How I became a freelance Social Media Manager

How I became a freelance Social Media Manager

As a freelancer, I’ve put my eggs in many baskets.

When you’re self-employed, the worst thing you could do is to rely on just one source of income. If one job falls through (which does happen often), then you need backups to carry you through.

My baskets of freelancing income are split between:

  • Photography
  • Social Media Management
  • Travel Writing
  • Graphic Design

Instead of one income from a single job, I have multiple different sources of income from various freelance jobs. Each one may not pay much on its own, but when you add them all up, it amounts to a more significant sum.

I’ve already explained how I became a freelance Photographer – now I’m going to tell you how I became a freelance Social Media Manager!

How I became a freelance Social Media Manager

I’m not gonna lie: It took me a long while to get freelance social media jobs.

I started off by gaining experience with social media through this very blog. When I first started blogging, I didn’t intend for it to lead to social media management, though I did intend for it to help me towards my goal of becoming completely self-employed.

Once I’d been blogging for 2 years, it became apparent to me that social media management was something I liked to do. The time I’d spent working on organically growing my blog’s social accounts was enough to prove that I was good at managing various platforms. Now I just needed to find someone who might want my services.

At first, I looked for roles in the travel industry advertised on various job websites. Social media jobs would regularly pop up, and I applied for many of them.

I heard back from a few and even attended some interviews, both online and in person, but nothing ever came of it. It seemed that my services as a social media manager were unwanted.

After a few months of failed applications, I decided to reevaluate my situation. I still wanted to work as a social media manager, but I felt that I must have been doing something wrong as I wasn’t getting any work. It was time to try a different tactic.

General Assembly notebook

To level up my skills, I completed a 10-week Digital Marketing course with General Assembly in NYC. It was super expensive, but I figured it would give me more credibility as an online marketer.

The course covered a broad range of digital marketing techniques and I felt that it was a truly valuable experience. I’m very glad that I did it, because it helped me to get my first freelance social media role as Instagram Coordinator for the New York Travel Festival.

The job was advertised in a Facebook group for travel writers in NYC. I applied and had a phone interview with the event organiser and project manager. A week later, I was offered the job.

The pay was WAY less than I had expected it would be. After being told how little I was going to make from this role, I nearly didn’t accept it. It would basically be a 3 month internship – but it would give me credibility as a social media manager, so I said yes.

My 3 months as an Instagram Coordinator went well. Managing an account for a brand instead of an individual shed some light on the business side of social media management. It was a learning opportunity and I was glad to have it.

NYTravFest Instagram Screenshot

My photos on the @nytravfest Instagram account

Even though the pay for the Instagram Coordinator role was abysmal, I did manage to get freelance work as the official festival Photographer as well (which paid much better) so in the end, taking that opportunity was definitely worthwhile.

After the festival was over, I got to work trying to find more social media roles. It was a while before my next job came about. I was applying for jobs left, right, and center, but nothing seemed to be coming my way.

Again, I re-evaluated my application methods. What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t anyone interested in me as a social media manager?

Eventually it occurred to me that I was applying for the same jobs that a Virtual Assistant in Bangladesh could do for 1/3 of the price.

As someone living in the ridiculously expensive city of NYC, I needed to charge a rate that was way more than my peers. I was competing against people whose living costs were much less than mine, and could therefore charge a fraction of the price for the same job.

So I asked myself a few more questions. What skills did I have that would make me stand out above these people in other countries? What would make someone pay a higher cost to hire me instead?

New York City

My current home base – New York City

I listed all the tasks that a social media manager would have, and all the skills that I had in regards to those tasks. When I looked at it all on paper, I realised that there were parts of social media management that I didn’t even want to do anyway.

I had very little interest in Facebook and Twitter. The more visual platforms of Instagram and Pinterest appealed to me much more than the others. These platforms were the ones that I actually gave a shit about and had success using.

So instead of marketing myself as a social media manager, I became a social media guru specialising in Instagram and Pinterest.

I let my online blogger friends know that I was on the lookout for these roles. It didn’t take long before word of mouth spread that I was the go-to-gal for Pinterest marketing. My friends had started mentioning my services whenever someone did a call out for a Pinterest assistant.

A few people enquired about my services, and each time I explained my experience and the benefits of hiring me as a Pinterest manager. I had built up my personal account to over 6000+ followers, and had achieved a huge number of referrals to my blog from Pinterest. I showed them screenshots of my analytics account to prove that I could really make a difference to referrals using Pinterest.

AGWT Pinterest Screenshot

RTTS Pinterest Screenshot

Analytics screenshots showing website referrals from Pinterest accounts that I manage

Finally, I got hired as a Pinterest assistant. Another travel blogger had heard about my services and agreed to have me start working on growing her account.

Once I had that freelance job, it was easier for me to get more. I now manage 4 Pinterest accounts (including my own) and earn a regular income as a Pinterest manager.

As for Instagram, I’ve had more success on the photography side of the platform – I currently do photo shoots for a few NYC-based bloggers to create Instagram content, and also do some Instagram photo editing for an Australian blogger.

In the end, it was specialising in Instagram and Pinterest (and incorporating my skills in Graphic Design and Photography) that made the biggest difference to how marketable I was as a social media manager.

tips for becoming a social media manager:

  • Get experience. You’ll only get hired if you can prove that you’re good at managing social media. If you haven’t had any jobs yet, then use your own blog or website as your experience. Put together some impressive stats to show what you have achieved in the past.
  • Consider specialising in a certain platform. There are plenty of people who can do social media management, but there aren’t so many that can build up an engaged Facebook following, or get maximum retweets on Twitter. Consider the tasks that you’ve had the most success with in the past, and advertise that as your service.
  • Apply for jobs every week. Remember that the first job will always be the hardest to get, so even if you don’t have any success at first, keep trying!
  • Tell people what you’re offering. If you know of people in your network that can spread the word, let them know. Word of mouth goes a long way.
  • Read through my list of ways to get freelance jobs. Stay connected with people in your industry. Be part of relevant Facebook groups. Attend networking events in your city. There are so many options to get your name out there!

Are you an aspiring freelance social media manager? What kind of work would you like to do? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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15 Responses to “How I became a freelance Social Media Manager”

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I really did! Thanks Charmaine 😀 Social media is an ever-changing industry and it’s definitely hard to keep up with the constant changes being made within each platform!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thank you, Agness! My freelance career all came from the strong desire to be self-employed, so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing 🙂

  1. Stephanie

    This is so inspiring, Ashlea! I also went to GA but to get a web development certificate and they are a great school. I’m sure you learned a lot! That’s so great that you can now get to work as a freelance social media manager. Keep it up!


    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s great, Stephanie! I’m so glad you’ve had the opportunity to improve your skills through GA, too 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  2. TheWickedSoul

    Hey Ashlea, This is inspiring, even I am trying to make living out of freelance jobs. It is difficult but I am going to try out these tips and hope it works 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Ashfina, I’m glad you found my post inspiring! You’re right, becoming a social media manager is not easy, but it’s definitely possible if you take steps to making a name for yourself as a freelancer. Good luck!

  3. Mariana

    Great Advice. Such a nice article. Very easy to read and very very helpful for people like me, looking to get into the same industry.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m so glad you found it useful, Mariana! I hope you can be successful in social media management 🙂

  4. Sarah

    Could you briefly lay out what your Pinterest management job entails, exactly? Do you actually create pins (images) or do you just pin things the site owner creates? Being a SMM for Pinterest specifically sounds intriguing but I’m not much of a graphic designer…

  5. Jo Barber

    I’m trying to set out as a social media manager (Facebook and Twitter are my specialisms) and I’m going to try out a few of the things you’ve done!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s amazing, Jo! Best of luck to you – I’m sure you will do an amazing job 😀

  6. Baylie McCallister

    I’m up late doing some research about this topic, and I have to say, thank you.
    I do photography, graphic design, freelance social media , and I’m also heading to Africa this spring to start my travel blog/videos.
    I’m a little overwhelmed. I’m actually 18. I feel like there’s so much to start and do, and I was wondering how you did it. How did you grow and start from scratch? I have 2 clients right now. I get pressured because I feel like I have to be be a salesman, not just a social media manager.
    Should I be forcing and making sales?? If so, how?

    I know this is a lot, and perhaps it’s just the late night talking here, but it would mean the world if I could get some of your advice.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Hi Baylie, thanks for your message! I can totally relate to that feeling – I think it’s easy to look towards the end point and feel overwhelmed by all the tasks that you may need to to do get there. Just remember that it took me years to build up to this point, and that even now I’m not at my career is not at the perfect position that I hope it will eventually get to. You’ll just need to take it all one step at a time and remember that it’s not something that is going to happen instantly. Don’t force anything, just do your best without being too pushy. I hope that helps!


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