Follow these exact steps I used to build a consulting side hustle from scratch and start working on your terms!
Blogging, Location Independence

How I Created a Consulting Side Hustle and the Exact Tactics You Can Steal

I’ll be honest with you–I never imagined I would become a social media consultant when I started out on this little blogging journey of mine.

In fact, it was the farthest thing from my mind!  I wanted to be a travel blogger and have intense, life-changing experiences on the reg, and I wanted my trips to pay for themselves.  Now, that was the dream.

But, you know, dreams don’t always pan out the way we imagine.  Sometimes, an even better option comes along.

Because I quickly grew tired of traveling at breakneck speeds, and I eventually realized that press trips weren’t really my jam, after all.

I wanted to travel, but I wanted to do so on my terms, not dictated by a packed schedule.  Plus, the idea of travel becoming work made my stomach turn, so I started seeking out alternative ways to earn a steady income that were still somehow related to this blogging endeavor I’d poured so much of my blood, sweat, and tears into.

I never imagined that in the not-so-distant future, I’d be helping dozens of bloggers and travel brands every month, teaching them how to grow their presence on Pinterest, increase their followings, and boost their Pinterest referral traffic from just a few hundred clicks per month to tens of thousands per month–and that I’d be earning a pretty decent hourly rate to do so.

But it happened.  And sometimes I still don’t believe it myself.

These days, I get a lot of questions from readers wondering just how I managed to pull this off, so I’m here today to share all my secrets so that you can duplicate my success in your own field because, at the end of the day, the tactics I used to become a social media manager are applicable to just about any type of work.

This formula won’t be a silver bullet to success; after all, there is no substitute for experience and hard work.  But if you start putting in the effort today, you can be well on your way to creating your very own consulting side hustle or even a new full-time career.Follow these exact steps I used to build a consulting side hustle from scratch and start working on your terms!

Step 1: Get the Experience

I never would’ve earned my reputation as a great Pinterest Account Manager had I not put in the hours first.  In my case, Pinterest is something that I had a personal interest in because I knew how powerful a tool it could be to help me grow my own blog.

In addition, I took over the account of my very first client (I started out as an all-around virtual assistant, which included me taking over Pinterest) and spent more than a year learning the tricks and methods necessary for success, both for my own account and my client’s.

Through trial and error and many, MANY hours both actively using the platform and reading every article I could on best practices, I achieved impressive results–results that would eventually help me land my next string of clients.

If you want people to take you seriously as a writer, you must first perfect your craft.  If you want to start working as an assistant to a blogger, it goes without saying that you should know your way around WordPress.  The same concept applies in any industry–practice makes perfect proficient!

If you don’t have a strong command of the skill you want to teach, start working on it today.  Learn as much as you can and put in the time to improve.  This first step can’t be overlooked!

Step 2: Position Yourself as an Expert

I’m of the mindset that there is really no such thing as a “true expert,” especially when it comes to something like social media where the landscape is changing so rapidly that there is literally always something new to learn.  BUT, I also wholeheartedly believe you can teach just about anything, so long as you are an expert relative to some.

What I mean by that is, I may not be the best Pinterest manager out there or know more than anybody else, but the knowledge I do have makes me a god damn genius in the eyes of some.

But it’s not enough to have the knowledge, you have to somehow prove yourself, too.  I could have easily relied on word of mouth from my very first client, but that probably wouldn’t have gotten me very far.  What I did instead was put my knowledge out there for the whole world to see; this might sound counterintuitive, but it’s actually the best thing I could have done.

Last year, I wrote a post titled Pinterest for Travel Bloggers: An In-Depth Guide to Help You Drive Traffic Like a BOSS.  It really was one of the most in-depth resources I had ever created, and I held nothing back.  Every single lesson and trick I had learned through my years of using the platform was included in that post.

It got more comments and shares than almost any other post I’d ever written.

I helped a TON of people, and they didn’t hesitate to tell me so: 

“This is absolute gold! Thank you so much for sharing. I was only thinking the other day (ok, week..ok, month) that I need to sit down and get my head around Pinterest – so thanks for the head start and inspiration!”

“Great stuff!  I’ve read tons of posts about growing my Pinterest following but this is extra awesome because it’s geared specifically toward travel bloggers, so the POV is slightly different. Thank you for writing this! Going to put some of these tips into practice right away.”

“Just discovered your blog and so glad I did! You went above and beyond with all of the great tips you’ve offered on utilizing Pinterest to gain traffic. I see so many people saying Pinterest is the way to go, and now I feel confident that I’m ready to dedicate more time to pinning and take it to the next level.”

I even had people emailing me to tell me my tactics were working for them:

“Leah, FYI: I made some improvements on my Pinterest, and instantly some people saved and shared the new photos. So, congrats, awesome post – it works!”

Now, I know what you might be thinking…

“But you just gave away all of your tricks!  Now everyone can manage Pinterest on their own and they don’t need to hire someone like you!”

This is partially true, yes.  There are many people now equipped to build their Pinterest accounts in exactly the same way that I did for myself and my clients.  And that’s great!

But there are also now plenty of people who can plainly see I know my shit and still don’t have the time to implement my tactics or manage Pinterest on their own.

I’m not looking for newly-minted travel bloggers who don’t have money to spend on outsourcing, anyway–that’s not my ideal client.  I’m looking for the ones who don’t have the time for Pinterest AND have the money to pay someone else to do it.

I had instantly created buzz within the travel blogging niche about how to be a Pinterest rock star, and I even threw in a plug at the end stating that I was available for Pinterest consultations.  I got people talking, which was precisely the plan.

I also took the opportunity to host a Pinterest roundtable discussion among my travel blogger friends when I was recently in Chiang Mai, Thailand, further adding to my authority on the topic.

These days, I am often referred by people who I’ve never even worked for because they know I’m good at what I do and get results.

To take this one step further, you could also write guest posts on other blogs and publications about your topic of expertise.  This will have the same effect and give you even more credibility.

Step 3: Get Your First Client Follow these exact steps I used to build a consulting side hustle from scratch and start working on your terms!

Now comes the really tricky part, landing your first client!

First thing’s first: if no one knows what you’re offering, no one can hire you!  You’ve got to put in some legwork to get the word out about your services, which can take a number of different forms.

The simplest thing you can do is to let your friends and family know!  Your support system will likely want to see you succeed, so with any luck, they’ll know someone who knows someone who knows someone who could use your help.

You’ll also want to reach out to your other social circles, especially if what you’re offering could potentially benefit them!

Direct them to your website or online portfolio where they can see the past work you’ve done, even if it wasn’t paid work.  If you have some results and numbers to show off, make those clearly visible.

The more compelling reasons you can give them to work with you, the better (just be wary of sounding too cocky or promising more than you can reasonably deliver).

On my site, I have a landing page where people can learn about my services and schedule a consultation with me.  I clearly lay out what I was able to achieve for other clients and exactly how long it took me.

The following is an actual screenshot of Pinterest analytics from one of my client’s accounts showing the growth in Pinterest referral traffic over a 1-month period.  In that first month, they saw a more than 400% increase in click-throughs!Becoming a social media manager and the tactics you can steal

This screenshot is from the account of a different long-term client showing the growth in Pinterest referral traffic over a 5-month period.  The growth depicted here is more than 2,000%.Becoming a social media manager and the tactics you can steal

Numbers like 400% and 2000% are impactful and really show potential clients that my strategies are effective (and that my results are not just a fluke).

Another way to find your first client is through one of the many digital marketplaces for freelancers.  Simply set up a profile and start searching the job listings.

When starting out, it’s important to price yourself on the lower end of the spectrum.  If you have no previous clients to speak of, it’s unlikely anyone is going to pay you $100/hour, even if your skills are super technical.  A lower starting point will help entice your first client into giving you a chance.  You can consider raising your rates down the road.

You could also offer your services to a friend at a special low rate; like I said, the first client is the most important–the rest will come easier when you have experience (and results) to back you up.

Once you have that first client and the contract is signed (if you don’t have a contract, draft one up stat!), go above and beyond. I mean absolutely WOW them so they have no choice but to tell all their friends about your greatness.

My favorite rule is “Under-promise, over-deliver.”

Step 4: Get Your Second Client

Phew!  You’ve got one client under your belt.  Now, securing a second client should come even easier.

Hopefully at this point, you’ve created some buzz and interest in your services, proven to people that you know your shit and that your tactics work, and are seeing more visitors to your portfolio or landing page.

If people begin contacting you through other means, such as direct referrals from your first client, make sure to reinforce that your tactics get results.

Show off that data and those results you’ve achieved, and even throw in a testimonial from your first client if you have one (if your first client is happy with your work, definitely ask them for a testimonial).  Just because someone has reached out to you does not mean they are already convinced to work with you.

The one thing you must be wary of is promising potential clients the same results your other clients have seen.

I repeat: DO NOT. PROMISE. RESULTS.

Promise only what you can actually deliver.  I’ve noticed that my tactics, although they do work across the board and achieve some level of growth for every client I’ve worked with, they don’t work equally well for everybody.

Some clients see explosive growth while others see slow and steady growth; but the important thing is, they’re always happy they’re seeing results at all–because I don’t promise them anything specific.  They are paying for a service, and I am providing exactly that.

Side note: Part of the reason I am able to consistently attract clients is because I am targeting a very specific niche–travel bloggers who want to drive traffic with Pinterest.  I’m not just a social media consultant who does everything on every platform.  I read a great post recently on why defining your niche so narrowly is one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd.  Click here to read it!

Step 5: Diversify Your Offerings

For a long time, I made the mistake of turning away clients simply because they didn’t want to pay my fixed monthly rate for account management services.

What I never thought to do at the time was adjust what I was willing to provide to match the price point they were comfortable with.  This is a win-win; I’m still earning what I think I’m worth, and they are still getting my services for the price they are willing to pay.

Now, I am much more open to negotiation and because of it, I rarely have to turn a new client away for lack of time on my part or a lack of funds on theirs.

Additionally, not everyone wants their account fully managed.  Some of them just need pins created because they don’t think they are creative or don’t have the time, so I began offering pin packages for exactly those people.  Others want more personalized advice on how to optimize their own account and in-depth training on best practices for using a scheduling app; this is what my one-on-one Skype consultations are for.

Be flexible with your offerings without undermining yourself.  Never lower your rates; adapt your services to match their price point.

Step 6: Utilize Social Media to Market Yourself

Once you’ve got a good number of clients and you’re feeling more confident, it’s time to really start putting yourself out there.

Social media is a great way to advertise your services for cheap; notice I don’t say free because most platforms have adopted a “pay to play” standard which can make reaching potential clients tough without spending a little money here and there.

Nonetheless, having social media profiles for your business is a great way to make you look more professional while proving your expertise even further and attracting new customers.

Set up a Facebook business page for your services (if you’re just going by your name and not a business name, that’s fine too); get active on Instagram and Twitter and Pinterest, interacting with your target audience in a genuine and helpful way.

If you are a blogger and have just started offering consulting services, you can use your blog and associated social media profiles as a platform to get the word out; however, if your services have little to do with your blogging niche, it’s probably a better idea to eventually set up separate accounts.

Step 7: Stay on Top of Your Game

In your down time, always be learning and improving your craft!

Pinterest makes changes to its algorithms constantly; in order to stay on top and continue seeing the results I’ve worked so hard for it’s imperative I follow all of these changes closely and constantly test out new strategies to find what works best.

I also make a point of reading what other pinners and Pinterest managers are doing and how they are finding success.  I never consider my way the “best” way; I always want to know how I can improve.

Apply this same mindset to your own field and make sure you don’t get left behind!

Now, what are you waiting for?

Your new consulting career is within reach, you just need to take those first steps to make it happen.  I didn’t become a social media consultant by sitting on my ass–I went after it!

Start today by figuring out what skill you have or what area you have a wealth of knowledge in, then start with Step 1 of this guide!

Have you started a successful consulting business or side hustle?  What strategies have you found to be most crucial to your success?

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8 Comments

  • Reply Ashlea @ A Globe Well Travelled June 7, 2016 at 8:14 am

    Leah, this is such an informative post – thanks for sharing all your knowledge! I’m in the process of setting myself up for digital marketing consulting (currently working on steps 1-3) and I’ll admit – it’s intimidating when you have no idea where it will take you and whether it will work out. I enjoyed reading your success story, it gives me a little more confidence that my efforts might eventually pay off.

    If I could ask one question – how long did entire process take for you, from Step 1 to Step 7?
    Ashlea @ A Globe Well Travelled recently posted…10 essential activities for a weekend in MontrealMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis June 7, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Hey Ashlea! Ah that’s so exciting, I’m sure you will find success! I didn’t exactly have this strategy mapped out beforehand, so it took me longer than it probably would someone else who had a plan ahead of time! Between starting out and the point when I started getting work beyond my first client was probably about a year…but if I were to do it all over again I think it would have gone a lot faster because now I know what works!

      • Reply Ashlea @ A Globe Well Travelled June 7, 2016 at 8:46 am

        Ahh thanks for this! I know what you mean, it sure takes a while when you don’t really have an action plan in place. I’ve been blogging for nearly 2 years but I only decided that I wanted to pursue digital marketing consulting this April. Hoping to have the wheels turning in a few months!
        Ashlea @ A Globe Well Travelled recently posted…10 essential activities for a weekend in MontrealMy Profile

        • Reply Leah Davis June 7, 2016 at 9:00 am

          I mean, I know you’re a motivated and hard-working girl, I have no doubt you can make it happen! Best of luck, and let me know how you go! 😀

  • Reply Mariana August 20, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Yes!! Great tips!

    This especially spoke to me: “What I mean by that is, I may not be the best Pinterest manager out there or know more than anybody else, but the knowledge I do have makes me a god damn genius in the eyes of some”

    Remembering that I actually know my shit is so key. Although I may not be exactly where I want to be with my craft (there’s always more to learn!) , it’s a lot more than some know.
    Mariana recently posted…On Giving Myself PermissionMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis August 20, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      It’s so true! It’s hard not to let imposter syndrome make you feel like you’re just fooling people. If you know your stuff (or at least more than others) own it! 🙂

  • Reply Kacey from Simply Starting Over at Friendly Acres July 19, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Great advice, thank you. I too, lived a nomadic life for many years. I am settled down at Friendly Acres, a small homestead in S. Colorado, now. Thanks again for a wonderful post! ~Kacey

    • Reply Leah Davis July 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      You’re too kind Kacey, I’m so glad you liked it! Friendly Acres sounds lovely 🙂

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