An honest look at being a Social Media consultant

by Mack Collier

Typically, I am loathe to write personal posts here, because I think I am boring y’all to tears, but I wanted to do so today.  Over the past few months, I’ve had several discussions with people that are working in this space as the umbrella term of a ‘social media consultant’.  What prompted me to write this post was because several times I have heard from friends that are struggling, and they assume that since they are struggling, that it’s a direct reflection on their abilities as a consultant.  They also assume that most consultants are doing extremely well, so if they aren’t, that further cements the idea that they just aren’t ‘cut out’ for this type of work.

I think there are a LOT of misconceptions about being a social media consultant.  The first is that many people think that ‘big name’ consultants are out there getting $20K every day to swoop into companies and spend a few hours with them.  So the logic becomes ‘if I can make a big name for myself, I will get big bucks too.’

From my experience and talking to others, this is fantasyland.  Not saying 1 or 2 consultants don’t do/get this, but for the consultants I know and talk to, nothing could be further from the truth.  A lot of times they are working on monthly projects, with a monthly fee.  That’s probably a lot closer to $1K than $20K.

The second misconception seems to be that social media consulting is a much more stable and profitable way to go than simply doing similar work for a company.  The downturn in the economy that’s been going on for years now has affected social media consultants as much as anyone.  Probably more, since companies tend to only allocate marketing dollars to the ‘tried and true’ when funds run low.  So if you can’t find a job and are thinking that becoming a ‘social media consultant’ will save you, good luck.

Now that I’ve set the stage with all this doom and gloom, I wanted to circle back to why I wanted to write this post.  It was mainly to talk about the misconception my friends seemed to be having that if they were struggling in consulting, it was more a reflection on them and their skills, versus the reality of the space.  I think it’s more of the latter.  I’m not saying that you can’t make good money and be successful as a social media consultant.  But it is a LOT of work.  Personally, I’ve been doing this for about 5 years now, and 2011 is the 1st year where I’ve really felt like I was getting my feet under me.  There are a TON of ups and downs, so if you are a social media consultant or considering becoming one, please keep these things in mind:

1 – Figure out what you are offering, and who you are offering it to.  And be aware that this likely will change over time, but you need to start out trying to decide who you are wanting to work with, and what you can offer them.  Do you want to work with small businesses, or large companies?  Do you want to work with local clients, or virtually with national clients?  What services do you want to offer?  Campaign/project creation and execution?  Training?  Speaking?  Actual consulting?  Again, this will likely change a bit over time, but a big reason why I think a lot of people struggle with social media consulting is that they don’t clearly have their preferred clients decided upon, and their value proposition for those clients.  Remember, you can’t get work until others know what you do, and a ton of your work will come from referrals.  So the sooner you can clearly define your role and niche, the better.

2 – Realize that there WILL be downtime in work, and how to capitalize on that.  One of the things I have always hated about being a social media consultant is that it seemed like I would have 3 months with little to no work, then 3 months with more work than I could handle.  It was such a relief to talk to other consultants, and find that most of them go through the same feast or famine work cycle.  Their best advice was that when you know a lull is coming, to shift your focus to working on YOUR business, and make yourself your client.  Freshen up your blog/website, re-evaluate your marketing strategy, etc.  For example, I was crazy busy from May-September, but I knew looking ahead that October-December would probably be slower.  So I took some of the personal business projects that I wanted to work on, and moved them to the end of the year.  Now that work is slower, I still have some things to keep me busy.

3 – Be creative in finding sources of income.  The great thing about social media consulting is that this space is so new.  And as such, there’s a ton of new possibilities, and things that have never been tried yet.  For example, my biggest source of income this year has been from doing Live #Blogchats, something that I’d never even considered offering this time last year.  But I decided to try doing one this year at SXSW to see what the reaction would be, and the rest is history.  Other consultants have had much success with thinking ‘outside the box’, for example, look at what Tom Martin has done with getting Emma to sponsor his TalkingWithTom.com, or look at how Jim Kukral is crowd-sourcing the funding of his next book.

 

These are a few ideas, but I know from my own experience that my first few years of being a social media consultant would have been easier if I had known the above.  But if you are struggling as a consultant, don’t assume it means that simply aren’t ‘smart enough’ to do the work, it could simply mean that you need to better organize your marketing and business efforts.  It’s often true that we can offer far better marketing advice for our clients than ourselves.  Look at your business situation as if you were hiring yourself, and see what advice you would give yourself on how to improve your situation.

Those of you that are consulting now, what are some of the potholes you’ve encountered, and how did you move past them?  Or if you are having troubles now, maybe we could give you some advice on moving past them?

 

PS: I meant to add this in the post under #3 but got sidetracked, but Lee Odden last night was telling us about Live-Blogging an event during #Blogchat.  He said that because of his Live-Blogging, he’s gotten passes to over 50 events in the last 5 years.  And of course, being at all those events has opened a ton of doors and opportunities for him.  Check out his post today where he walks you through the process, and talks about some of the benefits he’s enjoyed as a result.

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