What to Do Before You Quit Your Day Job
Before committing to full-time work as a social media and community manager, you should:
- Build up experience
- Be able to speak intelligently about your work and industry trends
- Be able to discuss various companies' experiences with social media platforms and online communities
You can build up experience by moonlighting as a freelance community manager during nights and weekends, doing volunteer work for nonprofits, cultivating your own social media presence and following, and helping other community managers with their projects.
To be able to speak intelligently about the industry and other companies' social media experiences, read through case studies and stay abreast of industry-related news (for some useful blogs to follow, re-visit our lesson on best practices). Consider writing down your thoughts and analysis and publishing your reflections on a blog (this will help you build your reputation).
Should you feel ready to leave your current line of work and become a full-time social media and community manager, consider starting with an agency. Social media and digital marketing agencies will expose you to a wide variety of clients. Working with a wide spread of clients will give you an idea of companies you will and will not want to work with in the future (and may introduce you to companies you will eventually work for as a freelancer or full time employee). Agencies also offer a myriad of training opportunities, as you will have the opportunity to tackle very different projects and challenges. You may even be exposed to work outside social media and online community realms (e.g. copywriting, ad creation, media buying, etc.), which can bolster your professional skill set.
Potential Career Paths for Social Media and Community ManagersThe following career paths are quite common amongst social media and community managers:
- Freelance work: Social media and community managers who enjoy working with small businesses, building communities from the ground up, and showing clients how to manage their own communities and social media accounts prefer freelance work
- Full time work for a brand: Social media and community managers who love getting to know an online community really well typically prefer to work full time with a single company
- Full time work for an agency: Many professionals new to the field (or those who enjoy fast-paced environments and lots of variety) opt to work for social media or digital marketing agencies, which expose them to a wide variety of clients, projects, and online communities
- Full time employment supplemented by freelance work on nights and weekends: Some professionals with social media-related day jobs (or even jobs in entirely unrelated fields) take on social media or community-related work for clients on a freelance basis
It should also be noted that professionals within the field often choose to specialize:
- In community building: their work revolves around customer service, satisfaction, engagement, and retention
- In social media marketing: their work is focused around driving conversions, building followers, improving SEO, etc.
- In content marketing: their work has a heavy emphasis on writing and other sorts of media production
Income Levels to Expect as a Social Media and Community Manager
SocialFresh shared in its 2012 Community Manager Report that the average community manager makes just over $51,000 a year.
From what we have ascertained form interviews, beginning social media and community managers typically make $40,000 to $60,000 in their first year when working full time for a single employer. Those working as freelancers typically start at $35 to $50 an hour. Over time, you may earn as much as $80,000 or $90,000 a year.
Because social media and community management is still rapidly evolving as a career, you have a favorable amount of flexibility when it comes to income ceilings. It can be quite easy to transition into more traditional marketing and customer support roles from a social media and community management position. You might therefore boost your income by working your way into traditional slots within those departments (e.g. VP of Marketing, Director of Customer Service) while still maintaining your internet-facilitated approach.
You will be less likely to have an easy time earning more than $70,000 a year as a pure freelancer, simply because companies that hire freelance social media and community managers are more likely to be on a budget and not able to pay you very well. Higher-paying companies are more likely to want someone in house or support from a formalized agency. That said, you may still maintain your professional independence and boost your earnings by cultivating one or several sources of passive income. You may also take the entrepreneurial route and establish a robust social media agency, complete with larger corporate clients and several staff members.
Primary Sources of Income for Social Media and Community Managers
Most social media and community managers earn income from one or more of the following sources:
- Employers: Full time employment is the norm for most community managers working with medium to large companies, as well as those working for social media or digital marketing agencies
- Clients: Many small businesses and startups prefer to hire contractors to help them with social media and community management; these jobs sometimes transition into full-time work, however many social media and community managers prefer to work part-time for a variety of different clients
- Coaching: Social media and community managers with more experience sometimes offer coaching services to entrepreneurs, marketing professionals who would like to take on social media and community-related responsibilities, and fellow community managers
- Speaking: Professionals in the field with published books, columns with major publications, and/or high-profile clients are often invited to attend speaking engagements and can earn added income from speaking fees
- Product sales or ad revenue: Some social media and community managers work for sales and publishing platforms through which members earn money through product sales and ad revenue on content they publish; because community managers are expected to lead by example, they are likely to also sell products or publish content on their clients site and may make an additional profit from it
- Books and ebooks: Professionals in the online community field are particularly good at explaining things, which leaves them well-suited to write books (often guides to social media and community management) which they might eventually sell (typically through independent ebook publishing platforms, such as Amazon Kindle Direct)
- Courses: In addition to sharing guidance through books, articles, and blog posts, many social media and community managers have opted to sell professional advice through online courses (sites like Udemy and tools like Woo Theme's Sensei WordPress plugin make it easy to set up and sell courses)
- Freelance writing: Between blog posts, forum posts, emails, and posts across social media channels, social media and community managers end up writing a huge amount of content, which leaves them well disposed to provide their speedy writing skills to a wide range clients
Establishing Financial Security as a Social Media and Community Manager
Boosting Earning Potential
When just getting started, you can augment your financial security by improving your attractiveness as a professional (this has the benefit of making you more hirable as well as increasing your earning potential). You can do so by:
- Building up experience: If you can't find work, do volunteer projects for nonprofits
- Publishing articles about the field: Start out with a personal blog, then work your way up to guest posts on prominent blogs and articles published through prestigious digital publications
Should you have some career experience, you can further boost your financial security by working with a major brand. This will make you more attractive to future clients and can open up future professional opportunities (e.g. people may pay you to speak or write about your work thanks to the high profile place in which you did it).
If you work as a freelancer, prioritize long-term clients and contracts over short-term gigs and consider taking on additional types of freelance work, such as work related to content marketing or website building. By learning basic (and eventually advanced) coding skills, you can add additional value and versatility to your skill set that will leave you far less likely to be unemployed for extended periods of time.
Cultivating Passive Income
Being paid for your labor involves two risky factors:
- Others' willingness to hire and pay you for your labor
- Your ability to do that labor
Given that you cannot guarantee that you will always have clients and only have so many hours you can work in a given day, you would benefit form cultivating some sources of passive income. Passive income could come through some of the sources mentioned above, such as ebook sales, product sales, ad revenue, or courses (should they be the kind that people can take without human oversight).
Can passive earnings fluctuate? Absolutely! That said, the presence of a more or less static cash cow can help you diversify your income and may dampen the blow of a layoff or the end of a particularly-lucrative contract.
Taking Good Care of Personal Finances
Though this has less to do with your career as a social media and community manager and more to do with your overall approach to life, it is important that you utilize sound financial practices. In addition to allocating savings accounts for emergencies and major expenses, set aside money for retirement.
Social media and community managers working for full-time employers typically have the option to automatically redirect 401(k) money into to long-term investment funds. When you never see certain funds in your personal accounts, you will be far less likely to spend them rather than save them. Freelancers have to be more diligent. No matter how your income arrives, be sure that certain non-negotiable amounts always go toward savings so that you can protect your future financial security.
Administrative Tips for Social Media and Community Managers
Online Identity Management
As a social media and community manager, your reputation is everything. You will need to invest more time in maintaining and improving it than many other types of internet-based professionals, as it will be subject to significant scrutiny. Trust us, you will be amazed by the dirt random community members will dig up on you.
Make a habit of running a digital identity audit every two months or so. Make sure all of your profiles are up to date and keep tabs on what others are likely to find when poking through your social media accounts or searching for various iterations of your name via Google Search. Set up Google Alerts for your name.
Also think carefully about what you post. Avoid anything that might be misinterpreted by a disgruntled community member. While you should not live your life as a super-scrubbed, politically-correct mannequin, and while it is inevitable that people will find something about you to complain about, you should not leave obviously damning content lying around (such as complaints about certain community members or evidence of seriously unprofessional behavior).
Constantly focus on augmenting your career. In addition to doing great work for your client(s), contribute information of value to the general field that will raise your standing and bolster your reputation. While it can be fun to be known as "that awesome community manager for Company X," it is even better to be known as "that fantastic online community expert." You can establish a more robust independent reputation by publishing independent analysis of the industry through a personal blog, getting involved with various social media and community manager groups and events, and providing work (be it freelance or volunteer) for a wider range of clients.
Taxes for Freelancers
Should you work as a freelance social media strategist or community organizer, you will have the pleasure of managing a slightly more complicated tax return. Don't stress; so long as you do the following things, you should be just fine.
- Keep track of all profits (physical records of earnings as well as organized digital records)
- Keep track of all business expenses (receipts and digital records for necessary and ordinary expenses related to your work)
- Document profits and expenses throughout the year as they crop up
- Keep physical records organized and in a centralized location
- Familiarize yourself with Schedule C (or Schedule C EZ, should your total business expenses for the year be under $5,000) and Schedule SE so you know how you will need to report information ahead of time
If you do not feel comfortable tracking and managing everything "by hand," utilize services like Quicken (for general record keeping) and TurboTax (for filing). Whatever you do, don't procrastinate. It will only make things more painful.
Our goal is to never charge for the educational materials we provide. If you’d like to give back, please share our lessons (and Gigaverse in general) with your friends. Who knows- you might introduce someone to an entirely new career path and change their life!
Only take this lesson’s quiz if you are enrolled in the course and want to prove your skills and earn official credentials. Credentials related to a course are useful if you would like to find work related to this course’s career, as we direct businesses and entrepreneurs to our membership page when they approach us looking for specialists.
Finally, make sure you have reviewed this lesson’s required reading (displayed at the top right of the page) before taking the quiz- you will be tested on information covered in those guides!