Interview with Brian Honigman – How to Create a Career as a Marketing Consultant – Episode #17

Brian Honigman is a marketing consultant helping NGOs, media brands, and tech companies succeed with their strategy around digital marketing, content marketing, and social media. Brian is also an adjunct professor at New York University’s School of Professional Studies, an instructor at Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning, and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and the Next Web. Named a “digital marketing expert” by Entrepreneur.com and a “top social media pro” by Social Media Examiner, Brian delivers strategic consulting, coaching, and training for marketers and leaders at the United Nations, the Weather Company, Medium, Asana, NATO, People Magazine, Taboola, Sprout Social, Percolate, Wix, Adobe and others.

We go over what it means to be a marketing consultant and how people get started on launching this often under-appreciated career path. This episode is a personal favorite of mine and I hope you enjoy listening to this episode as much as I enjoyed interviewing Brian.

Full Episode Transcript:

 

Kenny Soto  0:01  

We are recording in five, four threes. Hello everyone and welcome to Kenny Soto’s Digital Marketing podcast. On today’s episode, I have Brian Honigman. He is an a marketing consultant helping NGOs, media brands and tech companies succeed with their strategy around digital marketing, content marketing and social media. Brian is also an adjunct professor at New York University School of Professional Studies, an instructor at Skillshare and LinkedIn learning and a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, Forbes And the next web, which is a personal favorite of mine. 

Named a digital marketing expert by entrepreneur and a top Social Media Pro by Social Media Examiner, which I recommend everyone go to. Brian delivers strategic consulting coaching and training for marketers and leaders at listen to this, the United Nations, The Weather Company, medium Asana, NATO, People Magazine, and much more. Very impressive background. And now we have Brian on the call. Hi, Brian, how are you?

 

Brian Honigman  1:09  

I’m good. Kenny, thanks so much for having me today.

 

Kenny Soto  1:12  

So before we got on this podcast interview, I mentioned to you that this podcast is mainly geared towards digital marketers who want to learn more about marketing. And I also mentioned that, for the most part, there are two approaches that are championed within the digital marketing space, the one approach is join an agency or a fortune 500 company, and grow your career through there. 

And the other approach is join a startup or create your own company become a founder after developing your skills and do that route. But what I want to talk to you today is I want to talk about your career as a consultant and see if there are any nuggets of wisdom that we can pass down to our listeners to see if that’s the route that they want to take. So my first question for you, Brian, is how did you get into marketing?

 

Brian Honigman  2:15  

Yeah, of course. So I got into marketing. I was a journalism major in college and to continue focusing on journalism, I got some internships with with that were writing focus, but there was they were writing focus internships at marketing companies. So I worked at like a startup marketing kind of agency, doing blog posts, and all that kind of stuff. 

This was like early days of Facebook was just becoming popular for dead a couple. All right, interned at a another startup. So basically, through focusing on journalism and writing, I like when to do internships, to get on the job experience. And the internships kind of showed me the marketing world. And it was a far more interesting use case of how I can put my writing skills and my interests into practice. 

So I, once I graduated college, I got a marketing role at a startup, a like local magazine, and continued on from there, but yes, through and that’s something that the writing aspect of everything I do with marketing is still something I use every single day. So yeah, through focusing on journalism, it like led me to marketing.

 

Kenny Soto  3:44  

Great. And when did you start the consultancy route? How did that look like for you? Can you tell us that story?

 

Brian Honigman  3:53  

Sure. So coming up on almost a decade, I’ve worked for myself. I started off as a freelance writer. So again, the writing component. I had marketing roles at an agency brand side, multiple startups. And throughout that, those full-time roles where I was gaining experience and skillsets and all that. I was writing on the side about marketing for, you know, industry publications, larger publications, smaller blogs, just about my thoughts on marketing strategies that I think were examples of companies doing interesting things in marketing. 

So and at first, it was just to, you know, contribute my dialogue to these discussions. I thought were interesting. But eventually, I knew that it would build me a reputation outside of the office outside of the companies I was working at. But you know, it’s great to have visibility internally so you can promote You get promoted and grow and move on to the next job at, you know, up the ladder, it’s great to have visibility outside of your company in your industry at large, you can find other jobs and other opportunities. 

So basically, eventually, I just kept hitting a wall at all the full time, the ceiling at the full-time roles that I had, meaning I just kept getting frustrated, didn’t, wasn’t challenged enough, I just kept kind of maxing out in the opportunities that the companies that I work that could offer. So a couple couple organizations just kept reaching out saying, Hey, do you do freelance writing? If so, what are your rates for writing articles? So that was kind of wonderful luck, I tried my very best to you know, get as much client work set setup before quitting my full-time job.

It didn’t do it perfectly. But in terms of consulting, I started my own business by relying on freelance writing initially, as a foundation, because that’s a quite common freelance position that Yeah, exactly that other organizations are aware of, like, it’s, it’s, it’s very known that there’s freelance graphic designers, freelance writers, freelance transcribers, it’s almost like a, it’s not easy, but it’s a little less difficult of a sell to, you know, because you know, businesses know that they need the services and blah, blah, blah. 

So it was a great foundation to like, get experience working for myself build up a roster. Getting money, just build a foundation in every capacity. So then once I was a little bit more stabilized, I can start to move into other areas and start to, you know, charge more focus on different types of services. So in terms of the consulting aspect of what I do today, where I’m, you know, advising companies on their marketing strategy, how to grow with marketing, on budget, I’ve done a ton of consulting when I worked at agencies acting as an advisor for all different clients. And I’d kind of just parlayed that into doing it on my own. I started offering consulting on marketing strategy. First through, you know, charging a low fee to get, you know, build up the client roster. Just kind of building my credibility in that space. Just because you can’t just say, Okay, I’ve been freelance writer and marketing. 

Now today, I want to be consulting, just like any other thing, any service or product, whatever you’re offering, kind of, you got to, you know, build, build your portfolio. So in a sense, I use freelance writing to build my portfolio. And it’s led me in a couple of different directions, not just consulting, I’ve, you know, done a ton of teaching. 

Since working on my own for higher ed, and different learning platforms, like I said, the consulting, I do a lot of coaching. So I basically just have been slowly working at moving up the ladder, in terms of the gaining experience, that necessary skill, set the roster of clients, so that I can continue to drive, you know, get the attention of other companies to hire me in that capacity and also pitch myself what because I have a portfolio to, to point to. So, yeah, that’s how I kind of got into doing consulting on my own.

 

Kenny Soto  8:49  

Do you think that without your writing and adding a dialogue to the industry? Do you think that you would have been as successful? Or do you think you wouldn’t even be able to, like, start without that content? 

 

Brian Honigman  9:08  

No. And I don’t say it as a universal truth. I would I know, for me, I have the work ethic and an interest in marketing and experience. So I would figure it out in some other way. But would I be in the exact same spot I’m in today without putting my ideas out there consistently to show instead of tell people, you know, how I approach and think about business challenges related to marketing. 

I think that is, you know, undeniably one of the biggest things I’ve done to, you know, become known as someone offering the services. So with that said, I certainly would have figured out in some other way if this is the path I took, but I think the lesson for anyone else listening is doesn’t have to be writing per se. But whether you’re sticking with on the full time out or you want to work for yourself in some capacity. 

I always, always recommend as, as soon as possible, start consistently getting your ideas out there publicly. So it could be starting your own podcast, it could be tweeting, it could be writing, like I did, it could be uploading YouTube videos doing TikTok, whatever it is, the goal, it’s not really about the format, per se, it’s about making sure that you’re getting your unique ideas, viewpoints on whatever industry or if it’s marketing, out there consistently. 

So people can find you can hear from you learn your perspective, understand where you land, where you fit for their business, or how you might fit at their company, whatever. That’s a really fantastic way of kind of contributing to a portfolio for yourself. So that’s, that’s the lesson is, the lesson isn’t? Do what Brian did and go write for all these places, you certainly can. But it’s not a must have, what you must do is get your ideas out there so people can find you and learn how they can work with you and where your expertise is. 

 

Kenny Soto  11:13  

Do most of your clients come inbound or outbound? Do you reach out to them? Or do they come to you?

 

Brian Honigman  11:21  

Say about 90% are inbound. Some you know the other tenants for me, I have like a, I call it like a pitch record. It’s basically a document that I have, it’s like, oh, that’s a cool company, or they’re doing cool work, or that’s a person I would like to work with or whatever, I’ll just as I’m going throughout my day grab, grab those links to that stuff and throw it in there. 

And if there’s ever a period, when I have some downtime, I’ll make sure to consistently send out some feelers pitch a little bit, because I think it’s important to not just, you know, it’s important to be proactive and reactive. It’s the best case scenario to have clients coming to you, because they’re already interested, there’s less of a, you know, a push. 

But I like to make sure that I’m still in control. And you know, I’m reaching out to companies that I’m really excited about. But yeah, i Luckily, most, most companies that reach out to me find me through writing pieces I’ve written about marketing. Through doing articles, I’ve contributed to doing podcasts like yours. 

They find me through social media. That’s either because my articles have gone, you know, on Twitter or LinkedIn, and they have stumble upon them that way. Or my courses, my courses online are a big driver of attention, particularly LinkedIn learning, to drive people to me as well. 

So yeah, and then I would say,  just like word of mouth from, you know, the client referrals if XYZ client worked with me, they not always, but sometimes will, you know, recommend me to someone else, or, you know, Sally working at Company A will get a promotion, and then two years later, move on to a different company, continue to rise up the ranks, and then call me three, three years, four years later and be like, Hey, let’s work together. I liked working with you before, let’s see if you can offer your services at my new company. So that’s typically how I get business today. 

 

Kenny Soto  13:33  

Got it. And I know, the term consultant tends to vary in definition based on the insurance industry. And I wanted to know two things. One, what is your definition of a consultant? And two, based on your decade of work, what immediate best practices come to mind when it comes to being a consultant? Because what I’m thinking here is, yes, your professional background is very impressive. 

So far, what you said is definitely applicable to a lot of the listeners. But if someone wanted to, after listening to this episode, immediately start growing and heading in that direction of being a consultant. What would you tell them as definition of what they’re going to do and what are some best practices they can take home? So they can actually start doing that? 

 

Brian Honigman  14:34  

Sure. So I would define a consultant as a, an outside subject matter expert, with the knowledge and experience to help a company move forward with a challenge with an area of opportunity, narrative growth. They’re outside of the company. They’re kind of a, you know, this third party that is there to support and advise and Sometimes execute on the advice that they’re providing. So that’s what I think of a consultant. 

But like you said, there’s many different, like, it’s, it’s a broad term in the sense that you can consult on a multitude of subjects and different industries, and you can package and provide services a lot of different ways. There isn’t, you know, one perfect, definitely one perfect way of doing it, it’s what works for you. 

So for example, I know consultants that go and work for one client full time for like a three to six month period, and they’re on their own independent consultant. And they go in there almost like a contract employee, in a sense, for that period of time they come in, really dive into the business, maybe they work on site, you know, this is pre COVID world that they work on site, they work in depth, and they focus on one client at a time. 

And that’s great. And then after they complete the project, or the contract is complete, they move on to work on another one client for a period of time. And that’s great. That’s kind of like a work structure. I’m sure that it’s a balance of advising and some execution, because you’re so in the weeds and working with that one client. 

As compared to myself, I’ve never really done that, I’m certainly open to it. And if you know, the situation was right, and like I couldn’t balance my other commitments, I typically work with multiple clients every month, I work on kind of one aspect of their marketing strategy. And then I’m recording a course and, you know, writing articles for another client. 

And that’s just kind of my preference is to as a consultant, I’m providing my services in a variety of different ways. And I like to work with a couple clients at once. Just kind of the way it works best for me, aligns with my personality, I like to focus on a lot of different areas. So anyways, there’s a lot of ways there’s a lot of ways to structure and format. 

Being a consultant, you can be a an employee at a company and big consulting companies like McKinsey and Deloitte, where you work for them, and they have clients. And, you know, there’s a little bit more direction and more specifics as to how everything is structured, because those are, you know, large corporations, and you have to follow the guidelines and rules there. 

So, there’s a lot of different ways to be a consultant, there’s no one right way, the right way is what you’re able to succeed at and what makes you happy and fulfilled. How do you start being a consultant? By making sure you have some experience in in the subject matter that you’re trying to help companies with. 

 

Kenny Soto  17:59  

How many years? 

 

Brian Honigman  18:00  

What did you say?

 

Kenny Soto  18:00  

How many years would you recommend? Before jumping in?

 

Brian Honigman  18:04  

Yeah, I would say a minimum of five years of experience in the field, and that’s the minimum in the sense of you can’t it’s unless you’re a savant, you know, a girl or boy genius, which, actually, yes, just it’s very rare I for most people, you have to have work experience full-time work as an employee in that industry in that field. 

So like, most consultants have XYZ amount of experience, you know, in, in, in their field first, then afterwards, they might become a consultant, full time for a company or golf on their own and become a consultant. But without that chunk of experience, there’s no, there’s no, there’s nothing for you to consult on, you don’t have any specific value to provide yet. 

So you need to go get that get experience in the field. So that means, you know, working at a company working at a few companies working on a range of product projects, so that you have a enough breadth, enough range of experiences to help clients and, and companies and in different scenarios. So that’s one consideration is you need full-time work, you need to be a full time employee. 

For at least five years, lots of consultants have more far more experience. I would say in terms of getting started as a consultant, once you have that experience, it’s just about starting to take on those projects and doing the work. So in the beginning, you might have to do it at a lower fee. You have to do it and on a volunteer basis, or part-time or do really small aspects of a project. 

Just start slowly building that roster of clients that experience you can point to so each time because you can’t just you know, go to a company with no experience. consulting be like, Hey, I’m charging 5k. For this project, I’m great. Here’s my excerpt you need to be able to point to, okay, here is a case study showing my successes with this previous client in the same industry, or you need to have portfolio work again to point to, so go out there and start getting that experience. 

I know, a colleague of mine does, consulting around social media, she to dive in, she did a little bit of it in her full-time role, but wanted to focus on it more. So on the side, she like, volunteered for local businesses to run and manage their social accounts, she did it at a low cost on a monthly basis as a side kind of gig while she was doing her full-time role. And over time, she just used that experience and those clients as testimonials to show other clients. 

She got referrals from them, she’s like, slowly but surely built a nice consulting business for herself in the social media space, so she doesn’t manage social media accounts anymore. But from those experiences, you know, she was able to, you know, get connections build relationships have work to point to when sharing her services. In the future, I would say, so yeah, get it, you know, you need the you need the full-time work experience. And then you also need to like start getting those projects might be a little bit more more difficult at first, but then think about what you what you would want to offer, what services would you think to offer.

There’s, there’s no one, Again, no one perfect way to do it,  But are you going to charge people by the hour for advice and counsel a few times a month? Are you going going to focus heavily on execution around human resources? Are you going to do trainings for companies, in the sales department? whatever it is, start thinking about how you would you’re not going to get it perfect. And you’re going to continue to refine what services you offer. I know I have over the years. But the key here is thinking about how you will best packages package what you want to offer in the future. So you can kind of work towards it.

 

Kenny Soto  22:33  

Got it. And my final question would be as a consultant in the digital marketing space, I have to assume that there’s a lot of competition. And not only there’s a lot of competition, but there are so many changes going on, either it’s platform-specific, like 100 new Instagram features, or it can be that there’s a new platform like TikTok coming out. So my question for you is, what do you do to stay up to date? What notable resources do you use to continue learning your craft, and honing your skills so you can stay competitive?

 

Brian Honigman  23:17  

I’m just trying to constantly learn. I think there’s without in digital marketing and marketing, there’s fundamental kind of principles that regardless of what latest feature, Tiktok has, or changes to pay per click marketing, you know, those are important in certain cases, but the overall principles of marketing shift a lot slower. 

So that helps, then people think so and those kinds of concepts can be applied to a lot of different cases, like, for example, you want to as a marketer, you want to build trust with the customers that you’re trying to drive action from, that doesn’t really change completely overnight. Like, you know, the nuances of, you know, Instagrams latest features. 

So that helps. So making sure that you have a strong foundation and marketing helps a lot. But in terms of like staying up to date on all the latest things, and, you know, I don’t think anyone’s perfect, I think what’s important is to not over specialize, but make sure to choose an area to focus on. So for me, I am not the expert on affiliate marketing. For me, I am not the expert on Pay Per Click marketing. 

I know enough to be dangerous. I know enough to if I was consulting with a client, I can help manage the different aspects of their marketing at a high level for affiliate marketing and PPC and social media, but I’m not the if they only need someone to manage their affiliate marketing program and, you know, have you know, in depth insights there, that’s just I’m just not your guy. 

I focus on social media, digital marketing broadly, and content marketing, and I really hone that in on all the services I’m offering the content I’m consistently creating to share my ideas. So with that said, because I have an area of focus, that’s where most of my experience, interest and clients have been. 

Those are the topics I try to stay up to date on. So what I do is I listen to podcasts in and out of the marketing field, I listen, I read articles or read articles from publications, I take courses, I pay attention to what other marketers are doing. So let’s dive into a little bit of that. So I, over the years have met other marketers that I think are interesting, smart, like me or not like me. And sometimes, you know, someone that’s very similar to me has a great idea than someone who’s completely different from me, we have nothing in common, except that we’re both in marketing, I learned from them.

And it’s a short list, I think a lot of people just share the same basic one-on-one marketing stuff. And that’s great for them, but it’s just not useful. So I have this list of people, it’s not like, you know, on in a document or anything, it’s just, I only really pay attention to a few other marketers and what they’re doing on Instagram, or sorry, on LinkedIn, and Twitter. In terms of courses, I still take a lot of LinkedIn learning courses. 

Big because they’re short. They’re on a variety of topics, just to really, you know, balance out what I’m learning and experiencing, and not just in marketing. Do everything from, you know, learned, I took a course on inclusion and diversity in the workplace to, you know, it’s not exactly perfectly marketing related, but it definitely, you know, has, there’s a correlation there that I can certainly apply. 

So, try to take courses there. I like that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, I’m sure others, they all offer free marketing related courses and certifications that marketers can get to better quantify what they do and don’t know. I like taking a range of those so that I can like learn certain aspects and figure out how they would apply to different campaigns. In terms of I said, I read different sites. So publications, like you mentioned that you like Social Media Examiner. I like them a lot for very tactical, social media advice.

 

Kenny Soto  27:26  

Yeah. And their podcast is amazing, too. 

 

Brian Honigman  27:29  

Oh, great. Yeah, I haven’t I haven’t listened to it. And in a long time, but I trust you. Who else do I do? I really like reading the day. I really like recode. Harvard Business Review sometimes has good marketing stuff, but more so just business advice in general. 

So yeah, I just try my best to keep learning, paying attention to what companies are doing, even if they don’t know, necessarily the following particular marketer behind it. If I will look at Ad Week and Ad Age, and see, you know, who what campaigns are getting accolades. Sometimes those are justified sometimes or not just by, by my own opinion. 

So I’m paying attention to trends there. And then, you know, since one of my focus areas is social media, I spent a lot of time you know, like many people, but at least I can claim it’s productive. I don’t know if it always is, I just spent a lot of time on social media, paying attention to what actual people are doing. I see. 

And that really shows a lot. It’s not doesn’t need to be summed up in an Adweek article for it to be a valid trend or way people use TikTok versus Instagram versus Pinterest. But seeing how real people that you can reach are actually using these apps and unique ways, what kinds of content how are they expressing? Are they sharing what kind of content they sharing? How are they expressing different viewpoints using these one service versus the other? That’s particularly illuminating. 

I think I learned a ton a ton of ton of ton. I know I’ve mentioned and you mentioned a bunch of times TikTok has been a fantastic over the last year plus time to watch what’s happening there. Because it’s newer, it’s wildly popular. It’s growing very quickly. It’s something we’re familiar with, but it’s has a lot of distinct features and use cases. That’s a prime example of like a space that I’m paying a lot of attention to and just learning from as as I go as well. 

So long answer to your question is doing everything I can to keep learning. Yeah, it’s how you stay competitive. And most of all, I take all that information in and try to come up with my own perspective. On how to use marketing effectively, sometimes it’s similar other sometimes it’s different. But I think that’s one thing that helps me stand out.

 

Kenny Soto  30:09  

Perfect. And if anyone wanted to connect with you online, where could they find you?

 

Brian Honigman  30:17  

Yeah, just reach me at Brianhonigman.com. I have lots of podcasts I’ve participated in, I have over 800 articles that I’ve written for over the years, all listed on my website, from everything from marketing, to career development to social media. So definitely check that out. And you can sign up for my email newsletter at Brianhaim.com as well.

 

Kenny Soto  30:43  

Perfect. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. Thank you to the listener, and we hope that from listening to this, you got some good actionable advice. And hopefully one of you if not, many of you are going to start considering the route of a consultant. Again, my name is Kenny Soto. This is Kenny Sotos Digital Marketing podcast and I hope you have a great week.

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