The cat is officially out of the bag. We’ve collectively learned that working when and where we want and remaining productive is possible. That realization has led many people to ditch their W-2 jobs and freelance instead.

Did you know 38% of the U.S. workforce — about 64 million people — now freelance at least part-time? That’s an all-time high number, with four million more freelancers since 2022.

Digital marketing is a fantastic freelance career choice for marketers at all levels. You can start with a basic skillset and a healthy dose of resourcefulness. Don’t worry — the skills are learnable. Let’s start with a basic definition of freelance digital marketing; then, we’ll look at the how-to.

What is freelance digital marketing?

Digital marketing uses online channels — like email, social media, and search engine advertising — to promote a company’s products or services. Some digital marketers work in-house for a single company or agency that sets their working hours and location.

For those seeking more control, there’s freelance work. As a digital marketing freelancer — or as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) calls it, “independent contractor” — you choose where and how you work. Most freelancers work with multiple companies.

This model has caused many people to wonder, “What’s best, freelancing or digital marketing?” but they’re two sides of a coin. Freelancing is just a more flexible way of doing the same job.

Pros and cons of freelance digital marketing

Freelance marketing isn’t for everybody, but it might be for you. Weigh these advantages and disadvantages to decide for yourself.

The pros

People automatically associate freelancing with flexibility — undoubtedly a leading benefit of staying independent. But there are many other benefits that appeal to self-motivated digital marketers, including:

  • Choice of clients and projects: Freelancers don’t “have” to take on a project they’re not excited about or work for a client that’s not a good fit.
  • Income potential: Freelancing doesn’t lock you into a salary or leave you waiting for the next raise.
  • Upward mobility: As a freelancer, you choose when you’re ready to take on higher-level projects and more responsibility, provided you can prove yourself to companies looking to hire.

As with all working arrangements, however, there are downsides to consider.

The cons

Every freelancer knows that being on your own isn’t all beachside workspaces and afternoon naps. There are several logistical drawbacks, including:

  • Self-marketing: Most freelance digital marketers must market themselves and pitch to clients regularly, even when working on a project.
  • Health insurance: Freelancers have to buy their health insurance, though the national insurance marketplace makes doing so easier than it used to be
  • Self-employment taxes: All freelancers owe a tax of 15.3% on their self-employment earnings. That covers the employee and employer components of Social Security and Medicare. 

Some marketers think of these points as deal-breakers. Others thrive on the independence and choice they provide. 

The bottom line: Freelancing or in-house?

If you need a steady paycheck and the stability of working for one company, in-house digital marketing may be the way to go. But freelancing could be the perfect fit for self-starters who love pursuing passion projects.

How to become a freelance digital  marketer

It’s possible to start freelancing with no experience in digital marketing. The first step is to choose a type of digital marketing to pursue.

Selecting your specializations

There are multiple specializations in digital marketing. Most relate to a particular channel, such as email, social media, or search engine optimization (SEO). 

Channels used in marketing chart from Market Scoop
Social media and websites are well-funded marketing channels worldwide. They sound like good specialties to start learning about! Image source: Market Scoop

You can also specialize in creative skills like graphic design, content writing, or copywriting. 

Or, if you already have a following online, you can break into affiliate marketing. This means a brand gives you a link, and you share it on your platforms. You earn when someone takes action.

Alternatively, some freelance digital marketers don’t specialize at all. The industry calls them generalists, and they shine at creating integrated marketing campaigns.

Developing your skill set

You probably have marketing skills and don’t even know it. Maybe you’ve run social media for a church group or sports team — anything counts as long as you can show your work.

Compare your skills to those you’ll need in freelance digital marketing. Identify your most essential skills gap and start learning. There are courses on platforms like Udemy and Coursera that suit almost any learning need, and many offer certificates for completion.

Building an online presence

You can start building your business before you’re market-ready. As you learn the skills you’ll need on the job, take the time to get a website address and build a website.

Add your name and contact information. If you plan to operate under a pen name, contact your municipal government about registering it as a “doing business as” (DBA). It’s important to check off the legal boxes.

Clients will want to know what you charge, so you’ll need a basic pricing structure. According to Upwork, freelance digital marketers usually charge between $15 and $45 an hour, but that might vary based on your skills and needs.

Once you’re ready to start working for clients, go ahead and promote your services. You can begin with a social media post announcing your new venture to family, friends, and acquaintances. You can also set up profiles on marketplaces like Upwork and bid for jobs that match your skills.

Learning and growing

Freelancers never stay stagnant. You’re always on the job market, so you must be current with the latest trends and best practices. Keep taking online courses, building on the skills you’ve learned to reach the next level.

Subscribe to two or three digital marketing newsletters. Choose at least one in your specialization and one that covers all of digital marketing. 

Skills and tools for the aspiring freelance digital marketer

The more you know about freelance digital marketing, the more projects you can take on. More projects mean a richer portfolio, which sets you up for more income. 

Technical skills and knowledge

According to the Digital Marketing Institute, a contemporary marketer needs working knowledge of these critical areas:

  • Video marketing
  • SEO and SEM (search engine marketing)
  • Data analytics
  • User experience (UX) design

Being tech-savvy is always an asset, especially in trending marketing technology. Take interactive content, for example. More companies are embracing its ability to engage, excite, and convert. Learn this skill, and you’re already ahead of the game.

Business skills for freelancers

Freelancers must be business-savvy to build healthy, growing client lists. Invest in your freelance business by building essential business skills, such as:

  • Basic accounting: Money in, money out
  • Budgeting: How much you have available for our expenses, including paying yourself
  • Negotiation: The ability to establish a fair rate for both parties
  • Record-keeping: Documenting all client agreements and projects

Online courses can help you here, too, or you can learn as you go. You might already have these skills from a previous job!

Essential tools and technology

The right technology goes a long way to building your business. At Constant Contact, we’ve developed a partner program for agencies and freelancers to deliver top-notch results. Constant Contact partners:

  • Use our intuitive platform to generate beautiful campaigns
  • Personalize outreach with segmented messages
  • Analyze results for more robust strategies

Constant Contact makes it simple for freelancers to implement a marketing automation strategy. By automating manual tasks like email list segmentation and sends, freelancers spend less time organizing and more time creating.

Earning potential and job outlook

According to Glassdoor, most digital marketers earn between $52,000 and $97,000 annually, with a median pay of $70,000. Where you land on that range depends on your experience, skill set, and desired work schedule. 

Job availability will also impact your earning potential. Fortunately, according to the Fiverr marketplace, freelance hiring is increasing.

As of late 2023, more than half of marketers — 54% — have at least one freelancer on their teams. The average team has almost as many freelancers as in-house marketers. With layoffs continuing and employees seeking more flexibility, that trend looks likely to continue.

The best thing you can do to benefit is keep building your skills. When you offer results another freelancer can’t, you’re more likely to land the gig.

Niche selection and market analysis

Many freelancers have a niche — a focus industry they know plenty about. They might have past experiences or personal interests in those industries. For example, if you started freelancing after working in banking, you might offer your services to financial service providers.

Before committing to a niche, you’ll want to analyze its market trends. Google “industry growth + {your field}” and see if it’s headed in a promising direction.

 For example, if you look up “industry growth + restaurant,” you’ll find that the food service industry will likely add 200,000 jobs in 2024 alone. That’s great news for freelance digital marketers with hospitality expertise.

As you build your business, keep tracking and adapting to your industry. Knowing the bigger picture helps you adjust your specialization and add new services to help your clients stay ahead.

Networking and community

Freelancers are notoriously independent, but no marketer works in a vacuum. Especially if you want to start a freelance digital marketing agency, you’ll need to cultivate a community.

Start by joining forums for digital marketing and freelancing. The freelance community is generous, and someone is always willing to advise newcomers. 

You can also find valuable advice on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, which have plenty of freelance and digital marketing groups. 

Many freelancers find their clients on social media, too. One popular method is to join groups in your niche on LinkedIn and offer valuable contributions whenever possible. If you see someone with a need you can fill, send a message.

Legal and financial considerations

Freelancers are automatically sole proprietorships for financial and legal purposes. In plain terms, that means you pay all your taxes and are responsible for your expenses.

You’ll have to track all your business expenses, including taxes you expect to pay. Since you don’t have an employer taking out taxes, you must pay estimated taxes four times a year. The IRS has estimated tax worksheets to help.

Remember to track your revenue as well. Have every client sign a contract outlining deliverables, due dates, and payment. Contracts present you as a professional and serve as a backup if you need to go after past-due payments.

Work-life balance and personal development

Freelancing puts you in charge of your schedule, but that freedom can become an “always-on” mindset. Set boundaries for yourself from the get-go, deciding when you’ll work and when you’re “off.”

Establish a maximum number of hours you’ll work based on an income goal you want to hit.

Set goals for yourself, too. For example, you might reach a specific hourly rate by the end of the year so you can work fewer hours or go on a vacation. It’s essential to have personal and professional motivation.

Landing your first clients

Tapping into your network is the best way to find your first freelancing gig. Ask local businesses if you can help with their marketing, then document the results. You could do real estate marketing for a brokerage in your town or take over social media for your dentist.

Use these opportunities to practice your freelance business skills. Develop a formal proposal outlining what you want to accomplish and how you’ll do it. Keep the lines of communication open and document everything.

The biggest mistake new freelancers make is a lack of specificity. Be transparent about your rates and what you’ll offer. Send invoices and payment receipts. You’ll look more professional, and the client will feel more confident.

Brand building and self-promotion

You’re marketing yourself as a digital marketing expert, so a strong brand identity is necessary. Brand identity includes the personality, values, and aesthetics that make your freelance business unique. 

This marketer does all of those things beautifully:

Murad Murad about me page
Check out the brand on this guy!  His engaging color scheme and creatively presented credentials list inspire plenty of confidence. Image source: Murad Murad

Develop a brand that feels like “you,” and then use it to promote your business. Content marketing, such as blogs and videos, is a great promotion opportunity in freelance digital marketing since it showcases your skills to potential clients.

Keep marketing yourself as you land clients. Make new friends but keep the old — every current and past client is an opportunity for repeat business. 

Exceed expectations and stay in touch after the gig is complete. Sending congratulations on a business milestone is a great way to maintain a link.

Launching your freelance digital marketing business

Guess what? You’ve already cleared the first hurdle to becoming a freelance digital marketer. You’ve learned about the essential technical and business skills you’ll need and how to present those skills through your website. You understand the importance of self-promotion and networking, and you have a list of courses to get you started building skills.

Clearing that first hurdle means It’s a great time to launch a career as a freelance digital marketer. Demonstrate your value to clients who need you, and you’ll be set up for success as the “gig economy” continues developing.

Ready to get started? Sign up for that online course we discussed and set a goal for submitting your first assignment. The path from the first project to the first client is shorter than you think!