Side Hustle Stories: Why a web advertising consultant left Google to start freelancing

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Kristina Cutura

Kristina freelances in web advertising.

This article is part of the Side Hustle Stories.

Welcome to another edition of Passive Panda’s Side Hustle Stories.

This time we have Kristina Cutura, a freelance online advertising consultant.

I love this story not only because Kristina specifically lays out every step you need to take to become a freelance advertising consultant, but also because it’s an example of how you can use the skills from your day job to start something on the side.

Kristina worked at Google before she started freelancing, but this isn’t a story about how you need to work at a prestigious company to make money on the side.

It’s a story about how you can use the skills you already have to start a side hustle that earns you great money.

Here’s what Kristina had to say about her freelance work and how you can start doing something similar.

The back story (in her own words)

I originally intended to go to graduate school but decided to take a year off first, and ended up at Google, which I initially saw as a temporary position before I decided what graduate program to move on to.

I ended up staying for six and half years. This was my first job out of college and working for such a great company made it incredibly difficult to leave.

Years later, I realized that an office career was not really what I dreamed of, and two years ago, I finally made the difficult decision to leave.

Working for another company was not an option, and I knew I would have to figure out a more flexible way to make money.

Now, I help businesses manage their online advertising efforts with the goal of increasing website traffic and improving overall return-on-investment.

I focus on pay-per-click programs that the major search engines like Google (AdWords), MSN and Yahoo (adCenter) provide to advertisers to help them reach qualified traffic.

What she gets paid

I typically charge anywhere between $50-$100 per hour, depending on the scope and difficulty of the project.

If I am working on a project with an ongoing client whose business and objectives I am already highly familiar with, I charge less than a new client, whose industry and goals I have yet to learn about.

I charge a flat fee for most of the projects I work on, providing a quote to client prior to start of the project. This quote is based on the amount of work that I anticipate the project will take me to complete as well as the difficulty level.

How she landed her first client

I decided the best way to initially get clients was through what I knew best — Google AdWords.

I created my own website called Kristina Cutura and set up my own marketing campaign through AdWords, and soon enough, potential clients were getting in touch with me.

Initially, I took on all the work that I could, until I established a client base and fine-tuned my process.

There were a lot of growing pains in the early days. I had to learn who my ideal client was and what types of clients to avoid.

After some time, I realized that I had a choice of who I wanted to work with, and that sometimes saying no could save me time and countless headaches.

Her lifestyle

Now, after consulting for almost two years, I no longer need to advertise, and clients usually find me through word-of-mouth or through organic search.

I have a steady list of clients who I work with on an ongoing basis, and others, who need help with one time projects.

All of my contracts are month-to-month, which gives both me and my clients flexibility and allows us both to re-evaluate our relationship and business goals, as necessary. This gives me steady work but also some flexibility in my schedule.

In my free time, I like to take my dog for a walk. I also often go on day trips and mini-vacations. I can do my work from anywhere that I have Internet access, so that’s huge perk for me.

One of my biggest challenges is the lack of collaboration and face time with colleagues, which I used to get plenty of at Google. I talk to my clients, and we collaborate on their campaigns, but I still miss brainstorming with teammates and those ideas that often come from a simple lunch or hallway conversation.

As my business grew, I considered hiring another expert to help with my growing client base. Eventually, I realized that was against the spirit of my original intent of leaving Google, which was to work less and spend more time enjoying life.

So instead, I am being more selective with incoming clients, which often means refusing work. It’s sometimes painful, but I realize it’s best for my well being as well as the clients who I do commit to working with.

How you can become an online advertising consultant

You can develop a basic knowledge of online advertising pretty quickly.

It would be difficult to learn about pay-per-click programs in only one week, but one month is reasonable. Here is my recommended learning path for someone that wants to start doing this:

Learning about pay-per-click and AdWords

  • Start by getting up to speed on Google AdWords first. This is the pay-per-click program that brings in the majority of web traffic for all clients and will have the most impact for your clients. AdWords is also the most robust platform and other pay-per-click programs follow many of the same principles.
  • Learn about AdWords by reading the AdWords Learning Center
  • Start with lessons that fall into the “Fundamentals” category
  • Once you understand the fundamentals, create a test AdWords account to play around with and further cement the concepts you learned about. Create an advertising campaign for yourself or a friend’s website and become familiar with the interface.
  • Once you’ve created an AdWords account and better understand the AdWords interface and campaign settings, move on to the more advances lessons in the learning center.

Become AdWords Certified

  • Once you complete all the lessons and are comfortable with AdWords, take the AdWords certification exam
  • Join AdWords Certification Program here (It costs $50 USD to take the Fundamentals exam)

Attracting Clients

  • Once you become AdWords certified, you will be able to list your name as a certified professional and potential customers will be able to search for you in Google’s database of certified partners.
  • You may also want to create a website to to tell potential clients more about yourself and your services. When I started, I advertised my website and I got all of my initial customers through my AdWords campaign.
  • You may also want to bid on pay-per-click projects listed on Elance. Companies and individuals list projects they need help with and you can submit your bid along with a quote for your services.

How to work with your clients

Clients usually find me first and typically contact me via email.

As a first step, I try to establish rapport with potential clients by learning more about their business and goals. I schedule time to speak to each client over the phone, if possible, before making any specific recommendations.

Here’s an example of the email I usually send them after they contact me.

Hello ___,

Thank you for your interest in my services. I’d like to schedule a call with you to discuss your AdWords needs and goals and answer any questions you might have for me. I am available on Tuesday between 11am – 1pm PST and 3pm – 6pm. Please let me if the proposed time slots work for you, or feel free to suggest alternate days and times that you are available.



On our call, I like to get a better idea of what the client’s needs are. A typical conversation might go as follows…

Hello ___. This is Kristina calling from AdWordsCafe. How are you? Is still still a good time to talk?

I’d like to get a sense of your advertising needs and learn more about your efforts with Google AdWords so far. It looks like you already have an AdWords account.

How long have you been advertising with AdWords and can you tell me more about the types of results you’ve seen from it?

Why are you reaching out for help with your account now and what have been some challenges you’ve experienced advertising with pay-per-click programs?

What are you advertising goals? (examples: more sales, leads, better click-through rates, more qualified visitors, lower spend, etc.)

What businesses do you consider your main competitors and what makes you stand apart?

Now that I understand your business, I’d like to tell you more about my background and answer any questions you might have for me. (I generally talk about my experience at Google and the work I’ve been doing managing clients on my own for the past couple of years. I elaborate on my different packages, pricing and opportunities for working together. Pricing is usually based on the amount of work I think it will take me to take the account to the next level and help reach a client’s stated goals.)

As a next step, I’d like to review your current campaigns and analyze areas of improvement, keeping in mind your goals. I will provide a written analysis and a summary of recommendations based on my findings. This process typically takes me 2 business days. Is there anything else you’d like me to keep in mind as I review your account?

Once I have your analysis ready, I’ll reach out to you to schedule additional time to discuss my findings and explain my recommendations. Thanks for your time and you’ll be hearing from me within a couple of days.

The conversation will of course vary based on the client’s responses, but I usually ask a combination of what I have listed above.

Once I understand more about the client’s needs, I will review their website and /or their current AdWords account, their competitors, and then I analyze opportunities and areas of improvement. I provide a written analysis, summarizing my findings to each client, along with a quote for my services.

My main goal is to get the following information:

  • Experience with AdWords
  • Pay-per-click advertising challenges
  • Advertising goals
  • Spend goals
  • Conversion goals
  • Their top competitors
  • Competitive advantages
  • What is the client looking to get out of this relationship

For ongoing clients, I provide weekly reports detailing the campaign performance and website behavior. Here is a sample report that is similar to what I give my clients.

(Editor’s Note: Take note of what Kristina is doing throughout this process because it’s brilliant. When you’re lucky enough to have a client that you enjoy working with — especially a long-term client — you should do everything you can to make their life easy. Sending them a weekly report, even if they never ask for it, is a great way to do this. Furthermore, Kristina is extremely detailed and clear about what she provides from the very beginning. This level of detail and professionalism makes it easy for clients to trust her and buy her services. If you do the same thing, your clients will love you for it.)

Want to learn more?

Thanks so much to Kristina for her detailed answers!

Every step is clearly laid out for you to become a web advertising consultant. All that is left is taking some action on your end.

If you’re ready to get even more freelancing tips as well as special information about building your network and business relationships so that you can earn even more, then join the Passive Panda’s Free Newsletter.

What other types of freelancers would you love to hear from? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

10 Responses to Side Hustle Stories: Why a web advertising consultant left Google to start freelancing

  1. eemusings says:

    Very comprehensive! I’m really liking this series so far.

  2. Jon says:

    Kristina and James,

    Thanks so much for this insight to AdWords and the resources listed for becoming AdWords Certified. That is certainly a worthy feather to tuck in our marketing hats.

    James I’m enjoying your side hustle stories, man, keep them coming!


  3. Bryan says:

    Excellent post! very actionable information.

    I wouldn’t mind hearing from an SEO freelancer. Thanks!


  4. Bruce says:

    This post is exactly the sort of inspiration I was looking for. I appreciate that you combined Kristina’s story with specific lessons (e.g. here is how to get certified in AdWords). The details on managing clients – how to spell out the process, determining when to turn away clients – is great too.

    Please keep up with these great interviews! I’m going to read the SEO freelancer interview next. :-)

  5. Rahul says:

    The best way to know how much to pay an advertising consultant is trusting the market and looking for somebody who is on the cheap side of the average rate, but within reason, to maximise your investment or invest in quality and hiring somebody slightly more expensive but that can guarantee better results. Is a conservative approach, but it’s the one most likely to provide you with an adequate ROI in your advertising efforts and the less number of headaches.

  6. Romain says:

    James, if you read this comment, I have a question :
    If the customer asks for a proof of how many hours you worked on his project, is there some software that you can use to record these hours and show it to them ?

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