After having freelanced for a while a friend sent me a referral. I was doing well on Upwork but for some reason, I was procrastinating on this project even though he told me they were eagerly awaiting my proposal.
I wasn’t sure why but after some soul searching, I discovered that I felt insecure because this was the first ‘real company’ I could help — or at least I hoped I could.
I wasn’t sure because at this point I had only worked with entrepreneurs on Upwork who didn’t care much about office politics and formal communication.
The thought of having to meet the C-suite execs -or even investors- terrified me and even though I kept reminding myself that I’m good at what I do, it didn’t help.
I was worried about what they would think of me — if I was good enough, and if I would do well so I wouldn’t look stupid in front of my friend.
Fortunately, I overcame that and looking back it prepared me for a much bigger project that I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten because I didn’t feel confident.
My fear was one of those irrational fears and part of that must have been imposter syndrome. It is something that has made me anxious every time I’ve had the opportunity to work on a larger project than the ones I’ve been used to.
I have noticed that the feeling works almost like a muscle — it is something that we can overcome with practice. I’ve done it and so can you.
In this essay, I’m sharing some thoughts and tactics to help you overcome the same challenge. It is difficult but worth it. Freelancing has given me the biggest confidence boost ever and helped me become confident that I can work remotely.. while making good money working with cool people on fun projects.
Enough about me for now.. Let’s talk about your digital marketing skills and how valuable they are to other businesses: You’ll be surprised.
How much money can you make freelancing?
Throughout my career, I have worked with many highly skilled digital marketers from killer SEOs to copywriting gods and paid ads champions.
One thing that continues to blow my mind is how many of these are so good at what they do — yet they still have no clue how much money they could be making doing side gigs using the exact same skills they use at work every day.
It’s like they understand that they are valuable at the job but don’t realize that they could make an extra say $1000/month by repackaging -the very same skills they use at work- and selling it to other businesses. And most people will be able to turn that into a decent living within 12 months if they want to.
As an expert in paid ads I’ve had freelance projects helping small business owners increase their profits by creating ads and building funnels.
As an SEO you can help people have their dreams come true by getting them more traffic from Google search.
As a copywriter, you can help coaches build partnerships and become a more trusted source by getting them featured in major publications.
You get the gist, so let’s compare the differences between using your digital marketing skills in a corporate/startup job compared to as a freelancer.
Naturally, there is a difference between Fortune 500-companies, startups and small businesses. Both in terms of digital marketing jobs and freelance projects. You can have clients that are corporate/startups but many choose to start their freelancing business by helping smaller entrepreneurs.
The pool is huge and the decision making is much faster in a small business than in corporate which helps you land new jobs much faster.
Even if these jobs aren’t your dream projects they will serve you well to overcome the initial fear of getting clients and charging them a fair price. That, and feeling demotivated, is the most important thing to overcome when first starting out.
Being political and communicating correctly matters less with smaller businesses while delivering what you agreed to and being reliable is more important.
It is more about focusing on your work, performance and communicating what you do, rather than play politics and doing all the things you do to ‘look good’ in the eyes of your boss.
Of course, the country, city, experience and specialist type makes a difference in terms of your salary progression.
In a minute I’ll show you an example of how your path can look like (based on my own experience) with the following two directions:
- One with a full-time job within digital marketing
- Learning to freelance on the side (20 hours/week)
After freelancing for a while, many people go on to build agencies and other great projects. Covering that is beyond the scope of this post so just know that it is a popular option in the future.
Naturally, there are many positives and negatives about the different working styles of a freelancer (e.g. freedom to set your own hours) and I’ll let you judge for yourself whether those are a perk to you or not.
These should be added considerations and are difficult to whey up against a salary so in the following example I will only be comparing apples with apples — a digital marketing job with a freelance ‘job’.
According to a quick Google search, the average salary for a digital marketing manager in the United States is $98,305 a year so I’ll use that as an example.
As mentioned below there are many factors to take into account when forecasting your earnings. Another one is the amount of time you spend freelancing weekly. In this scenario, I have accounted for around 20 hours as a weekly average.
This is scenario is realistic and conservative. Notice how we are assuming you will only earn $100 in the second month and $300 in your third month. I’ve also added a few months here and there where I assume you’ll plateau — something that typically happens. In my experience, there will always be some months where life comes in the way or you want to experiment with something new that doesn’t work out. It always happens so why not plan for it 🙂
You can certainly do much better than this — and it is only in the first year. In the second year, I expect that you double or perhaps even triple this number.
We also need to keep in mind that this is 20 hours per week — it’s a side project throughout the whole year. Not a full-time job. So, even if you want to make it your full-time job you should be able to double this fairly easy as you double the hours.
What we are doing here is, rather than going all in, we focus on building the confidence and platform for yourself so you can master skills to truly make this ‘yours’- for live.
The main increase in earnings comes from you niching down later, getting better at understanding your clients and selling yourself, and that you improve your productivity systems as you gain more experience. All are very doable if you focus on one thing at a time.
Are you good enough to freelance?
So, how do you know you are good enough to freelance? To know that, you’ll need to know that you can comfortably deliver what the client is looking for.
That is very individual to each client so it pays to ask each one thoroughly about what they are looking for before starting each project.
One way that many choose to deal with that is picking a particular niche and only serving that with a particular skill e.g. SEO for fitness gyms.
That will make most of your projects similar but not all clients are made the same. And, like me, most freelancers have trouble picking a niche when starting out so I imagine you might feel the same. Let’s save that for later — unless you are 100% sure on a niche (then, by all means, go for it!).
Since you are already good at a digital marketing skill, your focus should be on providing value to your client and charging what you are comfortable with when first starting out.
That means if you play around with different numbers for an hourly rate in your head, It’ll be pretty clear for you if $10/hour makes you feel terrible and $150/hour makes you feel like ‘whoa, that is crazy’. If so, you are probably somewhere in the middle.
When starting out whatever you pick is perfectly fine, it is more important to you get moving so you get the rush of getting your first client and make them happy — in return, you’ll feel more confident. You can always upgrade your rate as you progress.
How to provide value to clients and build confidence
So we have established that you are good enough to freelance if you can provide value for your client — it is not about your traditional career credentials like which school you went to or how many years of experience you have.
Digital marketing as a field moves so fast that most schools can’t keep up, and when someone mentions that they have ten years experience we both know that the first five of those years are irrelevant because everything online changes so fast anyway.
People sometimes say that in freelancing it is 80% about your confidence, which is probably true. So let’s talk about how you can build this confidence and provide awesome value for your clients.
A great trick that you’ll hear a lot is to underpromise and overdeliver. There are several ways to do that with your digital marketing skills.
For example, if you are an SEO you can tell them it takes longer to rank a page that it does so when it ranks faster they will be pleasantly surprised — you get the idea. Just don’t go overkill or it will work against you.
Another approach is setting a target so both you and your client win no matter the outcome. If you’ve ever been on one of the freelancer platforms (Upwork, Freelancer.com etc.) you’ll notice projects with headlines like “New Shopify store needs wizard to get 200% ROI”.
The challenge is that both you and your client can lose. If you achieve it, great. If you don’t.. It sucks.
Personally, it is one of those projects that I would never take on because there are too many things out of my control to be able to hit the targets.
Another way to set the target is “test Facebook ads to understand if the channel will work to generate sales for the business”. This is great because in both outcomes you and the client wins.
They learned a valuable lesson for their business and you delivered upon what was agreed and give value to them.
People sometimes askwhich metrics I’ve used to evaluate the success of a marketing strategy for my clients.
You always agree on the metrics with your client — if you got them a ton of new fan page likes but they only value sales there is clearly a mismatch.
The reality is that most of them won’t know exactly what they should be so you can provide value upfront by helping them understand that.
Though you need a fair warning: people are often scared of looking stupid so you have to ask them gently if they know and tell them you can help if they don’t.
Often times freelancers and agencies will ask about a potential client’s budget and many are reluctant to share it because they (rightly so) fear that the freelancer will jack up the price to fit the budget.
So the lead might actually say a fake budget that is lower than the reality or they don’t want to share it and might be edgy about the future conversation.
If you ask them about targets they might say “200% ROI” because they have seen other people say the same whereas their business is entirely different and that target doesn’t make sense. Again because they don’t want to look stupid.
So metrics-wise you’ll want to ask them about it and if you feel like it might be unrealistic, offer to help work through them or ask how they came to that conclusion in the first place.
Do not take on a project that makes you feel pressured by insane targets. It will leave you feeling guilty and you’ll have a bad experience.
I generally see three things clients pay for. As you learn more about your leads you’ll quickly identify in which order each client appreciates these three things:
- The core skill
- Solving problems
- Communication and reliability
The core skill doesn’t need much explanation. It is the skill you use to attract clients and it is your core service. If you are an SEO you offer SEO-services, if you do paid ads you probably offer paid ads services etc.
Solving problems is the second thing that clients pay for and it relates to the core skill. Often times when I have done paid ads for clients they prefer it if I can do the media buying, write the copy, develop the images/video etc. I’m great at most of it except photoshop and creating image/video material.
A way for me to help my client and provide value is to help her solve the problem rather than going back to them and tell them I can’t do it.
There are several ways to do this. For example, you can either pay someone else to help you or you can learn how to do it yourself.
The key here is that you make sure the problem is solved — to a busy client it doesn’t matter how it happened, they just wanted it done. We are basically removing a headache from their plate and taking care of it for them.
The last of the three things is communication and reliability. You’ll be surprised how many freelancers are flaky and communicate terribly. The bar is so low that if you just focus on getting this one right, you are already standing out in a positive way. Basically, it simply comes down to doing what you said you are going to do. It is that simple!
As you progress with your freelance business and master these things, you’ll notice clients complain about how difficult it is to find good people. As you start hiring yourself, you’ll know what I mean 😉
Managing client expectations
As we just went over the key to being able to deliver on your freelance projects is helping the client set the right expectations and targets before the project starts. Or to pass on the project.
Managing expectations throughout the project is important too. The way I like to go about that is focusing on ongoing feedback throughout the project.
I find that if I ask for feedback towards the end it can become one big chunk which can make it overwhelming and then I might avoid asking.
However, if I ask for tiny portions of feedback all the time it is much easier to change throughout and there is a much higher chance that the client will be happy. They will also appreciate it if you ask for feedback as most people don’t — and even fewer people actually implement the feedback they get.
Building skills by learning on the fly
In case you come across a project that you feel somewhat good enough for but still has some aspects that you aren’t comfortable with you can also give your client some free hours to learn if that makes you feel more comfortable.
The distinction for me, that has worked in the past, has been to only do this for paying clients.
That means I don’t take non-paying projects but I might give a good client some free work by not charging them for a couple of hours if it is within something new I’m learning (e.g. photoshop as in the example above).
You don’t have to do that -at most corporate jobs, they are still paying you to learn- but it might make you feel more comfortable.
The reality is that we should focus on learning because the industries change all the time and we can never know it all. So rather the question becomes if you are willing to always get better?
Tactics to get started in 60 minutes
Let’s talk about a couple of quick tactics you can go through to get started freelancing using your digital marketing skills.
You know you are good at something if other people tell you so (maybe except your mom). So go ask a couple of friends what they think you are good at.
You can also make a list of skills you think you are good at, another one with the things that interest you and pick something that is a mix of the two.
Personally, I’ve had the best experience with picking something broad (e.g. help small businesses with Facebook ads) and then niche down after a while of working with different clients to learn about different industries, types of businesses and what I prefer.