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A Guide to Finding Success as a Freelance Marketing Consultant


January 20, 2023


February 1, 2024

Right Side Up (RSU) hosted a panel on what it takes to become a successful freelance marketing consultant featuring moderator Emily George, a recruiter at RSU, and panelists Daniel Kadvany and Jacqueline DeMarco, growth marketing consultants, and Kali Smith, design director at RSU. Together, the panelists have a collective 20+ years of experience consulting for clients including DoorDash, Care.com, and Reddit. They shared what they’ve learned throughout their freelance careers and break down what it takes to launch, sustain, and grow your business as a consultant. Watch the full panel discussion for more insights from this seasoned team of successful freelancers.

Whether you’re interested in moonlighting to dip a toe into the consulting world or you’re looking to make the jump to full-time freelancing, ditching the standard FTE setup can offer lots of flexibility and opportunities to grow your career. But how do you get started? And, more importantly, how do you build a freelance business that is financially stable and professionally fulfilling? 

We gathered a panel of experts who have a full-time freelance marketing consultant business or have spent time consulting in the past to explore:

  • The benefits and challenges of being your own boss
  • How to know if and when consulting is right for you
  • Tips on how to get started freelancing
  • Health insurance, taxes, and other logistics
  • Best practices and common pitfalls

But before we dive into all that, let’s meet our panelists and moderator. 

Jacqueline DeMarco shares her insights on working as a freelance marketing consultant

Jacqueline DeMarco | Growth Marketing Consultant

Jacqueline DeMarco is a freelance writer based in Southern California who graduated from the University of California Irvine with a degree in literary journalism. She started her freelance career 14 years ago as a moonlighter before diving into consulting full-time in 2020. She writes about a wide range of topics including finance, travel, and wellness for both brands and publications. From blog posts, to landing pages, to product copy, there's no content project Jacqueline doesn't enjoy tackling.

Daniel Kadvany shares his insights on working as a freelance marketing consultant

Daniel Kadvany | Growth Marketing Consultant

Daniel Kadvany is a freelance growth and product marketer based in Hawaii. He worked in-house at several startups (one acquired by Visa) before setting off on his own in 2016 to help B2B and B2C companies position, launch, and grow their businesses. He's worked with clients large and small across verticals and especially loves using his skill set to help small businesses, nonprofits, and growth-stage startups kick off their growth motion.

Kali Smith shares her insights on working as a freelance marketing consultant

Kali Smith | Design Director at RSU

Kali Smith is a multi-disciplined graphic designer specializing in designing across mediums. She earned her BFA in graphic design and animation from Savannah College of Art and Design, launched her freelance career during college, and kept moonlighting for several years while juggling the demands of in-house roles. Throughout her career, Kali has collaborated with companies like The Coca-Cola Company, Chick-fil-A, Nickelodeon, Chegg, and CNN. Kali currently works full-time as a design director at Right Side Up.

Emily George moderated a panel on tips for freelancing

Emily George | Recruiter at RSU

Emily George joined the Right Side Up team as a talent recruiter in early 2019. She's been instrumental in developing RSU’s dynamic network of growth and performance marketers. She works with the strategy team to screen, onboard, and pitch marketing talent. She's worked with over 1,000 marketing freelancers at all career stages, including moonlighters and full-time consultants. She loves the challenge of matching outstanding talent to client projects and helping consultants level up their freelancing careers.

What is a Freelance Marketing Consultant?

A freelance marketing consultant is a self-employed professional who works with businesses and brands on a contract basis. The specifics of their role depend on the agreement, and can range from strategic oversight to team leadership and tactical execution. 

A key benefit of hiring freelancers is that brands get expertise and a fresh perspective, without the high cost and overhead of hiring a full-time employee. This can often lead to quicker achievement of marketing goals due to the ease of bringing on more specialized temporary help.

Freelance marketing consultants typically have significant experience in their specific area of expertise. Most successful freelance marketing consultants are skilled at their craft, have a proven track record of marketing outcomes, and are great communicators.

The (Honest) Pros and Cons of Freelance Marketing

As with all forms of employment, offering freelance marketing consulting services has its pros and cons. When deciding whether freelancing is something you’d like to pursue, it’s important to not only understand the benefits and challenges, but also to assess how those things impact you and your distinct strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. 

Here are some of the main perks of consulting:

  • You get to be your own boss, set your own schedule, choose where to work, and how to structure your projects. Many freelancers take advantage of this to spend more time with family, travel the world, or dedicate time to hobbies.
  • There’s flexibility to choose who you work with and take on projects that can grow or pivot your career. This means you have maximum income potential. (No more waiting for a promotion!)
  • It allows you to explore your relationship with work and have greater control over creating your ideal professional life.
  • You can try freelancing on the side while working full-time—commonly known as moonlighting—to see if it’s something you might like before you quit your job.
  • There are more opportunities to work with different brands on a range of projects, which can help you grow your skills and experience, test out new specializations, and level up your creative problem-solving.

“The flexibility aspect of freelancing is definitely a major benefit, especially if you’re like me and love to travel and work at the same time,” said Kali Smith, design director at RSU. “It's nice to be able to do things on your own time, but I think from a creative and design perspective, the biggest thing for me is being able to work with different companies and brands. It’s a great way to increase your skills and tap into different brands and identities.”

But don’t hand in your notice for your FTE job just yet; there are some common challenges to watch for:

  • Income can vary greatly and often unpredictably due to macroeconomic factors, industry trends, and individual business goals.
  • You may have to start out with clients that aren’t necessarily your dream clients until you have a solid portfolio, are more established, and can afford to be more discerning.
  • Business development (getting new clients), health insurance, retirement, taxes, and invoicing are all your responsibilities, which can take a lot of time and effort to manage.
  • If you’re early in your career, you might not have the skills or existing network needed to sustain a successful consulting career.

Some of those struggles can be avoided by working as a freelance marketing consultant with Right Side Up—we set you up with clients, handle invoicing and payment, and offer helpful resources for self-employment taxes, insurance, and retirement options. Apply to join our talent network.

Is a Career as a Freelance Marketing Consultant Right for You?

Even with the cons listed above, those pros still seem pretty awesome, right? But before you jump into freelance marketing, it’s important to think about if and when consulting is the right move for your career. There’s a range of things to consider, including your personality type, working style, financial stability, professional experience, and whether you have an existing network of potential clients.

Financial stability is the big one to tackle first. Can you afford to leave your steady full-time paycheck for an unpredictable freelance income? This can be particularly tough if you’re early in your career or don’t have significant savings. In general, you’ll want to have approximately six months' worth of funds to float you until you find your footing as a consultant. If possible, try to freelance on the side to build up a few clients so you’re not starting from scratch when you ditch your FTE.

“I had worked at a couple of startup jobs where I both learned a lot and also developed a pretty robust network that was integral to me finding work,” Daniel Kadvany, growth marketing consultant, said. “So I think if you are really early in your career, freelancing can be a little difficult, both in terms of having the necessary skills to take on new projects and also having that network to tap to find new projects.”

Are you the ‘freelance’ type?

Aside from the financial considerations, the other most important thing to ask yourself is whether you’re the type of person who’s cut out for the freelance lifestyle. To have the best shot at becoming a successful consultant you should:

  • Be comfortable with ambiguity—you are your own boss, so you’ll need to be okay with financial ebbs and flows, lack of specific direction on strategy or tasks, and being a self-starter.
  • Be able to focus and stay organized on your own in a non-office setting—when you WFH are you good about planning your day, staying on task, and avoiding distractions?
  • Enjoy (or at least tolerate) administrative work, like accounting, self-promotion, etc. Freelancing is literally running a business (in addition to your client work), and will include these types of tasks.
  • Have the discipline to complete your work, manage clients, and set professional boundaries.
  • Be open to tapping into your existing networks (including people you’ve met through your FTE) to find potential clients.
As a freelance marketing consultant, you should be comfortable with ambiguity, have the ability to focus, enjoy admin work, set boundaries, and tap into your network.

“Knowing yourself is really important,” Jacqueline DeMarco, growth marketing consultant, said. “When you work from home are you able to stay focused and get your work done? Do you find admin work appealing? Are you ready to be your own accountant, your own marketing team, and your own operations point?”

Deciding to transition to full-time freelancing is a big commitment and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Be honest with yourself about your finances, professional skills, and overall personality to avoid jumping into a risky career move that isn’t right for you.

Getting Started as a Freelance Marketing Consultant

Once you’ve taken a close look at yourself and determined that, yes, freelance marketing consulting is right for you, the next step is to actually do it. But where do you start? Before you start pitching clients, you’ll need to have:

  • Defined niche or positioning statement
  • Portfolio that showcases your past work and capabilities
  • Understanding of how much you want to charge for your services
  • Network to source early clients
  • General onboarding process for clients
  • Some kind of hours tracking platform and an invoicing system

Determining your freelance marketing niche

Most marketers have a niche or focus area from their prior work experience. This could be the specific area of marketing you excel at, like digital marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, influencer marketing, or Google Ads. But your niche could also be specific to an industry or vertical, or company stage, like startups or enterprise. 

To determine your niche, start with where you have experience. But also consider other areas that align with personal passions, values, or interests. It’s helpful to write out a statement that describes who you are and what you offer as a marketing freelancer, with proof points.

Crafting a portfolio that catches potential clients’ attention

Having a solid portfolio is one of the most important steps in launching a career as a freelance marketing consultant. This resource shows clients who you are, how you work, and what you’ve accomplished. Make sure your work represents you accurately and don’t be afraid to tailor different versions of your portfolio to match individual projects you’re interested in. 

What should you do if you don’t have anything to put in your portfolio? There are ways to get creative:

  • Showcase work done during your time in-house (just be sure to not be misleading about what your actual role was)
  • Use volunteer or hobby projects as work samples (no one needs to know whether you were actually paid to do it)
  • Take on small freelance projects on the side and build up work you can showcase

Remember, as a consultant, you are the product you’re selling and you are your own salesperson. As a marketer, showing that you can market yourself is a great way to demonstrate your skills while generating new business. Put together a website with an overview of your background and experience, highlight some projects you’ve worked on (even if you have to keep the names and specifics vague), and add testimonials to show that people have loved your work in the past.

“I don't want to say you need to stretch the truth but you do need to be a salesperson to sell yourself,” Kadvany said. “Sometimes that means merchandising your work to the very best of your ability.”

How to find clients

Getting that first client when you start freelancing can be daunting, but remember that you have your entire professional network that can be leveraged for leads. Send an email or LinkedIn message to people you’ve worked with in the past to let them know that you’re consulting full-time and ready to help them. Even if they don’t have a project for you right now, ask them to keep you in mind for future work or refer you to other people or brands that might be interested in your services. 

Online professional networks, in-person industry events, and social media platforms are all great ways to spread the word that you’re available for hire. 

You may also want to focus on establishing your online presence. LinkedIn—and other social channels—are helpful to expand your network, showcase your work, and allow potential clients to get to know you. You will need to dedicate time to posting regularly and providing value. Many freelancers cite their online presence or personal brand for their success, and receive much of their work through inbound leads or referrals.

Here are a few other ways to find freelance clients:

  • Respond to a job post for freelance or contract positions
  • Send cold outreach emails to ideal clients
  • Ask current clients for referrals
  • Join unmanaged marketplaces like Fiverr or Upwork
  • Partner with fractional agencies or managed marketplaces like Right Side Up, that facilitate matches between talent and clients

How to determine your freelance rates 

When it comes to determining your freelance rates, the most important thing to remember is to not undercharge. Many new consultants make the mistake of ballparking their rate at something close to what they received as a full-time salary. That is a mistake. 

As we covered above, freelancers are responsible for their own benefits, taxes, supplies, and other costs, so that must all be factored into your rates. Do thorough research to find out what your benefits will cost, extra tax responsibilities, and average rates of other freelancers in your industry and geographic area (if that’s relevant). There are also helpful tools that let you calculate a fair rate or benchmark based on other freelancers in your category and your experience level. Use these tools from the broader marketing community to ensure you’re setting your rates appropriately.

Once you’ve done the math and have a strong understanding of what factors into your prices, you’ll feel more confident about what you’re charging. And remember the old adage that if you don’t feel slightly uncomfortable sharing your rate, it’s too low.

When you’re just starting out, there may be times when you have to negotiate your rate down a bit to close on a project. Try not to lower your prices too much and then once you’re established, bump up to your ideal rate. And remember, you want to find clients that value you. If a potential client is pushing for a rate that’s drastically lower than what you’d like, it might be a sign that they’re not a good fit for you.  

As you grow your skills and have more work to show, you should increase your rate. Continually evaluate your earning potential and price your services accordingly. Some freelancers even incrementally increase their rate every time they take on a new project. Figure out what works best for you to ensure you’re properly compensated for your work.

Beyond the rate itself, consider other factors when negotiating, like equity, referrals, case studies, payment terms, or contract length.

Do you need to create an LLC to be a freelance marketing consultant?

One of the most common questions people face when starting out as a freelance marketing consultant is whether to create an LLC or legal business entity for their work. 

Before we get into the answer, it’s important to note that when it comes to legal decisions, each and every business situation is different. You should talk to a professional before making any decisions about forming a business entity. This article should not be viewed as a substitute for working with a legal and/or professional, or construed as legal and/or advice.

The quick answer is that you don’t necessarily need to form a legal entity for your freelance business, but for some people, there are benefits to doing so. There are a few options to explore, including an LLC, sole proprietorship with an S-Corp tax structure, and C-Corp. In addition to certain tax advantages, forming an LLC or other entity also protects your personal assets in the event of a legal disagreement with clients. 

Work with a professional to assess your personal finances, income, local laws, and tax situation to help you decide if setting up a legal entity is right for you, and if so, which type is best for you.

Regardless of how you set it up, remember that you are a business owner, and to have success, you need to treat it as such.

Navigating Benefits and Other Logistics as a Consultant

As a marketing consultant, you’re typically responsible for handling your own health insurance, retirement savings, tax withholdings, and billing/invoicing. That might sound like a lot to deal with, but there are many resources available to help freelancers ensure they have proper benefits.

Health insurance

For health insurance, consultants can choose a plan from their state marketplace during open enrollment or a qualifying life event. Outside of open enrollment, there are also short-term insurance plans available. As a non-FTE, the cost of health insurance is much higher than when you’re a W-2 employee—be prepared to pay more and factor in the cost of your health insurance (as well as any dependents) into your freelance rate.

“There can be some sticker shock if you've always had a W-2 job where the cost of your health insurance is kind of hidden and your employer can negotiate a great rate,” Kadvany said. “It's not necessarily like that for an individual so it’s just something to be prepared for.”


Because you won’t have an employer withholding taxes for you, you’ll need to track your income, estimate your tax obligations, and then make quarterly payments to avoid penalties from the IRS. If you don’t know where to start, consult a tax professional. And remember, there are tax benefits associated with creating a legal entity or using certain tax structures, so be sure to explore what is right for you.

Retirement savings

As with health insurance and taxes, your retirement plan is solely your responsibility as a freelancer. There are several options when it comes to saving for retirement, such as a Solo 401(k), traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, or Simple IRA. A financial advisor or accountant can help you decide which approach matches your unique situation.

Invoicing and contracts

Invoices, billing, and contacts are all—you guessed it—your responsibility as a freelance marketer. That is, unless you partner with Right Side Up. We handle all contracting, invoicing, and billing for our consultants. There are many ways to handle these logistics on your own, but the most important thing is to set up a system that works for you. Some clients will want to use their own contracts, but you should have your own contract template ready to go in case it’s needed. Just make sure it’s straightforward and easy to customize based on the individual project and scope of work. And always include details about your rate, project deliverables and timeline, and penalties for late payments.

To make invoicing simple, figure out a system or use a tool for tracking your hours. You can then pull those numbers into your invoice, send it via PDF, billing software, or the client’s preferred method, and wait for the money to roll in. Some companies will have their own system that you’ll need to use for invoicing, but many small businesses are fine with consultant’s choosing their own invoicing method.

Best Practices for Successful Freelance Marketing

Now that we’ve covered the pros and cons of freelancing, how to decide if it’s right for you, tips to get started, and a crash course on benefits, we’re ready to look at how to ensure your freelancing journey stays successful long term.

Onboarding and client communication

Starting off on the right foot is the best way to set yourself up for success as a freelance marketing professional. Properly onboarding your clients ensures that expectations are set for both parties and helps you avoid unnecessary disputes about timelines, deliverables, and communications. 

Ask the tough questions up front and address any concerns the client may have. Be flexible about working within clients’ existing systems, but if you find that they’re not efficient for you, offer suggestions on how to improve the process. 

Remember, the client is taking a risk hiring you, and it’s up to you to deliver your services in a timely, professional manner. Even though you’re not an employee, establishing a solid relationship with the client is key—communicate regularly, take notes and send follow-ups, and find opportunities for face time (virtual or in-person) to build trust.

“My best piece of advice for anyone who wants to pursue freelancing, consulting, or running your own business, is to not get so hung up on the fact that it's your own business,” DeMarco said. “There's a very popular mindset of ‘this is your business you call the shots’ and it can really feel that way when you leave a full-time job but you have to remember that you are offering a service. You are servicing clients and you need to be flexible and provide them with what they need.”

Staying organized when you have multiple clients can be challenging. Make sure you have a system in place to keep track of different project timelines, communications preferences, and important details about each business you work with.

Professional development

Just because you have a solid roster of clients, you shouldn’t pause your professional growth and business development. Continue adding to your portfolio and capturing samples in real time, especially when that work might not be live for long (social ads, product descriptions, etc.). Keeping your resume and pitch materials up to date ensures you’re ready to seek out new business opportunities at a moment’s notice without having to spend time on a massive overhaul.

Pay attention to the churn rate of your clients and try to build an overlapping cycle of projects that leaves you with the right balance of work. You don’t want to be overloaded, but you also don’t want to be desperate for work every time an engagement ends.

To stay competitive in your field, you should always be learning. Follow blogs, social accounts, podcasts, and publications that cover the latest marketing trends and tech updates. Take advantage of working with several different clients to lean in and learn about their specific areas of focus. And when in doubt, reach out to networks of fellow freelance marketing consultants who are most likely happy to share resources and advice with you.

Also invest in learning more about being a better freelancer. Join communities and follow experienced freelancers to learn more about processes, creating efficiencies, finding clients, and building the life of your dreams.

Riding macroeconomic waves

When macroeconomic conditions are uncertain, marketing budgets can start to shrink. But regardless, businesses still need to sell their products. To have the best chance of remaining successful in the face of a bad economic situation, focus on:

  • Diversifying your skills with a range of professional capabilities to help open the door to a greater pool of potential clients
  • Looking outside your typical industries to see where your marketing experience could offer value
  • Pitching multiple services (e.g. TikTok, Instagram, Snap, and paid search) to expand project scopes
  • Building strong relationships with clients so they think of you as the first person for the job when a marketing need arises

Getting Ready for Success as a Freelance Marketing Consultant

Making the choice to become a freelancer can offer a world of possibilities thanks to flexible work environments, the ability to choose your own projects, and opportunities to work with a range of brands. 

This career path is becoming increasingly popular among growth marketers and you can find your own success as a freelance marketing consultant by understanding what this work entails, how to get started, and ways to enhance and grow your business along your journey.

Do you want to join Right Side Up’s growing consultant marketplace and work with some of the fastest-growing tech startups? Apply to join our network. Or maybe you’re interested in hiring one of our expert freelance marketing consultants to help grow your business—get started by sending us a note.

Jes Parker is a writer and content marketer with experience creating B2B and consumer-facing assets that build brands and make complex concepts more human. She has worked with companies and nonprofits like Highstead Foundation, Trust for Public Land, Harvard University, the Museum of the City of New York, and Times Square Alliance to craft accessible and engaging content strategies.

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Let's talk growth

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Let's talk growth

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