Before becoming a social media consultant, I used to think of consulting as something that older folks did 40 years after practicing what they preach.
However, social media is a different animal.
One on hand, social media as we know it has been around for less than a decade, so it's not like you can have 40 years of experience under your belt before you become a consultant. On the other hand, social media for business use involves age-old principles that often make or break a business: marketing, branding, customer service and PR.
To be a respected and successful consultant means having a phenomenal understanding of how these disciplines come to life on social media.
Once you can walk the phenomenal talk, here are seven methods I've deployed to transition from social media manager to social media consultant:
- Be a practitioner. Even though I don't manage other clients' social media channels and create content for them anymore, I manage my own accounts and create content for my freelance business. Be the shoe shiner who shines his own shoes.
- Build a client roster. Not all clients are created equal. Some clients I do the whole kit and kabootle (strategy development and ongoing consulting), while others I've consulted for just a few hours. If you've worked with a client in any capacity, you can put them on your roster. Just be honest about why they're there if and when someone asks.
- Put in the time. Unless you've been working in social media or whatever your specialty is for a good chunk of time, it'll be difficult to brand yourself as a consultant. In addition to a client roster and a handful of case studies, prospective clients want to see that you've been at it for awhile. The good thing about social media is that's it's a newer field, so a handful of year's experience with social media management and strategy will propel you to be taken seriously as a consultant.
- Develop a tried and true thesis. For me, it's that content is the name of the game, and everything else - where to post, when to post, what channels to use, et cetera - comes after content.
- Don't underestimate your personal brand. If you really want to charge top dollar for consulting services, the last thing you want is for prospective clients to perceive you as just another consultant. Service providers make average money because there's a large supply and relatively low demand for them, but there's only one of you. Sell yourself, not just your services and expertise.
- Market yourself OUTSIDE of word-of-mouth. My definition of marketing is the process of establishing and developing relevance in your prospective clients' lives before they need, want or are ready to buy your services. Whether you use email and content marketing, social media, events, blogging or some combination thereof is up to you, but I can tell you from experience that the word-of-mouth pipeline will dry up at some point.
- ABI: Always Be Improving. Try not to get content or romantic with what you already know. If there's a new social media network, learn and use it. If there's a new trend, take part in it. Read, watch, listen, experiment and always be improving.