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I became self-employed as a social media manager within four months of taking an online course.
Fourteen months later, I decided to put everything I own into storage and became a pet-sitting digital nomad so that I could live rent-free as well. I didn't have a degree in marketing or a huge online presence. I didn't even have a great website (my first website sucked BIG TIME, in fact!)
All it takes to pull off a lifestyle transformation as I did is a love of learning and a lot of creativity. As a client of mine once said, "Being in business is really just constant problem-solving."
Creative people are great at problem-solving!
If you're a creative person who loves to learn new things, you, too, can become a social media manager and digital nomad.
So, get a notepad and pen out, because I'm going to walk you through exactly how I did it!
But first, let's clear up those burning questions you're sure to have if you don't know much about what being a social media manager is all about.
What is a social media manager and what do they do?
If you think it's basically being paid to be on social media, then (surprise!) you're exactly right!
A social media manager does indeed get paid to surf the web and social media sites all day long. They get paid to engage with people through likes, comments, and shares, and find great content to schedule into their client's social media profiles. Absolutely no hype there, it's all true!
However, while social media users are drifting along the web in little row boats, we social media managers are more like speeding jet skiers zooming in on one platform to the next, checking in on messages and comments from our client's followers, uploading content, checking stats, then zipping off again. We've got a content editorial calendar and a tight strategy to maintain, so there's no time to mess around!
Our usual responsibilities are to grow our client's communities, serve customers, delete spam, engage like real humans do, and be the voice of our client's brands.
What skills do you need to become a social media manager?
I've always likened the job to a professional plate-spinner or juggler--it's a real circus act! You've got to be highly organized to keep everything 'spinning' with consistent updates on a strategic schedule, and you should be aiming to maintain a level of engagement with the community to keep people liking, commenting, and asking questions.
Essentially, to be a good social media manager you should:
- Have good grammar and writing skills
- Have good time management skills
- Enjoy socializing and helping people out on a daily basis
- A basic understanding of how each social media platform works
Additionally, you should love learning new things so you can develop and refine:
- Analyzing data to see what is working and what isn't working
- Graphic design
- Basic SEO (required for Pinterest and YouTube)
- An advanced understanding of how each social media platform works
- All the trends and changes on each platform so that you can stay up to date, all of the time
- Digital marketing tactics beyond social media
You do not need to be an expert at any of these things to start out, but you will want to get better at all of them so you can become a great social media manager and grow your business.
There are many, many tools and types of software to help make every task much easier, so you can just learn to use each of them as you go. For example, if you don't know anything about graphic design, you can use sites like Canva and PicMonkey to easily make all of your social media graphics!
After learning the basics of each platform, the thing you should then try to master as soon as possible is Facebook advertising and sales funnels. As a newbie social media manager, you should primarily offer content creation, which saves business owners heaps of time so that they can focus on their business. But eventually, you may want to increase your value as a service provider by delivering more value to businesses, which means helping them know what to do with all the traffic and leads social media can potentially generate. This is because social media is still just one part of the digital marketing puzzle; there are a lot of parts to get into place to make an online business hum with leads and sales! Whether you build these things or outsource them to others, your goal should be to help your client's businesses grow as best you can, always.
How much does a freelance social media manager earn?
Managing social media is a helluva lot more work than most people think. Do not be fooled into thinking it's just posting pretty pictures on Facebook or Instagram! Newbie social media managers often massively undercharge for their services when they are starting out because it can be very difficult to know just how long things can take to complete (hello, this was me!).
A good online course will help you work out how to offer your services and what and how to charge for them. You should also research in forums and in your local area to find out what others are charging and for what.
As it is with all freelancers, what you earn ultimately only depends upon you and how hard you work on your business and your skills.
My personal advice for newbies is to focus on getting several small clients on a monthly retainer package of less than $500 first. Build a solid bread and butter base first before you start reaching for the jam!
Never, ever charge hourly! Always charge in packages, and charge a month ahead on a minimum three-month contract.
You should sell content creation foremost, and learn how to handle client expectations early on.
Be sure clients understand that social media marketing is not sales, and never promise sales.
Social media is often called a 'long haul' marketing tactic. It takes time to warm a cold audience that's never heard about a brand.
But the truth is that social media is also just one part of what leads to sales online.
Until you understand and master all the other parts of digital marketing and can help your client understand what those parts are, just stay focused on creating great content, keeping engagement up, and growing followers for clients.
Now, let me show you exactly what I did to become a social media manager!
First, I took an online course.
The course took me a few weeks to get through, and it taught me everything I needed to do to set up my business, do the work, set my prices, get clients, and more.
***Note: I am no longer recommending the course I took as I am no longer an affiliate and am currently working on creating my OWN digital course to teach social media management, my SWAN Agency! Coming in late 2024! 🪄🦢💫🦚 ***
Following on the advice given in the course, I set up my social media sites, built a website, made logos, and graphics, planned my packages, and had business cards made. All of the standard stuff you do when starting an online business.
Further into the course, I advanced my understanding of each platform and learned how to audit and optimize them for clients.
You can work at your own pace to get through the course and there is no exam or certificate at the end.
Second, I looked for clients.
With my meager web presence up and running, I knew the fastest way to get clients would be to get out and meet people face to face.
So, I attended as many networking events as I could fit into every week. I did no cold-calling or emailing, only networking events. I found the events by scouring the web, using the Facebook search bar, and Meet-Ups. Some of the best events I found were in the local community newspaper. Out of my very first networking event, I got two clients!
The other thing I did was to ask my 'warm' market of professional contacts and friends if they needed my services. I let everyone know I was now a social media manager. My last employer became my very first client, as did the brother of an old friend! I also made new freelance acquaintances who reached out to me and whose help has been invaluable ever since.
As time went on, I started gaining referrals, then referrals from those referrals!
I no longer attend networking events just to seek out clients; I now go because I enjoy meeting other business owners and building my professional network. (And also for the human contact--it gets lonely working for yourself!)
The number one mistake most new freelancers make is expecting clients to find them online. Until you have a strong online presence with a strong social media following, a lot of case studies, and raving testimonials, you are unlikely to have clients rolling into your lap. Even the most experienced freelancers will tell you, the way to get clients is to be proactive and go after them yourself--and keep going after them. You should never stop expanding your network, asking for referrals, and contacting people you think you could help.
Contrary to what most people think, you do not need a website right away to start getting business.
In fact, my advice would be to not waste too much time perfecting your website. Get a basic one up, then spend more time getting out and meeting people! You'd be shocked to see the websites of some highly experienced, successful social media managers. It's not as important as your personal network, especially in the first year or so.
Third, I became a time-management powerhouse!
Once I got into the daily grind of doing the work, I realized how important it is to be uber-organized to be a social media manager. Keeping on top of the strategy and editorial calendar of multiple clients across multiple platforms takes a lot of organization!
This is where useful tools and software come in.
Here are some of the FREE tools that I have used and liked:
Website, landing pages, blog, and pay gate: (FREE): Groove Funnels
Bookkeeping and invoicing: Wave
Contracts: Hello, Sign
Email: Gmail and Active Campaign.
Time Tracking: Toggl
Sharing Docs, sending your posts for review and approvals, and sending your monthly reports: Google Docs
Do not be a cheapskate and use all the 'free' software you can find for longer than you absolutely must. If you do not invest in your business, how can you expect clients to invest in you?
Eventually, you'll want to step up your freelance game and use killer subscription software systems like these:
Customer Relationship Management system + contracts + bookkeeping + time tracking + shared docs + project management + automated workflows + contact forms: Dubsado
Pinterest, TikTok, & Reels Scheduling: Postly
Email: Google Suite and Active Campaign
Off all of these tools, the most mind-blowing for me personally has been Dubsado. It basically combined all the free tools I'd been using into one place and allowed me to customize it all to better present my brand. The customer service is fantastic and it has utterly transformed my business!
Outside of tools and software, I also practiced ways to save time in other ways.
I stick to one-month editorial calendars to execute my strategies for each client. Batching tasks like photo editing, graphic design, and content curation saves heaps of time.
It's easy to fall behind very quickly, so I schedule posts at least 9 days ahead. (Why 9? It's the number of posts to create a perfect grid on Instagram!)
Another time-saver has to do with setting working hours and client boundaries.
When you are a freelancer, it's too easy to fall into bad habits like answering calls, texts, Facebook messages, and emails like a ferret, even on evenings and weekends! That's fine when you only have a few clients, but when you have several it can start to feel like a zoo!
Fourth, I kept leveling up!
I've always been an information junkie, but no more so than when it comes to digital marketing! All the last few books I've read on my Kindle are on marketing. Every time I walk a dog, go for a run or drive, I'm listening to a marketing podcast. I am always in the middle of at least one online course. Each morning I set aside time to read emails, blogs, and Facebook group posts for advice, trends, and changes.
I live and breathe marketing, because there is SO much to learn!
But learning is one thing, doing is another. It's important to finish the books and courses and get to work trying out the new software, strategy, or ideas.
This is where creativity comes in.
The ultimate problem a social media manager must solve is how to get attention to a brand online. All the advice in the world is not going to help if you don't know how to make it work.
Experimenting is key. Everything I learn, I put into an experiment, then measure the results. From these daily experiments, I develop a refined picture of what my client's followers respond to and like best. Then I do more of what worked and less of what did not. That gets more engagement, which then in turn gets the posts pushed out into the feeds more often.
Once you've mastered organic (unpaid) social media marketing, it will be time to step up to paid marketing and sales funnels.
Some of the things I've studied in-depth and that I would recommend to become a social media manager include:
- Facebook advertising
- SEO (you need it for YouTube and Pinterest, especially)
- Email marketing
- Sales funnel strategies
And I am always improving my skills in:
- Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for graphic design
- WordPress for building websites and blogs
- Excel for reports, bookkeeping, and general data collecting
Never stop learning!
Lastly, I grew a thick skin.
It's true that you can get paid to be on Facebook by a pool in Bali all day if you like. But it's no holiday.
Working for yourself is not easy. Losing your first clients is not easy. Hearing crickets after you've spent all week creating what you think will be an amazing campaign is not easy. Yet, until you learn how to choose compatible clients and manage their expectations, it's very likely you'll lose some clients. Until you increase your skills to deliver a better return on investment, your campaigns may fail.
Comparing yourself to others is tempting, but it's like drinking window cleaner. Some days, you'll start scanning SEEK adverts, longing for the regular paycheck or human interaction of employment.
And just ignore the debate over the healthiness or unhealthiness of 'hustling'. The truth is that sacrifice and hustle are unavoidable in the first few years of establishing a business.
You have to be very compassionate with yourself to do this kind of work.
The joy in it, for me, is that every day I get to decide how I will spend my time, who I will work for, and what work I will do. And the lows are not nearly as intense as the highs!
Ready to become a social media manager?
If you have any questions about courses or life as a social media manager, join my free Facebook group, Marketing For Creative & Unconventional Women & Gender Diverse.
I'll be happy to help you with your new social media career!