Straight talk on being a social media consultant

social media consultant

By Mark Schaefer

Nearly every week I mentor some young person who wants to start a career as a social media marketing consultant. I’m happy to help but unfortunately find myself bursting a lot of bubbles of overly high expectations.

I have a rewarding career and I have fun every day, but it took a lot of work to get here and a sustained effort to stay relevant. I thought it might be useful to present some straight talk on what it takes to make it in this business.

It’s really not about social media

Having a deep love of animals does not qualify you to be a veterinarian. Likewise, having a deep love of social media does not make you a social media marketing professional.

This true career choice is about MARKETING not social media.

I had a young man ask me how to be a marketing consultant and he had never taken a marketing class or even read a book about marketing. Be humble and pay your dues. Work for a company for awhile. Get some real business experience before you hang your shingle and go out on your own.

Social media marketing is very hard work

I want you to think of the top people in the field you admire. I guarantee you they have this in common — they’ve worked their butts off to get there.

People are more likely to hire somebody with a reputation and a portfolio of success stories. It takes an enormous amount of work to become “known” and attract customers.

If you want to move beyond the local level and establish a national or international reputation, you have to build a reliable personal brand based on:

  • Defining a distinctive sustainable interest
  • Owning an under-served or uncontested space
  • Building a portfolio of meaningful and focused content
  • Creating a truly actionable audience

This scalable process is explained in detail in the book KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age. On average, it takes 30 months of sustained work before a personal brand “tips.” Do you have a 30-month mindset?

Success for a social media consultant is elusive

I’ve worked in marketing for 30 years so this is the voice of experience coming at you — We are in the most difficult era to be a marketer … and social media has made the job harder, not easier.

People flock to social platforms to watch YouTube stars burn furniture or to see pictures of their sister’s new baby. They don’t want to see news about your new line of ball bearings or a photo of the employee of the month.

It was much easier to “buy” attention through advertising — our only option 20 years ago — than it is to earn it now. The problem is made immensely more difficult by the density of information on the web which is exploding. Creating success for your customer takes a keen strategy, insight, patience, and expert execution. Can you deliver that?

Be prepared to be broke for awhile

Nearly every newly-minted social media consultant dreams of helping small businesses with their marketing efforts. Here are some characteristics of a typical small business owner:

  • They are running on a shoe string and don’t have appropriate marketing funds
  • They have no experience in marketing and can’t articulate what they want
  • They are exhausted and don’t have time for social media
  • They demand immediate results from their marketing dollars

Trying to make a living with a portfolio of small business customers with that profile is difficult. Be prepared to grind it out for a couple years until you can work your way into larger, more profitable companies.

Set an example

Why would I hire a social media consultant who doesn’t blog? Isn’t active on Twitter? Doesn’t have a demonstrated knowledge of video content?

I know it sounds improbable but half the people I mentor are not actively creating content. I can’t take you seriously if you have 10 followers on Twitter or a blog that hasn’t been updated since 2013.

The only way to truly consult on marketing is to immerse yourself in marketing. Demonstrate expertise in a visible and effective way.

And the world is wide open

I don’t mean to be a downer about the business realities of becoming a marketing consultant but I do want you to have a realistic view. If you want to make it, you need to:

  1. Get real experience that creates a portfolio of success
  2. Read and learn about solid marketing fundamentals
  3. Patiently build your personal brand

… and I hope you do. Don’t be afraid of the competition. Don’t hesitate to do the work. I think marketing is the most fascinating aspect of business and a fantastic career choice. I hope you go for it.

Are you building a marketing consulting business? What would you add?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Toothpaste for Dinner

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