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If you've ever wondered how someone makes a living in social media, here's how I did it by accident, and the top 5 wins and fails I made in my first couple of years.
Yep, I never intended to become a social media manager.
I just happened to be working as one already on the day I discovered there were people making a living out of it.
"OMG this can be a career?" 😮
I kid you not, I had no idea until the day I discovered that the Facebook group I'd been going to with a bazillion questions for months was actually a group for professional social media managers!
You see, I got hired to build and design for an e-commerce trinket shop for a small local business here in Melbourne. But as it happens at many small businesses, you get asked to do lots more things, which generally is a great opportunity to learn new skills.
I already knew all about e-commerce, as I'd been running my own handmade jewelry shops on Ebay, Etsy, and Shopify for over 8 years. So when the chance to take over the main company blog and social media came up, I was keen to take it on and try it out.
Next thing I know I'm the company's noob, one-lady marketing department. Dazed with being totally out of my depth, but pumped by a non-stop flow of podcasts, blogs, and YouTube videos.
I was a hungry social media beginner. The carrot I'd been chasing for years dangled over the career I'd just accidentally fallen into:
Running my own jewelry business had been my first taste of freedom, but it just didn't cut it with my lifelong overseas travel lust.
If I learned enough about social media to become a self-employed social media manager, I could travel and work. FROM ANYWHERE.
And that's exactly what happened when I was let go of the position a little over a year later. The e-commerce trinket shop never took off, but the company kept me on as a contract social media manager.
My boss became my first freelance social media manager client!
But as a social media beginner, I made lots of mistakes those first couple of years. Not like huge 'effed-up mistakes, just things I know better not to do now.
Yet I also made some killer early-day wins, too.
It was those wins that revved up my marketing mojo enough to know I had found a new passion and a new career.
My Top Wins and Fails During my First Few Years in Social Media
FAIL #1: Shiny object syndrome.
Yea, so I was devouring all I could on social media marketing that first year. Non-stop consumption, every chance I had.
But too much information can drag down your ability to get results.
Now I know that you need to limit what you learn down to just 1-2 courses, 1-2 teachers, and DO more. Focus on getting results you can leverage later to help you gain clients.
Create before you consume!
FAIL #2: Neglecting the email list.
Oooh, if only I'd known then how gosh-darn important EMAIL is.
The company had a list, but they were pounding it with promotions.
We should have been capturing emails with savvy optins on social media. Then nurturing that list with all the lovely how-to blog posts I wrote each week. What a wasted opportunity that was!
In business, email is more important than just about everything except what you're actually selling.
Getting email sign-ups should be one of the top aims of your social media, to boot.
FAIL #3: Being late to the copywriting party.
Ok, so this is not really a mistake I made but it's one of those things that in hindsight I wished I'd jumped on waaaay earlier than I did!
Copywriting is the backbone of marketing. The verbal elixir that makes people want to click, comment, like, and engage.
Headlines, formulas, the psychology of persuasion. The art of writing makes advertising and marketing work like witchcraft.🔮
It's mega creative, but it's not 'creative writing'.
The sooner you start studying and practicing what makes good copy, the sooner you'll see results!
FAIL #4: Not knowing what metrics mattered most.
One day a few months into the job the office manager asked me to show him how many sales the company had gotten from my social media efforts.
After sweating out a whole kettle of office coffee, I learned that his question was all wrong.
Marketing isn't about sales. It can help sales, but it isn't sales.
What I should have shown him was the huge haul of monthly traffic I was sending to the company website.
That is the expert social media manager's Midas-touch metric. One of the few we need lose any sleep over!
FAIL #5: Massively undercharging my first client.
As a social media beginner, you're very likely to assume, as I did, that you can only charge if you're good. And good is always going to be, for you the avid noob marketer, getting the results you're hell-bent on getting. Huge followings. Viral content. Massive traffic. Emails sign-ups. Engagement. Etc. etc. etc.
But thinking this way is a costly mistake. ❌
When you're a social media beginner, don't equate your value with your ability to gain results - not yet. Your core value first and foremost is that you're saving clients and companies time. Time saved creating content, posting it, tweaking it, responding to customers, thinking about their brand, etc. Just the baseline activities of social media, regardless of results achieved, takes a hella LOT of time!
Results will follow after you put in the time FIRST - you have to get to know the brand, the audience, and run many tests before you see results.
Yet even then - and this is critical - you may not achieve results and it'll have NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.
Because here's a hard truth nugget: you only have so much to work with when you're a social media manager. Your client or company may have a forgettable or downright repulsive brand. Bad offers. Laughable copy. No fresh core content to amplify. And you're no magician, yet you're having to post 30 times a month to 5 social media channels anyway...
So charge well for your time-saving services, because time is the most valuable thing there is!
Please don't undervalue your service. Do not undercharge because you're not yet getting the amazing results you are so hungry to get.
Charge clients because you're that hungry! And because you know you will put the time in to try to get the results you, and they, desire.
Undercharging was my biggest mistake and is often the most common one with noob freelancers.
Now on to WINS!💃
WIN #1 I conquered the technology learning curve.
When I started the new job, I was asked to create a logo in Photoshop. Two days and a thousand secret tears later, I had made one, with some help.
Technology can be a major pain-in-the-ass when you're a social media beginner, but it's the hill you have to climb. Within a year at the job, I learned Photoshop, Illustrator, Magento, Joomla, Dropbox, Facebook Business Manager, Facebook Advertising, Google Analytics, and Zoho.
They were all new to me when I'd started. Of all of them, Adobe Photoshop has proven to be the most useful in creating social media content.
The best advice I have for learning tech is the same that was given to me when I started. Google it. 😉
Seriously, for every little thing you need to learn, someone has made a YouTube video on it. Embrace patience and be resourceful. For any issues that Google can't help you with, join a Facebook group for help and support.
WIN #2 I got my graphic design game on.
Within a few months at my new job, I became the office graphic designer. I designed all of our online content, plus DL flyers, event booklets, posters, ads, stickers, and even the entire wrap-around company ad decal for one of the factory trucks. After being at the stick-figure level when I started the job, I got to an advanced, proud-of-that, no-more-cringing level.
Easy-to-use software like Canva will make graphic design easy when you're a social media beginner. But I have always found Photoshop and Illustrator far easier to use. It's worth learning both because you're able to do so much more, and the Adobe suite is fantastic.
I now also regularly use Adobe Rush for video editing, Adobe Lightroom for photo editing, and Adobe Effects for animations.
I recommend taking short courses on Skillshare to hone your design skills. YouTube videos are helpful but only make sense once you get the general gist of the software.
WIN #3 I created content from NOTHING.
As social media managers, our job is to amplify core content, but sometimes you'll find there's no content to amplify. The company or client isn't making any blog posts, podcasts, or videos. Or, you may also get clients that usually create a lot of content, but then they stop to take a break - for months! So you have to either offer to make it yourself or work with whatever you can find.
I had to do both for my company's social media. They had a mountain of product photos, some good, some taken with a dirty lens (useless). But no core content blog, podcast, or videos.
So I started a blog for company news, how-to posts, and product spotlights. Then I at least had something to amplify with social media and a reason to send traffic back to the website.
I went all-in to find and generate user-generated content. I contacted past customers, incentivized new ones, scoured the web for tags and mentions, and used whatever I could find, with permission.
While being able to create content from air is a great skill to learn as a social media beginner, it's also a double-edged sword. Mainly, when you're working for yourself and you must guard your time much more.
You need to know where to draw the line or it will cost you. Creating content from nothing is far more time-consuming than creating content for amplification.
You have a few options I recommend:
- Don't work with clients who are not already producing core content or who reject your requirement that they start to do so before working with you.
- Offer to provide them the service of creating core content but charge a premium (photos, videos, podcasts, blog posts). Be careful! You can lose focus on your core skill-building with social media when you start doing heaps of other services.
- Take on clients who are not producing core content but have a ton of stuff to work with - a book, years and years of photos, lots of brochures, etc. Be sure to charge more for these types of clients - they are far more work than clients who regularly create core content. Just think about all the time you'll spend sifting through files and coming up with ideas - it's a pain-in-the-ass, trust me.
WIN #4 I got some results that helped me get more clients.
In a little over a year, I grew my company's Pinterest and Instagram accounts to around 2,500 followers organically (no ads). Pinterest became the #2 driver of traffic to our company website, second to the search optimization of our in-house web developer. Later, I was able to show potential clients what I had done.
Results don't need to be blow-me-away massive to impress potential clients. When you can demonstrate that you know what you're doing, things look great, and the metrics are moving in the right direction (up), use it.
Start putting together a portfolio of all your wins. I started my portfolio using Google Slides, and have been adding to it ever since. Include viral posts, posts that received great engagement, before-and-after work with a new client, and any content that looks great. Mine has videos, ads, memes, and lots of metric screenshots.
Make sure you get permission from your clients to use your work with their branding. Add it into your contracts.
WIN #5 My boss became my first client.
As mentioned above, I became a freelancer when I was let go from my e-commerce position but kept on as a contract social media manager.
This was the greatest win of all because becoming self-employed is scary AF! No more regular paychecks, benefits, or supportive colleagues in the office.
I had foreseen the demise of the position and was eager for the new opportunity to freelance. So I proposed a contract service to my boss and was overjoyed when he accepted it.
I then took an online course and quickly gained two more clients. Within a four-month period, I became fully self-employed.
I was lucky because not everyone can do it that way. But I highly advise against leaving a job until your side hustle is bringing in at least 50% to 75% of your income. OR you have at least 3 months of savings in the bank.
Studies have shown that most people are better off working on their side hustle a bit longer until they are ready to go solo.
But if you work in social media for a small company, know that contracting your position out is a possibility your employer may not have considered. Recent events with the pandemic may have you already working from home. If that's you, why not branch out and start working for yourself?
Are you a social media beginner in need of mentoring?
If you'd like to learn everything you need to know about starting an online business, doing social media, or becoming a social media manager like me, get on the waitlist for my upcoming digital course, The S.W.A.N. Transformation Marketing Agency! 🦢
I will show you everything you need to learn to set yourself up as a social media freelancer or agency and do the work. Sign-up below to get on the waitlist for the free handbook on my unique S.W.A.N. strategy to find out more about it before it launches!
Second, join my own Facebook community, Marketing For Creative & Unconventional Women. It’s where I help creative women overcome their imposter syndrome and learn to kick-ass with their marketing to fund their DREAMS!