How to become a consultant

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I’ve recently had a few inquiries about how I am able to do what I do – i.e., how did I become a freelance online marketing consultant? I’m not entirely sure if there is a black and white answer for creating a path toward becoming a consultant, but this is what I did.

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Backstory: When I was working in DC, a friend of mine (high five, Mitchell), whom I had interned with during the previous summer had asked me if I would be interested in helping out one of his family friends to get started with social media. I had never thought about it before. I said sure, and I met with my very first client (and someone I still get to work with on a daily basis) for lunch. We discussed what her goals were, how much I would charge, and we ultimately decided to work together. I began managing her social media accounts, and she has been an incredible referral source for me ever since. Shameless plug: BabyBookBaskets.com

A good majority of my clients come from word-of-mouth, however, a few of the businesses I work with come from this website and social media platforms. You’ll find your clients in various places, as well.

Hopefully you’ll find this post useful, and you will go away with plenty of ideas to get started with your freelance consulting business!

Step one: choose a field (yes… just one field).

Don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades. I could try to do 100% of the marketing practices on my own, but I wouldn’t be able to get them all my full attention. I chose specifically social media for small businessesbecause it’s the aspect of marketing that I truly enjoy, and it doesn’t feel like work. I love playing around with the latest technology on the web, and growing online communities is fun to me! If someone asks me to do something with marketing that is not specifically social media, I outsource to someone who can and would love to help in that particular area. Be specific when choosing your field of excellence. Although it may seem like it, it does not limit your client base to niche out your services, and you’ll be better for it in the end, anyway.

Step two: establish yourself as the expert.

There are several ways for you to establish yourself as the expert in your field. Since I’m mainly focused on social media marketing, I use blogging, social media platforms, and various forums to establish myself as a credible source. I comment on social media articles online, blog about ways to make the most of your social media presence, and post articles, photos, and videos on social media sites as I find relevant content! My blog is mainly about life, business, and social media.

Depending on your particular interests and expertise, yours will certainly be different! For example, if you’re interested in becoming a financial consultant on the side, start a finance blog. Set up your Twitter account, and in your bio section, explain that you’re interested in helping people handle their finances. Include a link to your blog or portfolio so that people will know you’re legit and that you know what you’re doing.

Step three: read and model what others do

There are endless amounts of resources online for consultants. If you type your field name into Google (____________ consultant), you’ll almost certainly come up with something pertaining to your interests. Find someone who is already doing it, and take notes. What are they doing that you like? What could you do differently? How did they set up their blog? What type of people does their website attract? How can you set yourself apart from this person/business?

See what others are doing, and learn from it. Laura Roeder brilliantly encourages folks to keep their eyes on their own paper, but I think it’s important, especially when getting started, to see how it has already been done. After all, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, you just need to manipulate it a bit to fit your needs. Once you’ve got your foundation, THEN keep your eyes on your own paper – find what works for you and your particular customers.

Step four: set a price point or packages

Aside from learning about taxes (ugh), setting up my rates and price points has been one of the most challenging aspects of my business. This is one of those things that you’re going to take some time to get comfortable with.

The important thing to remember is that as a consultant, you’re not only being paid for your knowledge, but your being paid for your time. This is not a $12 per hour kind of gig. Your time is valuable, your knowledge is niche and unique, and you have every right to charge based on the value you’re providing to your client.

To get started, you may want to work … gasp … for free. A referral is sometimes just as good as any other currency out there.

I repeat: A referral is sometimes just as good as any other currency out there.

To get started, ask someone to let you work with him or her at no charge. All you would ask in return is a written testimonial to put on your website and for them to tell their friends about you! Word of mouth goes a long way.

Once you’re past the point of working for free, study the market. What are others charging? More importantly, why are they charging what they’re charging? Is it because it’s a skill that no one else has? Is it because it’s a not-so-glamorous gig, and no one else is willing to do it? Is it because your consulting skills are going to make them millions of dollars?

I’m a big fan of package deals and group classes…the more people you can work with at once, the more you can help, and ultimately, the more money you can bring in to support your business. However, one-on-one is fantastic because you get to give personal attention. I do both for Split Aces, depending on the client’s needs. Try it all out! Figure out what your style is. And, charge what you’re worth, my dear!

Step five: find more clients

Word of mouth and reeling in the clients via your website and social media are wonderful, but sometimes you gotta get down and dirty. I’m talking cold calls, cold emails, walking into establishments and meeting with the business owners, sending snail mail, asking friends if they know anyone in need of help… hustlin’. Don’t get discouraged if you cannot find clients right away! If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Step six: ask for testimonials and referrals

Asking people to say nice things about you can be downright awkward, but it’s a necessary evil. If you’ve been working with someone for a while, or if you did good work for someone in the past, don’t be shy about asking for a testimonial. If they were proud of the job you did or are doing, chances are that they’ll be more than happy to write one for you! Not only is getting testimonials from current or previous clients hugely beneficial to you and your reputation, it also helps them because you can put their testimonial on your website with a link back to their own website. Everyone wins. But, you gotta bite the bullet and ask!

Step seven: win

Being a consultant is absolutely wonderful. You have the freedom to work with clients of your choosing, you have the freedom to say no to someone who may not be a good fit for you and your brand, and you have the freedom of your time. I have been so fortunate to be able to work with clients I adore – I have had only one nightmare story, and I learned a great lesson from it (but that’s a post for another day)!

Consulting is a great option if you’re interested in making money on the side while working a full-time job, or if you can turn it into your actual job, then that’s great, too. Whatever your goals are, you’ll learn more about business than you could ever learn in a classroom just by diving in and gaining real world work experience.

I’ve been growing Split Aces since March of 2012, and I have had some of the best times along the way. Now that I find myself in Manhattan for a while to work more closely with a fabulous start up site called Manhattan Sideways, I am so excited about the possibilities for this year.

Good luck with beginning your consulting gig! If you have any questions along the way, I’m just one email away, and I’d love to chat with you!

Til next time,

Jessie 

(Originally published on Split Aces Media

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