Are you tired of the monotony of the 9-5 grind? Always working to someone else’s schedule, often getting pigeonholed into similar, uninspiring projects and tasks?
Do you sometimes wish you could take your skills and creativity, and take them to a position where you are able to thrive and inspire?
Your skills could be a game-changer for startups and enterprises alike, but you don’t need to limit yourself to a single full-time job.
As a marketing consultant, you can sell your marketing talents to clients spanning every imaginable industry, working to your own schedule, and managing the projects you take or turn down.
The best part? You can also skyrocket your earnings potential. You won’t be getting paid to show up and sit in your chair—you’ll get paid to help companies actually move the needle.
However, starting a consulting business can be daunting. There are challenges to overcome, unknowns to face, and risks to take—but the rewards are worth the sacrifice.
We’re here to help give you the know-how and confidence you need to start your career as a marketing consultant. Whether you’re brand-new to the field or looking to step up your game, we’ll arm you with the tips you need to thrive.
First, let’s cover some expectations and qualifications—then, we’ll move on to how you can become a top-notch marketing consultant.
What Does a Marketing Consultant Actually Do?
Marketing consultants use their experience and expertise to advise companies on marketing strategies. These strategies could be for one-off product launches or ongoing traffic to the website. Marketing consultants generally help businesses build awareness, leads, followers, subscribers, and sales.
However, as you likely are already aware, the term “marketing” is a broad one, and the concept is actually often split into many categories. Most marketing consultants don’t know how to do everything. Some may focus on SEO consulting, while others might concentrate on influencer marketing or affiliate marketing programs.
As a marketing consultant, it’ll be up to you to decide which services you’ll offer clients. They could be as hyper-focused or broad as you like. You could use your talents as a general social media manager, or you could market services specifically for Facebook Ads.
You could help companies with their entire email program, or you could focus on a single element, such as list building or automated campaigns.
Most marketing consultants aren’t necessarily the doers—they’re more of the planners and advisers. Freelancers, on the other hand, are typically the ones who offer deliverables.
However, some consultants will get their hands dirty and execute the strategies they outline for businesses.
Marketing consultants take on a variety of projects. You may work with a few clients on a long-term basis, or you could do a higher volume of smaller projects. There’s no best way—you get to decide what your consulting business looks like.
What Skills Do You Need to Be a Marketing Consultant?
When it comes to hiring outside help, businesses are interested in cold hard facts. Remember, whoever you are potentially going to work with probably had to fight tooth and nail to get the budget needed for your services, and it will be their reputation on the line if they hire a dud.
Anyone can become a marketing consultant, but you’re going to need a few skills to get the job done well (and stand out from the crowd):
- Marketing experience: You’ll need to know the latest and greatest marketing tactics for accomplishing your client’s goals. This isn’t time to necessarily experiment with brand-new ideas—your clients will want to see what you can do before hiring you. Start building a portfolio that demonstrates your marketing success.
- Industry knowledge: Every industry is different, and not every marketing tactic will work for every audience. You’ll need to know the market you’re serving and how best to reach them. You’ll also want to have a good understanding of competitors and potential partners in the space.
- Communication skills: You’ll need to know how to negotiate prices, build strategies, and communicate plans to the front-line marketers. Strive to create relationships with your clients—they could turn into long-time partners or a source for referrals.
- Base knowledge: While you don’t need to be an expert in every marketing field, you do need to understand the fundamentals. Well-rounded base knowledge will help you answer clients’ questions and build confidence in your abilities.
What’s a Typical Marketing Consultant Salary?
Average marketing consultant salaries range depending on your location, experience, expertise, and industry.
We took averages and estimates from various sources to give you a holistic evaluation of what you could make as a marketing consultant. Here are the average salaries per year in the US for marketing consultants:
Keep in mind that these numbers are averages. You could make a whole lot more (or less) depending on your skills and expertise. Also, expect to start at a lower range in the early days. You can scale your prices and find businesses with bigger marketing budgets as you continue to build your portfolio.
8 Steps for Starting a Consulting Business
Now that you know what to expect, it’s time to start building your consulting business. You might feel a bit intimidated going through these steps but stick with it.
At this point, the chances are you are living blissfully unaware. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
However, the beauty of starting a consulting business is that it’s extremely low risk. You can do it on the side without quitting your 9-to-5, and it takes so little investment that you have nothing to lose.
1. Make a plan
Write it down. Figure out what you want to achieve and how you’re going to make it happen.
You might feel like you don’t know where to start, or you don’t have enough answers to build a plan, but just get something down—you can change it later.
Start by answering some basic questions:
- Why do you want to start a consulting business?
- What does the ideal consulting business look like to you?
- What kind of clients would you like to work with?
- Is there a specific kind of marketing you enjoy doing the most?
- What industries would you like to serve?
- How many hours a week do you want to work?
- How much money would you like to make?
Answers to these questions will guide you as you make bigger decisions later. Your plan will change from time to time, but reflect on it regularly to make sure you’re on the path to where you want to go.
2. Niching down is your friend, not your enemy
Don’t try to become the go-to marketing consultant for every industry and every business. Instead, become the best-of-the-best in a single, hyper-focused niche.
It might feel like you are reducing your target audience, but really, you are hyper targeting, and preventing yourself from wasting time on an audience that won’t ever be interested in your generic offering.
If you were hiring a construction company to build your home, would you hire a (a) residential, (b) commercial, (c) industrial, or (d) general construction company? You’d probably choose the residential construction company, right? That’s because they’re the professionals in the specific task you want done. You don’t care that they can build other things, too—you just want them to build your home.
The same goes for most businesses and marketing departments. They’re usually looking to accomplish a single task. If they want to improve their email program and grow their email lists, they don’t care if you know about SEO and influencer marketing—they want to know you’re really good at growing email programs.
Here are a few areas of expertise to consider:
- Content Marketing
- Social Media Ads
- Organic Social Media Management
- Email Marketing
- Affiliate Marketing
- Influencer Marketing
- Video Marketing
- Offline Marketing
- Word-of-Mouth Marketing
- Event Marketing
And that’s just a taste of what you can do. Choose 1—maybe 2—areas of expertise and become an absolute authority. That’s how you’ll find the best consulting clients.
3. Keep learning
The world of marketing is ever-changing. Best practices shift month to month and year to year, and you’ll be expected to know about it. The recent advancements in AI over the last 12 months are a prime example of emerging technologies that will impact your proposition.
Stay up to date on trends, shifts, and updates. Attend conferences and take refresher courses to learn about the latest news.
For example, if you’re an email marketing expert, you’ll need to be familiar with recent GDPR and CCPA regulations. You’d also want to know about BIMI and DMARC. You’ll also need to be comfortable using several email marketing platforms, like Mailchimp, Twilio SendGrid, and Constant Contact.
Never stop learning. You don’t want your knowledge or skills to become irrelevant. Find a few trusted blogs to follow to keep up with marketing changes. For example, you could subscribe to Foundr’s articles (that’s a really good idea).
4. Get your hands dirty
Consultants typically advise, and freelancers deliver, but most of the time, it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. Your client might not just need advice—they might need someone to help with the execution. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
Not to mention that if a potential client needs both aspects covering, providing both services can help you stand out from other consultants.
Instead of just building marketing strategies, make them come to life. This versatility can help upsell your services and make you the go-to person for a company’s marketing program.
Execution can take a bit more time than advising, so remember to price yourself appropriately.
5. Hire help to expand your services
If you find clients are asking for services beyond your scope, consider hiring extra help and building a team. If a business was trying to build organic traffic, you might need a content marketer, SEO professional, and a social media manager—you can’t do it all, but you can hire others to divvy up the work.
Hiring help is the best way to expand your services and scale your business. Eventually, you may just oversee a team of employees or contract workers who do the execution while you provide the strategic oversight—essentially making you a full-service marketing agency.
6. Learn to market yourself
While your primary job will be to offer marketing advice for your clients, you’ll also need to become a professional at marketing yourself. The better you market yourself, the better you’ll be able to raise your prices and find 5-star clients.
However, marketing yourself isn’t easy. You have to walk a fine line between promoting your business and boasting your talents.
It’s a delicate art, and it takes a little time to figure out.
The best marketing consultants master personal branding. They make their name larger than life to boost their value and opportunities. Learn how to market yourself, and your client will already be convinced you’re the right person for the job.
7. Set prices like a pro
Setting your consulting rates can be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of starting a consulting business.
Set your prices too high, and you’ll scare off potential customers. Set your prices too low, and you’ll leave money on the table. Set your prices just right, and you’ll maximize your time and income—that’s what we’re after.
Check out our complete guide to consulting fees to learn exactly how much you should charge as a consultant. We’ll walk you through tips, formulas, and communication strategies to help you earn what you deserve.
You’ll also want to learn how to write a consulting proposal—we can help you with that, too. Give our guide to writing the perfect consulting proposal a read to learn tips, tools, and templates for setting yourself up for success.
8. Refine your service and target audience as you go
If you’re a good consultant, your business will look completely different in 12 months’ time.
And that is a good thing!
It shows that you are constantly adapting your services to meet the current market trend requirements, and you are analyzing your client demographic, to further understand what your target audience looks like, and to streamline your marketing efforts in the future.
If you see consistent requirements appearing in roles that come across your desk, do a little digging. Why is that the case? Could your services solve those issues? Adaptability is critical for long-term success in any form of consultation.
Keep Learning: How to Get a Consulting Job in 6 Steps
Become the Best Marketing Consultant Out There
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This article was updated with support from Graeme Whiles.