Social media marketing and consulting pros Andréa Jones and Eimer Duffy appeared on last week’s Traject Social webinar, How To Start Managing Social Media Professionally, to lend their expertise on kicking off your own consulting business.
Here’s what they covered:
- What made you decide to make the leap toward social media consulting? – 5:30
- What soft skills do you need to be a social media manager? – 10:45
- Do you have an ideal client type, and to what extent should you be picky about client types vs. take what you can get to build your business? – 15:11
- How should you handle it when a client wants something you aren’t skilled at yet? – 20:30
- What are some ways you can grow your skills as a social media manager? – 24:45
- What are the fundamental hard skills you should possess? – 27:15
- Tell us some specific places to learn skills that you recommend – 36:00
- What are some common myths and misconceptions about what it’s like to be a social media manager? – 39:00
- How do you handle unrealistic expectations or big asks? – 42:00
- Q&A – 45:00
And here are the insights they shared with attendees:
What made you decide to make the leap toward social media consulting? - 5:30
Anna asked the panelists about the moment they decided they were ready to begin taking on social media clients and managing their own small business.
Eimer spoke about how she had held other digital marketing roles in the past, but when she had her kids, wanted something to keep her busy while she was at home. While learning about recent changes that the marketing landscape had undergone, she found that social media was the channel that she found to be the most exciting.
Eimer also mentioned that there’s an element of personality fit to becoming a social media consultant, noting that her love for being social and her willingness to learn were key components.
“I love working with people, I love chatting and finding out new things. Being stuck behind a screen doing websites was fine, but I felt that I liked more social interaction. So, I went off and did a few courses and of course you learn things on the go.”
Andréa describes her path to starting a consulting business as organic growth from her one-off freelancing assignments, which is a great place to start for anyone looking to begin managing social media clients on their own.
She agreed with Eimer that making a commitment to learning is a critical part of starting this venture. She says,
“It’s hard to be an ‘expert’.” and “It’s really approaching it from that curious place.”
And Eimer agrees,
“Every day’s a school day.”
Is “being social” a prerequisite? - 10:45
In addition to the commitment to learning, Anna asked the panelists if this love for “being social” was a prerequisite, or optional, for kicking off a consulting business.
Eimer says that if you don’t have this type of personality, there’s ways you can overcome it in your client relations. She has a trick where she creates a Google form that she sends to a potential client ahead of any conversation, asking about their goals and what they’re looking for in a social media consultant.
Not only will this help you prepare for conversations if that sort of thing makes you nervous, but it will also make the process more efficient for both parties. Remember,
“Your time is just as valuable as theirs.”
She said using this strategy often will even make you look better to the client than if you started a more haphazard conversation with them, rather than implementing a formal process that hones in on their needs.
“It’s going to be a value to them to work with you because you’ve maybe asked the right questions… For them then to feel that you understand them, because you’ve asked the right questions, can make them more enthusiastic to work with you.“
Andréa highlighted that extremely introverted people (like herself) can still be just as successful in this role, and that being extroverted is by no means a requirement.
“Instead of thinking about starting conversations, it’s coming at it from the viewpoint of joining conversations that are already happening.”
Do you have an ideal client type? To what extent should you be picky about client types vs. take what you can get to build your business? - 15:11
To know what types of people you want to work with, Eimer says that budding consultants need to first build up a range of experiences. This most likely comes from tapping into your personal network, like finding small businesses run by people you know, or getting in touch with organizations that may have less resources for a sophisticated social strategy, like local charities.
Eimer also makes the point that “client type” doesn’t necessarily only apply to industry or the tasks they want you to do, but that personality is another important consideration. Consultants should try to learn early on which personality types they work well with.
“It’s not just the business, it’s the personality as well… you need to have the ability to communicate with the person.”
Andréa personally doesn’t like to narrow down client types into any specific niche. Early on, she prospected clients in industries that she had previous experience working in before she began consulting. However, she reiterates that cultivating this willingness to learn (and expressing it to potential clients) will open the door to more industries.
“As social media managers we do need to have a natural curiosity for not only learning the platforms, but for understanding our clients as well.”
How should you handle it when a client wants something you aren’t skilled at yet? - 20:30
Both panelists advocated for total transparency when a client asks for something that you aren’t skilled at yet, but added that a willingness to learn can go a long way. Additionally, Andréa says that some clients are even specifically interested in that lack of experience when it helps them communicate complex ideas to the average person.
An important aspect of practicing this transparency that Andréa highlights is being comfortable with the rejection that may follow when you express your lack of experience. However, she acknowledges that it’s nearly impossible to be a complete expert in all things social media, because it changes so rapidly.
“Just being open and honest with your clients about where you are in that process can be very helpful, and most clients or most normal people would appreciate that level of communication as long as you continue to communicate.”
What are some ways you can grow your skills as a social media manager? - 24:45
Our panelists recommended a few places social media managers can go to brush up on their skill development and make sure they’re aware of the latest changes to each platform.
Eimer suggests setting aside specific blocks of time each week to take courses and do research on any changes and updates to the major networks, because they’re always changing so constantly.
One of Andréa’s recommendations is to leverage the educational resources that the major social media networks publish themselves. Because these platforms have a vested interest in brands finding success with using them, they tend to publish pretty robust educational content. She mentions that Facebook’s blueprint program in particular is extensive, and that it’s free.
Andréa also suggests that new consultants start following publishers and entrepreneurs in the industry on their own social media feeds. This will allow social managers to stay updated on new information on a rolling basis, and it’ll be a little easier to get these updates in a more bite sized way than taking on an entire course.
She finishes up her list of skill development resources by mentioning that YouTube videos are a great place to learn, and that you can find an educational video on how to do pretty much anything on any major platform.
What are the fundamental skills you should possess? - 27:15
Anna asked the panelists to name the few skills that you should possess that are non-negotiable in order to provide social media services.
At the top of Eimer’s list is time management. She says that if you aren’t able to plan ahead, stay organized, and stay focused, you may have a rough road ahead in consulting. The panelists discussed a bit how this is more important in social media management than other roles, because you never know what’s going to happen on the timeline that day that will make you glad you finished other things ahead of time.
Andréa agrees, and adds that she has two other main skills that she thinks are paramount: Being analytical and copywriting. Social media consultants would be hard pressed to find a client that doesn’t require robust reporting, so consultants should make sure that they’re comfortable using data to glean insights.
“If you already have the ability to look at information, process it, then be able to regurgitate it back in a way that makes sense, I think that’s a very strong skill that’s underrated in the social media world, because there are a lot of inputs, a lot of data, a lot of information, and typically with clients we have to be able to do that on a consistent basis.”
Since social media managers will often be writing out every social media post themselves, copywriting skills are a no brainer. Eimer adds in that being a “devil in the details” ties in well with this requirement, because making spelling and grammar mistakes on behalf of a client is a huge risk to your relationship.
Anna asked, “If people don’t have these skills, should consultants not offer them, or is contracting out certain work a viable option?”
Eimer says that taking on a client and then contracting out certain parts is definitely an option. If you go this route, you can tell a potential client that you collaborate with other experts and that when they work with you, they also work with your trusted circle of professionals.
She adds that transparency is the key here–don’t use this strategy without informing the client before closing the deal. In her opinion, this can even work in your favor, because the client may think this indicates a higher level of transparency than many other consultants may provide, and they also have access to your trusted network without having to spend the time to do their own due diligence.
Andréa echoes this recommendation for transparency, noting that many smaller businesses may actually be ok with paying you a little less and simply not including some services in the scope of work. Work together to create the best plan for what they need and your level of expertise.
Tell us some specific places to learn skills that you recommend - 36:00
The panelists listed a few specific resources social media managers can leverage to keep their skill development up to date.
Besides the sources they mentioned, each expert also hosts their own podcast, which is listed below as well.
Both experts emphasized again how important continued education is in this vertical.
“Practice makes perfect. We’re all going to make mistakes, or I guess we should call them lessons.”
But courses quickly become outdated, so Andréa states that there really is no substitute for diving into the platform and playing around with it and learning by doing.
“By the time you finish taking a course, the information in the course may be outdated.”
What are some common myths and misconceptions about what it’s like to be a social media manager? - 39:00
There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about what it means to be a professional social media manager. Not only will consultants have to dispel these myths with clients, they may even need to learn them themselves before starting down this path. Andréa and Eimer shared a few that they used to believe or that they typically hear from others.
For Andréa, it was a bit of a wake-up call that exciting, well-known brands don’t always have the most exciting work. She says that oftentimes it’s interfacing with followers who ask repetitive questions, and the engagement level with the posts can be minimal.
Both panelists also mention that many people come at it with a reductive perspective, and think that it’s a lot easier than it is. This lead to a conversation about how clients will sometimes have unrealistic expectations because they buy into this myth that a social manager can create “viral” content at the drop of a hat.
How do you handle unrealistic expectations or big asks? - 42:00
The panelists discussed a bit further how common it is for clients to think social media consultants can churn out virality on demand, and Anna asked how they manage that type of unrealistic expectation.
Andréa says she takes care of that in the onboarding process before she signs the contract to work with a client.
“One of the questions I ask is, ‘What are your expectations for the next three months?’”
Unrealistic expectations are a big red flag for her, and if she attempts to reposition expectations and isn’t successful, that’s a good indication that the client isn’t the right fit to work with. She shared an analogy that she often uses to help facilitate this conversation:
“Social media is a tool. It’s a tool to build your business. It’s like giving two different people some plywood, some nails and a hammer and saying ‘build a house.’ The houses will look different even though they have the same tool. I try to approach that education with my clients as well, it’s just one tool to build your business, it’s not indicative of a successful business or not, it can help you get there, it can make things easier, but just having this tool won’t necessarily mean that you have a successful business.”
“You don’t build a business overnight and you can’t build your social media presence overnight. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Q&A - 45:00
Andréa and Eimer spent a few minutes fielding follow-up questions to the topics above, as well as a few other questions about the process of starting your own social media consulting business.
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