How to start your own digital marketing business

Discover what it’s really like to start your own digital marketing business

As setting up a business from home appeals to so many people, I wanted to do a blog post on Sheryl Jefferson who runs her own digital marketing business, Light Tree Media. I interviewed Sheryl to find out about the highs and lows and day-to-day reality of running your own social media management / digital marketing business.

The difference between digital marketing and social media, is that digital marketing is broader and more strategic. A digital marketing expert is aware of all channels a business could use to promote their brand/product.  A social media manager will usually have a specialism in one or two platforms and will help a client manage their work across those platforms.

Sheryl does both. For example, she may meet with a client and, after discussing and understanding their needs in more depth, Sheryl can then advise if they need to use a specific channel (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram etc.) and can manage those channels for them.

Sheryl is one of those people who lights up a room when she enters.  Optimism and can-do attitude ooze from every fibre of her being.  When I was looking for a social media manager to be one of our ViewVo experts, her name came up a few times, so I took time out to meet with her.

I was really impressed with her willingness to share and to provide advice/guidance and tips.  She’s a no nonsense, practical and results orientated person – perfect for giving an overview of the life as a digital marketer and social media manager.


Sheryl’s background

Sheryl worked in the corporate world – food retail (Tesco, then streamline foods).  She worked in merchandising before becoming a social media and marketing manager.  On approaching 30, she started reflecting – the corporate world whilst offering stability and security was making her feel tired and jaded.  On the other hand, she loved the digital marketing aspect to her role, so decided she would set up on her own, and Light Tree Media was born.  Sheryl now helps entrepreneurs around the world develop their digital marketing strategy.


Find out what’s involved in running your own digital marketing business in our interview with Sheryl…


What does a typical day and week look like as a digital marketing manager?

I start off with checking up with what is going on in the social media world.  It is essential for me to be ahead of developments as it is an industry which can change so quickly.  One day, everyone is doing it, the next week, it’s been banned! For me to educate and keep my clients informed, I need to keep myself informed.

Once I’ve done this, I check up on my client projects. On each project there might be several actions – I might be developing a plan for how to run a campaign or I might be gathering data to feedback on how a campaign is performing.

I do lots of meetings – mainly to update and check in on progress, but also when I’m doing business development work to win new clients.  These can be both face-to-face or virtual (on Skype or Zoom), particularly for overseas clients.

The other thing that takes up a fair amount of my time, although not a daily activity, is training.  I’d say once a week I go into businesses and help them train their staff on digital marketing strategies or, more specifically, I’ll take them through how to work on a particular platform (such as Facebook).


What are the main skills you need to be a good digital marketer?

A key skill is project management and organisation.  Being able to monitor the work being done and to take action where needed to get things back on track is important.

Similarly, being flexible is pretty key.  It might be a client is due to deliver an agreed action on an agreed date, but if something urgent comes up and they have to change plans, you have to be able to change and adapt accordingly.

Communication is vital.  Specifically, being able to manage expectations, keeping people in the loop, and knowing how best to do this – sometimes an email will suffice, other times it might need a face-to-face meeting.

In general, if you are running your own business, you need to be highly driven.  You need a lot of energy to drive your own sales and deal with rejections (as inevitably you won’t win all the work you go after).  To that end, you also need a thick skin!


What are the highs and lows of being a digital marketing manager?

I’ll start with the lows:

It is hard work.  I work long hours and my clients expect me to answer within short timescales.

It’s an industry that many people who have no qualifications can walk straight into, so consequently, the industry has earned a bad reputation.  People often think it’s an industry full of sharks, which feels unfair to those of us who work hard and make a real difference to the clients we work with.

It’s a competitive world and many people have jumped on the bandwagon to become social media managers.  There is no regulatory or professional body, so sometimes you are bidding for work against people who really shouldn’t be calling themselves experts, but because they are charging less when they are starting out, they can often win the work.  Unfortunately, you can’t always tell clients what to do.  Rejection is never fun, but it’s part of the deal.

The highs:

I love that, if I need to, I can start at 10 and finish at 3.00.  Having the freedom to control my own diary and when I do things is really important to me.

I love the achievements I can make for people.  One of my best was running a campaign that was so successful the client was contacted by eBay as they wanted to get involved. I’ve also helped a client get top spot in a category on Zazzle (an online marketplace in the US).

The people I work with is a real win for me too.  I work with entrepreneurs from all around the world who are really brainy, trailblazing, influencers in their own fields. So, half the time I sit there wondering how I got into the same room as them!

Overall however, it is being responsible for and driving my own success which is the biggest highlight. I love that I am building my own business.  Rather than having to prove myself to someone else who might be more senior in a corporation, I get to prove things to my clients and to myself.  I would choose this life over and over again rather than being back in a boardroom.


If someone wanted to become a digital marketer, are there any barriers?  Where would they start?

There are no barriers to entry.  It is totally unregulated – anyone can set up and call themselves a social media manager or digital marketing expert.


So how can people protect themselves against the ‘sharks’?

The best thing is to show due diligence.  If you know what you want to achieve then you can be clear about what expectations you have.

In my view, a good digital marketer should be able to show you a clear path of what they are able to do, why they would do it and what approach they will take.   Alarm bells should ring if they try to bamboozle you with buzzwords.  I also think it’s worth asking for references and checking their testimonials.

Make sure you ask for metrics around engagement.  Anyone can build a following – I can just follow 1000 people and hundreds would follow back through courtesy, but that doesn’t mean they like or care about my business.  The key is engagement.  No one goes onto social media channels with an intention to buy, so it’s more about how they are able to build relationships and drive interaction.  If you can find someone who can build engagement, you’ve found gold!


Are there courses or places to go to learn more about becoming a digital marketer or social media manager?

It’s a very new industry.  7-10 years ago, this didn’t exist so, to a degree, institutions and universities are playing catch up.  There are places like Digital Mums and General Assembly but, unlike some industries where it might be the case you need a degree from a specific place (e.g. Southampton is well known for oceanography) this isn’t like that.  I wouldn’t say we’re at the stage yet of having to get a qualification from a specific organisation in order to be seen as credible.  It’s more about the clients you’ve worked with and the testimonials you can get from them.


What can a social media manager/digital marketer earn?

If we start from the entry level, I would say £20 an hour and up is normal, but it can grow and rise very, very quickly.  I’ve seen people start out and within two years be earning over £100K!  This is, however, when they start to commoditise – like selling training packages as webinars.

If an agency is managing an account, they might post twice a week, do some interactions, run some ads, and for this they’d typically charge between £600 – 1500 a month.  That gives you a benchmark.


Why did you agree to be an expert on ViewVo?

I wished I’d had the chance to spend a day with an expert before I started.  As a career changer myself, I would have loved to have someone walk me through the process and show me what to do.  It was all completely self-taught. It took ages to learn and I made loads of mistakes, so to have someone who knew it all, who could have taken me through it, would have been so valuable.  Now I have a story for you!

Last year, through ViewVo, I had Anna shadow me for a day.  She was brilliant.  She took loads on board and went away afterwards and researched the areas I’d told her about. She took a couple of courses I recommended.  Now she’s started her own business and has been doing some work for me!  She’s awesome, so I can’t thank you enough.


You can read more about Sheryl and how she can advise you about starting your own digital marketing business over at her ViewVo Expert profile.


If you are thinking of starting a digital marketing business, it really can pay huge dividends to speak to an expert who has been there and done that.  You can learn your own lessons but you can also learn from someone else’s!

phone call with Sheryl starts at £30.  You can also meet with her and shadow her to find out more about the reality of being a digital marketer and receive some amazing tips and advice from her.

We believe in facilitating meaningful and helpful connections and if the life of a digital marketer or social media manager is something you’ve considered, then learning from one of the best is not a bad way to start out.