Most business people are not experts at marketing. So they either employ someone to do it for them or look for outside assistance from professionals. Hence the marketing industry is born. And with it, the marketing agency and more recently, the marketing freelancer.
The marketing industry has been around for many years and has numerous separate, but equally vital elements. Marketing consultancy, marketing project management, design, print, copywriting, photography, event management, database development, list purchase, direct marketing, advertising, Internet marketing, PR, website design and development. You name it, there is a huge range of business requirements that come under the loose heading of 'marketing'.
At a fundamental level, marketing is all about telling prospective customers about the product or service that your company wants to sell to them, with the ultimate goal being that they will buy it and you will make a profit. Sounds simple, but most people who run businesses, especially at the smaller end of the scale, do not have the skill set to do this themselves. They rarely have the budget to employ someone full time, especially in the early days and they also have a tendency to think that they can do it themselves, often with disastrous results! Even larger companies don't always get it right, and those that do employ marketing people in-house generally still need outside assistance for one or more elements of an overall campaign.
From a business perspective, the positive aspects of employing a full-service marketing agency are easy to see. A one-stop-shop for all your marketing requirements. No headaches and no fighting with multiple suppliers. The downside, of course, is that marketing agencies have huge overheads for staff, premises and running costs - all of which have to be covered somehow. And this is generally done by charging high hourly rates and marking-up services brought in from other suppliers by as much as 50% or even more.
Which leaves a huge hole in the marketing industry for the equally highly skilled, but far more cost-effective, freelance marketer. As a freelancer, you do not have the same overheads as your marketing agency counterparts but you do have the same skill-set. And depending on how you structure your business, there are a range of other benefits and differentiators that you can offer to your clients.
The key factor on which you must decide from day one is what business model you want to adopt. There are two options, each with their own pros and cons. Option one is to simply act as a marketing manager would, pulling campaigns together and bringing in relevant suppliers where necessary, who then invoice your clients directly. Option two is to function in a similar manner to an agency by purchasing those services yourself and then selling them on, with the option to add a mark up and leave your suppliers 'invisible' in the background. The main benefit of option two is a financial one, whereas the main benefits of option one are a simpler business model, no cashflow issues and less liability if things go wrong.
The other factor to consider is whether you would be happy to work on your client's premises as an employee would for a fixed period of time, or a set number of days per month - or whether you prefer to work from home. This latter option gives far more flexibility to run multiple campaigns simultaneously for a number of different clients - and is generally what is known as 'freelance', whereas working on client site would be more of a 'contract' arrangement.
What companies really want from a freelance marketer is the same resources that they would get from an employee, but only when they want to pay for them - and with no employee costs. It is also fair to say that they want something tangible for their money. Selling pure consultancy services is far harder than selling consultancy up front, then actually 'making it happen' as well. To style yourself as a 'marketing project manager' or 'freelance marketing support' resource will be far more effective than using the term consultant, which (to the uninitiated) immediately implies 'high cost for no tangible result'!
Gill Taylor, Contract Marketing - freelance marketing support for all industries, with specialist IT-sector skills. www.contractmarketing.biz
More on marketing as a freelancer.