you come up with to implement this?
- What were the social media platforms like before you took hold of them? How many followers did they have on each and what was the reach, engagement and conversion like?
- What were the social media platforms like after you finished your project? How many new followers did they get on each? How much did their reach go up? How much did their engagement go up? How much did social media traffic go up? How many conversions/sales did you help to make? What did the customer report about improvements to their business sales and inbound enquiries?
Should you specialise in a certain industry or platform as a social media manager?
Specialising in different industries or on different platforms can help you attract new clients and charge higher rates. But I wouldn’t recommend specialising for the sake of it.
Your specialism should be something that you’re the most experienced in and good at. I have the most professional experience in B2B and service industries. And I’m generally the best at Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter marketing. However, I recently took on an account for a food brand and we’ve had immediately good success particularly on Instagram. So don’t pigeon hole yourself by turning down new clients because they aren’t your specialism.
Sometimes I will turn down clients if they’re in something I have no experience in like E-com, or they will turn me down because I don’t have experience in specifically marketing apps. Sometimes people from the health care service industry will message me because they know I have relevant experience in that.
A social media manager should be confident that they can get results before they take on a project, so your specialism should reflect this. I wouldn’t recommend specialising in something just for marketing purposes. If you don’t have any experience in fashion, don’t market yourself as a fashion social media manager just because that’s what you want to do.
If you do decide to specialise in a certain industry
Make sure you are creating content specific to that industry and your branding and marketing message suits the customer you’re trying to attract.
Make sure your industry is viable for you to work in. Is it already over saturated with people targeting that industry? Are you targeting people who are going to have a budget? While fitness can be a great industry to work in, most personal trainers are sole traders and most sole traders don’t really have the budget to buy a professional marketing campaign. Make sure the customers you’re starting out with (when your prices may be lower) will still be good customers when you’ve been doing this for 20 years.
Don’t be afraid to aim big. Don’t aim yourself as a social media manager “for small businesses” just because you don’t have the confidence to approach bigger businesses. Big businesses need social media, digital isn’t over saturated, it’s understaffed. There are thousands of social media managers aiming themselves at small businesses, small businesses don’t have much money. Aim higher.
Good software for social media managers
Software is a must-have for your workflow. It’s too time-consuming to be logging into different twitter profiles all the time.
- Publishing software
- Listening software
- Reporting software
Some more expensive software, like Sprout Social can combine all these features into one. Technically you’re a social media agency, so you’ll be needing at least the Professional Package.
I use and recommend Content Cal. It allows you to schedule posts in a calendar format. You can also share your calendar with clients. There’s plenty of free social media software you can use, but once you start to grow to more than a few clients, you’ll be wanting to invest in something a bit meatier. Investing in better software will help you save time each day. And time = money when you’re a freelancer. Content Cal is a great option if you are a freelancer. Not as expensive as Sprout, but way better than Hootsuite and Buffer.
There’s also plenty of software to help you design graphics and animation.
- Canva.com pro (which is a social media manager favourite). It’s free but Canva pro is about $13 per month.
- Bitable.com for animations. It starts at $20 per month.
- and Adobe Spark. Where you can create videos and social media posts. You’ll need to be paying for an Adobe Cloud account if you want to add your client’s branding.
- Adobe Creative Cloud. I use a mixture of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. The entire Adobe collection is £50 per month. Hard to run a creative or digital business without Adobe.
- Grammarly. It’s essential. A typo or spelling mistake may not only get you into bother with your client, it may also end up being a PR DISASTER.
- Miro. Great for collaborating with clients on brainstorming sessions and “ideating” over Zoom. You can also run strategy sessions and workshops.
Equipment you’ll need
If you’re a social media freelancer, you’ll need excellent hardware so that you will be able to work from anywhere.
Here’s what I use:
- An Apple IMac. Macs are great for design. They have large screens and run Adobe products very well. I find I am the most productive when using this hardware.
- A Microsoft Surface Pro 6. I’m not always able to work from home, sometimes I need to do some work in town whilst in-between meetings and sometimes I just like to go and work in a cafe so I’m out the house. This product is a laptop/tablet hybrid and I can work more fluidly by drawing, sketching and making notes with the pen.
- A Samsung Galaxy S10. You’ll need a great phone if you’re a social media freelancer because you’ll be taking lots of calls, doing a lot of your social media management work, and editing on your phone. Having a good phone means you have a bit of freedom from being sat at your laptop. Yes, you’re sat at your phone instead, but it helps you not be stuck in the same location all the time.
- LOTS of notebooks.
Building up your own business as a freelance social media manager
How to get your first clients
As a social media manager, you’re in the business of helping people get new business through social media. So your own social media channels should be an easy way for you to get new clients. Most of my enquiries come through digital channels. When I was first starting out, I got most of my enquiries through Twitter and LinkedIn. Now I have built up SEO on my website, most of my enquiries come through my website after people have found me through Google.
I have done lots of networking and events in the past but this is such a time-consuming way of getting new business that I don’t really bother anymore. Why go to a networking party or host a workshop to get one or two enquiries when you can build up a digital presence that gets you new enquiries every day? I would have been 500% better off creating an online workshop than a physical one.
Some people recommend getting referrals off family, friends and clients but this also is not my preferred way of doing business. I’m a freelancer not a network marketer. My friends and family don’t have business connections and they don’t buy from me. In fact, they don’t even know what I do. Never expect the network of people you know to care enough about your business to make an impact on its growth.
My clients sometimes refer me to other people, but they’re busy people and their network is also limited. I don’t expect them to be chatting about me and how great I am while they’re playing golf.
Tips for getting new business through your website
Have good call to actions and lots of them. I have 7 call to actions on my home page. One is for my What’s App button, another is a link to my LinkedIn profile. On my contact page, I have my email, mobile and contact form. Don’t just rely on one method of people contacting you. Some people prefer email, some want to phone you and some people just want to ping you on Facebook messenger or What’s App.
Pitch for business locally. Where I live (Sheffield) people have a certain way of doing business. I understand these people and how they like to communicate. I find doing sales very very easy in the area. I do get enquiries internationally, but nowhere near as many as I do locally. Plus, the clients are harder for me to close because my sales method is very reliant on face to face meetings. I find it harder to do sales on the phone or on Skype than I do in real life. On top of this, it’s easier to rank for certain keywords locally than it is internationally. Internationally you’re competing with thousands of social media marketers, locally you’re competing with maybe 30-100 depending on where you live.
Create new content and keep people coming back. If you’re a social media manager, you’re doing B2B sales which is a long game. Sometimes it may take people over a year to hire you from the point of first hearing about you to sending your first invoice. If you have a content strategy you can keep people returning to your website for fresh content, which allows you to build up your brand trust and reputation. And stay fresh in their mind until they’re ready to buy.
Have a good brand and website. I feel relatively competent about making websites, so I created my website myself. I did make two hires when starting my business though. I hired a professional photographer and a brander. My brand is myself, so I wanted the photographs of myself to look professional and put myself across well.
I wanted my brand to come across as reliable and technical so I used Braun as inspiration. My brander gave me the brand guide lines to only use black and white in all my material. At first, I ignored that and my content looked shoddy. When a brander gives you some guidelines – stick to them!
I really wouldn’t recommend doing your own logo unless you have a good idea about branding and design.
When you’re branding yourself, make sure you’re attractive to your target market. There’s no point creating girly/feminine stuff because that’s what you like, if most of the businesses in your target market are run by men over 45.
Practice what you preach. No one wants to hire a social media manager who only has 100 followers on Twitter and uses awful graphics on their Instagram account. I don’t recommend that my clients use every social media platform, and suggest they only concentrate on the areas where they feel they can reach their customer. So I only use Twitter and LinkedIn for my business and make sure I post regularly on both.
I use Instagram for personal topics, but it’s not secret from my customers and I have a good amount of followers and engagement on it. I have a Facebook page but I only use it so people can message me on it and for when I need to advertise certain events or content.
If you can’t make people interested in what you have to say online – how are you going to achieve that for your customers? You don’t need to be insta- famous (although it can help) but at least make sure you’re getting more engagement and followers than your local competitors.
Working with agencies
In my experience, agencies are always looking to make relationships with good freelancers. Agencies can be an excellent way of getting business as a social media freelancer because they can do all your sales for you. Typically, agencies have bigger clients than I would be able to secure as an independent. I keep my business a mixture of working with agencies and independent clients, so my portfolio is diverse.
You have nothing to lose by making a list of local agencies and messaging all of them with your portfolio and rates, or even ask them if they would like to meet up for lunch or a tea.
How working with agencies works
An agency will get new business for you. You don’t need to pay them anything but they will probably add some money on top of what you’re charging for the project. The agency will invoice the client and you will send your invoice to the agency.
You will most likely not be tied into a contract where you can only work with one agency. And you won’t need to make sure your independent clients hire you through your agency. You’re not on a record label and you don’t have a modelling contract. Agencies exist to do work for people, and sometimes they need to hire freelancers to help them do that work.
What should you charge?
What you should charge is up to two things:
- How much you are happy to earn.
- How much your customer is happy to pay.
The thing about social media freelancing is that there is no standard rate. You may find someone who is happy to pay you 1 million per campaign! The thing is though, your rates should reflect your experience, skills and knowledge. If you have just started out and have no experience, don’t think you can get away with charging the same as freelancers who have been in business a long time and have an amazing portfolio. Social media freelancing is not a get rich quick scheme. If you are less experienced than most, your rates should reflect that. Being a cheaper option is not always bad, sometimes people don’t want to work with me because they can’t afford my rates. Many people will work with less experienced freelancers if it means they can afford their rates.
If you charge the same as a high profile agency, your clients will expect the same results they could get from that agency. The higher your rates, the higher your client expectations, so make sure you are comfortable and not trying to blag it.
But at the same time, don’t under charge. If you are charging something like £100 – £150 per client this is not a sustainable business model. You would need to have 10 clients just to be earning £1000 per month. That’s a lot of work and isn’t scalable. It isn’t fair on your clients who need a good amount of your time and energy.
As a freelancer, you need to be earning more than you would as an employee. Employees get pensions from their boss, paid holidays, paid sick days and paid paternity/maternity leave – you’ll be getting none of that as a freelancer. They don’t have to buy their own equipment and they don’t need their own insurance. If they get let go, they’ll get redundancy pay. If a client doesn’t need you anymore guess what you get? N.o.t.h.i.n.g
So you need to take your own expenses into consideration.
You need to account for:
- Your equipment and software.
- Your pension and insurance.
How to run your social media freelancing business
Once you get your first enquiries, what next? Here’s how I run things:
Once a client makes an enquiry, I decide whether the project would be suitable for me, and if I am suitable for them. I then:
- Arrange a phone call to discuss their current activity and pricing.
- Arrange a face to face or Skype meeting to get a thorough understanding of their requirements and to answer any questions they have about the process.
- Do an audit of their current activity and provide a detailed proposal and quote.
- Once an agreement is made for a sale I send a purchase order for them to confirm, which details all my activity, how much it’s going to cost and when they can expect an invoice so there are no quibbles.
- You may wish to consider making a contract for new clients. (I don’t use one but my agents do.)
- I begin with researching my client’s industry in-depth, creating buyer profiles for their ideal customers and planning content.
- I write the content and work with a designer to create any necessary graphics, or I use templates from Creative Market. Creative Market has a lot of templates created by professional designers, you can input your clients branding into them and create something special, quickly. It’s also cost-effective for you and means you aren’t using the same old boring Canva templates that everyone else is using.
- I then get a content plan signed off.
- Next step is working on their accounts. I simply get their logins and start posting once they have approved my ideas.
- I do daily monitoring of the accounts/advertisements and respond to customer comments quickly.
End of month/ campaign
- I provide an end of month report which details reach, engagement, new followers, web click-throughs and conversions for each account. If something went well or badly, I provide more information about how this can give us insight to move forward.
- I schedule face to face or Skype meetings with clients regularly to ensure that they are happy with the work, and if they have any new ideas or problems I am notified quickly.
- Invoicing. I invoice at the end of the month and am usually paid within the month. State payment terms on your invoice so your client has a clear idea about when they can start to expect to be chased for payment. You may also wish to include on your contact/purchase order/invoice at which point you will stop working for them if they do not pay on time. This may be a month, a year, it’s up to you. I use Invoicely to send my invoices and track payments.
Tools you can help you manage your workflow
- I present my reports on Google Sheets. That way I can update them every month and the customer has one link that they can revisit if they need to – rather than multiple documents.
- I use Hubspot CRM (client relationship management) to keep track of all the inbound enquiries I get, as well as people I’ve met at events, people who have subscribed to my email etc. This means I have a good idea of who I’ve already spoken to and what our conversations included. You could also use a CRM to help you manage your influencer marketing campaigns.
- I use Trello.com to manage customer support tickets and my to-do lists for each client. It also helps me to keep all my proposals, reports and marketing plans in one place.
- Evernote. I use Evernote an awful lot. I draft content on it and write a lot of notes from my research on it.
- Creative Market helps me to create content quickly on Canva. Buy templates that suit a client and edit them to fit within brand guidelines.
Building up a good reputation
If a client seems happy with your work and you’re getting good results. Ask if they can leave you a Google Review and if you can create a case study from their work. They’ll usually be happy to oblige but not always, as not everyone wants people to know the details of their marketing and who they use.
A Google review will help you build up your SEO presence locally, as well as providing social proof that you are good at what you do.
I find getting reviews quite difficult, as I can’t disclose the agency clients I work for, and through the nature of the business I don’t work with many new clients. I generally have about 8-10 clients on the go at once, if you’re working full time, you may have 20-30. So any reviews and case studies I can get are gold dust to me and are extremely valuable.
Ways to improve your business as a freelancer in general
Always remember that you are running a business, you’re not an employee. So as well as being a good social media manager, you’re also going to need to be a good business person. You’ll need to get good at:
- Tracking your expenses. Doing your own books as a freelancer is easy peasy. But it really helps if you keep track of your expenses. I use an Evernote document to track my invoices and expenses.
- Saving money. When you get an increased income. You have increased security, not just more spending money! Make sure you are investing this money wisely. You need to make sure you are putting money aside every month for your tax, contributing to your pension, and having emergency funds in case you lose clients suddenly or something happens – like a death in the family, which means you don’t want to work as much. Remember – there’s no maternity leave, compassionate leave, or carers leave for you!
- You’ll get good at other skills like content creation, website admin and email marketing.
- Negotiating and customer relationship management.
- Handling criticism. Oh yeah!
- Being professional. Your client doesn’t need to hear every detail about your kid’s illness on your professional social media pages. Be careful about the information you share publicly.
- Sales. I know a lot of people hate sales, but it’s a necessary evil if you run your own business, you aren’t getting away from it. To Sell is Human is a great book for experienced or new salespeople.
Never lose sight of the fact that you are here to get £££ results. You aren’t here to be an admin.
You’re not just being hired to publish photographs of the latest company fun run. You’re here to get your client more business. At your year’s review, you may have to sit down in front of the entire board and present your results. You’ll have to explain why spending thousands of pounds on you was a good idea. You’ll have to justify why you deserve to keep working for the company.
This means you have to keep improving your work over and over to stay ahead of your game. If something isn’t working, you need a new strategy immediately. Always be upskilling and staying ahead of your competition.
If things are slow and you haven’t heard much from the client, don’t assume they are happy. Get it sped up. Your results need to be impressive, many people will be using social media to see if it works in the first place.
Dealing with stress and pressure
Finally, as it’s a high pressure, high stress job you’ll need to find healthy coping mechanisms to handle that stress.
Here are some ways I deal with stress.
- Get out into nature whenever possible. If you need to go for a walk in the woods each day before you begin work, as a freelancer you have the luxury of being able to do that.
- Find friends. Join Facebook groups and Twitter chats to meet other people in the same position. Go to networking events where you’ll likely meet other people doing the same job.
- Find a mentor who will give your advice about how to grow your business and sustain it.
- Have a morning routine. You’re most likely to have a heart attack in the morning. Each morning, our bodies get a hit of adrenaline to help us wake up. It’s very important that you wait for that adrenaline rush to pass before you check your morning emails/notifications. In the morning I make sure I am dressed, washed, have had a glass of water and have written in my journal before I even touch my phone.
- Get digital detox. If you’re always plugged in you’ll never be able to relax. I used to be in the awful habit of using social media in bed. Sometimes I’d even wake up in the night and check my emails or notifications. Don’t ever do that. When you’re in bed DO NOT use your phone.
- Using paper to-do lists, business plans and journals. It helps me to physically see, on paper, exactly how much I need to do and what my priorities are.
I wish you the best of luck in your career. Digital desperately needs more talented and hardworking people.
If you’re going solo I’d love to follow your journey. Add me on LinkedIn or Instagram (@katiebarbermarketing). I just started my Instagram profile, I’m doing IG TV Q&A sessions once a month, so if you have any questions you’d like me to answer for you – please DM me your questions. Please note that I can’t always respond to everyone 1 on 1, but I do offer paid coaching sessions.