Opportunities for entrepreneurial spirits, freelancers, and consultants are on the rise. A weaker economy (as we’re experiencing in the US right now) is one reason, but another is the flexibility such employees offer companies who might not have the resources (or want the overhead) related to taking on full time staff for certain roles. And yet, with our attention forever dividing, how can you rise above the fray and be not only seen but selected for the opportunities you seek? Here are some thoughts on the matter.
First: Professionalism, or Not
Before you even start in on this whole thing, determine whether you’re a fun-loving soul, looking to make a few extra bucks on the side, or whether you’re seeking to build a sustainable stream of revenue for you to sustain yourself and possibly a family. If A, skip pretty much everything I’m about to tell you. If B, read on.
Your Blog, Your Storefront
If you’re in the business of delivering a service, such as coding skills, design, marketing expertise, sales, etc, there’s a whole lot of factory work that you do that’s not easily displayed. And yet, you need a storefront to productize what you do (hat tip to my friend, Liz Strauss for talking with me today about her passion for turning what someone does into a product).
Ads, Sidebars, and Widgets
Before we get down to tacks, let’s do some cleaning:
- Kill “random” ads. If you’re a successful freelancer, why are you trying to make beer money with your site?
- Kill random widgets. To simplify, tidy the hell out of your blog so that it looks clean and professional-ish (you can have fun, and be engaging, but consider your buying audience).
- Kill the calendar thingy. NO ONE navigates by it.
- Look for useless widgets. Your “phases of the moon” graphic slows down your blog and diffuses your intent.
- Enable comments and make it as easy as possible.
Now, let’s talk about your blog as your business engine:
- Start writing posts that cover your space and establish yourself as the thought leader, only humble. Be the “thought learner.”
- STOP writing posts that are horribly off-topic, or at least keep it a 10:1 ratio of on- to off-topic.
- Link to other blogs that cover your space as well, and say complimentary things when you can. This is an abundance mentality space. Sure there are plenty of folks who aren’t the best like you, but when you say it, it makes you sound cheap.
- Make sure your passion shows through. That’s what people buy.
- The more you explore NEW ideas in your space, and further, explain right out in the open how people can make money, reduce costs, etc, the more business you’ll bring in.
About and Contact
Make your about page read like a great (somewhat brief) testimonial. People want to know first and foremost what you can do for them. Write it as if the person reading it is asking, “I like Sonia. How do I work with her?”
If you can, include a recent headshot. If you don’t have a great one, buy a throwaway digital camera for $20 and shoot shots of your head until you get a good one. It’s not THAT hard. Don’t do one of those scary Glamour Shots (no offense to the organization) or those grownup versions of school photos with the weird cloud background. Here’s one spot where you can be somewhat creative in what you put up there. Make it somehow reflect what you’re hoping to portray.
Put your CONTACT information everywhere. On the main page. On the About page. On the Contact page. Make it really easy for people to reach you and do business with you.
Promoting Your Blog
Here’s a quick list of ways to get a little more love and attention to your blog:
- Add your blog URL to your signature file for your email.
- Add your blog URL to your LinkedIn profile, your MySpace page, your Facebook profile.
- Use Facebook tools like FlogBlog and Blog Friends and Feed Heads. they all expand your reach.
- Get a Twitter account.
- Get a Flickr account.
- Join a few blog directories (google for these)
- Share links via email with folks.
- Use FeedBurner and put a “subscribe by email” option on your blog.
Community Building: Beyond Your Blog
Get active on other people’s blogs. Build relationships with other people in your space. If you’re a freelance musician, get really active on people’s MySpace pages, their blogs, their fan forums. Be where the people you need to reach are, and then be part of that scene. Some suggestions:
- Twitter – Say what you will, but Twitter is a way to get to know other people (mostly in the tech scene, but you’d be surprised. TONS of knitters on Twitter, for example).
- Ning – There are plenty of groups and shared interests in this white label social network platform, and more and more people using it.
- Facebook – Groups there can be active, and/or can go quiet fairly quickly (my experience, overall).
- Yahoo! Groups – Don’t forget this very 1.0 method of reaching active communities of people.
- UPDATE: Laura and Jeremy said lots of people get a great community– and business! — out of LinkedIn.
Real Time Social Gatherings
Now more than ever, opportunities to meet and connect with people in the real world are important and valuable for your ability to meet and do business with others. You don’t have to go in like oldschool networkers, eager to suck in as many handshakes and business cards as humanly possible in the shortest amount of time, but you SHOULD consider how this will all relate back to your strategy of building business relationships that might result in appropriate work opportunities for you. To that end, some thoughts.
- Conferences are great (I produce them for a living, so of course I’ll say that). Get to know lots of people in a short amount of time, while hopefully being educated on topics that matter to you. Check Upcoming.org and Eventful for lists of conferences that relate to your space.
- Make decent looking business cards. Your hack job Staples photocopy cards are quaint, but immediately tell me that you were unprepared. (I’ve been this guy twice over the last 2 years). And by decent looking, “clever” only seems interesting while I’m shaking your hand. Cards that tell me how to reach you and how you and I might do business are awesome. Provide your cell number, no matter what.
- Write some great blog content the days leading up to an event, so that when people read your business card and see your blog prominently displayed there (you knew that, right?), they’ll check you out and realize you’re the right person to hire for that blog redesign project.
- Go to more than just conferences. Attend social media gatherings, local events, meetups. Don’t be afraid. LOTS of new folks show up. If you can, find a Twitter user or a blogger or someone you can learn about ahead of time. Build the relationship BEFORE you go, and that will help with some of the anxiety.
Rich Media- Video and Audio
If you’ve got the time and inclination, make a podcast or videoblog about the space you’re passionate about. Want to hear a great marketing podcast? Check out Marketing Over Coffee. I’d here those two guys in a heartbeat to train a traditional team to do new stuff. Want to know about a great personal development trainer? I’d check out The Bigg Success Show.
Video? Gary Vaynerchuk is the poster child for demonstrating authenticity while building trust in his personal and business brand. Another great example overall would be what Ben Yoskowitz is doing at Standout Jobs. Learn from that.
Video and audio are great tools to build up an experience with your potential audience. It gives people a sense of how you might be in person. Even though you could edit the hell out of your media such that you’d still show up as polished and professional, it’s one more wall coming down between a “no” and a “yes.”
Some might ask whether this opens people up for potential discrimination. Absolutely. I have no doubt. That was what kept LinkedIn from putting up optional profile pictures for a long while too, but after a while, it’s a question of whether or not you just want to put who you are out there and call it good. That’s your call. My take? They’re going to meet you at some point, right?
Strategy Point: Give to Get
In the world of freelancing, my take is that the best way to build relationships and get more business is to help other people get business. This has nothing to do with social media. It has everything to do with humans. If you’re helpful, and if you’re out there giving people ideas, tools, insights, and passing on connections where you think they’ll do the most good, you’ll likely be in someone’s mind when something good comes along.
Part of this goes into the space of thinking about “free.” Don’t be so eager to get paid for every little thing you do. (Disclaimer: I’m teetering on dirt broke most of the time, so maybe this isn’t sound FINANCIAL advice.) I believe that there are lots of “long tail” opportunities out there. It just becomes your duty to decide which ones are eventually going to pay off, and which ones to stop doing.
So that’s my sermon on free.
Lastly, Ask for the Sale
If you’re not out there LOOKING for customers, don’t moan that you don’t have many. Don’t be overly aggressive and barracuda-like, but by all means, if someone’s courting you a little in the comments section or the email section, ask if there’s something you can help them work on. It’s not rude. It’s not overly aggressive (okay, maybe on first contact, but if you’ve been playing email footsie, then go for it).
If you’re saying you want to use your blog and social media tools to get business, ask for business. I promise, the results will improve on that front the moment you get over that glitch.
If you’re a freelancer hoping to use social media to get work, here’s a quick summary:
- Make your blog your storefront.
- Kill all the extraneous stuff from it.
- Write posts that establish your experience and abilities in the industry.
- Write other posts that promote other people, too.
- Contribute beyond the walls of your blog.
- Attend real time events, too.
- Consider if you want to add audio and video.
- Give to get.
- Ask for the sale.
What else do you successful freelancers ( a strong segment of people who come to my site) want to share with people seeking Starter Moves? What’s your take on this advice? What can YOU do to help freelancers?
The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [chrisbrogan.com] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.
Photo Credit, Thowra_UK