Social media can do just about everything today, from distributing petitions to automatically alerting beach-goers of approaching sharks. But those might not be what you need it for. You might want social media to help you build a successful freelance career.
Here are 11 shark-free ways you can harness the power of social media to do just that.
1. Attract Leads
Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat, since it is the first thing anybody thinks of when talking about social media and business. Yes, you can attract leads. If you are active on any social media platform, that in itself could catch the attention of a potential customer.
Obviously, some social media content will more likely lead to attracting customers than others. For starters, your content should mostly be on-topic to whatever you do. If you are a designer, post lots of design-related topics. Make sure to include anything that will make you look impressive, but be very careful about how you present yourself. Social media is not the place for a hard sell. Be a resource to people, be a source of information, but don’t be a sales person.
Just as important to what you post is who follows you…which for the most part means whom you follow, since so much of social media is about reciprocal following. Know your target market and make them your main audience.
2. Look Over Your Shoulder (to attract leads)
LinkedIn offers a really useful tool to see who has viewed your profile, which you can view when logged in. Here is what it looks like:
Below this aggregate data are the profile pics of the people who have viewed your profile. If you use the free version of LinkedIn, you will see just a few. I see five people as I write this, including one who is anonymous. But, as you can see here, upgrading to the paid version (oh, it is tempting to upgrade, isn’t it?) lets you know exactly who has been viewing your profile:
This gives you the opportunity to follow up directly with them and see if they might have been viewing your profile with contracting services in mind.
LinkedIn even sends out handy emails to prompt you to go fetch more customers.
On Twitter, you can easily see who has most recently begun following you. Plenty of them are just following to expand their network, without really caring too much about relevance. That’s OK, because a bigger network means a bigger net for you, which can be useful in all kinds of ways. But for our purposes, go to your followers URL, which should look something like this: https://twitter.com/amabaie/followers. This is a list of followers from most recent to oldest. Here is what it looks like:
Each profile summary shows enough to know if that person is someone you might want to follow, or if maybe it is someone you might want to DM (direct message) to see if they might be a possible customer. Be careful, though. A sales pitch is probably not a good idea, as this is “social” media. Much better is simply a “Hi. Let me know if I can help you.” message. Or a “Hi. What’s your latest project?” message.
Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t just send out the same automated DM to all new followers.
SFX: machine guns, screams and screeching, crashing, machine guns play through, bomb explosion
3. Become A Subcontractor
Unlike some of those more competitive sectors, such as financial services or eCommerce, freelancing is a cooperative venture. Other freelancers are to a small degree competitors, but to a much greater degree, collaborators. As the Due Freelancing guide states,
Freelancing isn’t necessarily like other businesses where there’s always the fear of competition. Freelancing embraces more of a community vibe. And, that’s why you can connect with other freelancers in your field. Not only can you seek their advice, they may throw you a gig here and there when they can’t handle the workload.
Very often, other freelancers cannot handle all their client work.
This might be for a variety of reasons:
- Too many clients place too many demands for work all at once.
- The other freelancer wants to take a vacation.
- Illness or injury might limit the time available for client work.
- A large project might have several components (for instance, a freelance web designer might need a freelance writer and a freelance videographer to complete a client website).
- A project might require multiple players, such as for expanding social media reach on a promotion project or where a larger team is needed to develop an app.
Including competitors in your follower base, as well as symbiotic freelancers is a worthwhile strategy that can lead to some profitable partnerships. Both as a writer and as a promoter on social media, I work with several people who to a great extent do what I do; we work together on a project-by-project basis and our clients all benefit from our collaboration. And if our clients are happy, we are happy.
4. Find Subcontractors
If social media is an amazing way to become a subcontractor to another freelancer, it’s obviously a great place to find subcontractors. Over time, you get to know whom to trust and build relationships with them.
So when your clients need more than you can give them or when you need to take that first vacation you’ve had time for in three years, you can keep your clients happy. And you can take on bigger, multi-faceted projects, secure in the knowledge that you have a trusted team of freelance colleagues you can count on.
5. Prospect Companies Actively Looking
One of the cool things about LinkedIn, is that it is also a jobs marketplace. You might not be looking for a full-time job, but consider this: every company seeking a full-time employee might also have an urgent need for a freelancer to fill in on a project or two while they seek to fill a position.
That’s right, LinkedIn is offering you a list of highly possible clients. Not a bad way to prospect.
6. Keep Clients Close
Are you following all your past clients on social media? Are they following you? Make sure you are and they are. Once upon a time, the only way to keep in touch with client who did not immediately need your services again was to send them annoying reminder letters.
Now, you can stay top-of-mind passively, just by having them follow you. And you can stay top-of mind actively by retweeting their tweets and sharing their blog posts across social media. You can endear yourself to them by liking, commenting and resharing their Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest and LinkedIn updates. You will remain top of mind and be perceived as part of their team.
Remember that it costs less to keep a happy client than to land a brand new one.
Social media is, above all, social. That means that there are plenty of opportunities for commenting on other people’s posts and updates, and plenty of opportunities to build relationships by responding to comments on your posts.
Some platforms have real-time events. Google Plus has hangouts, which are live video chat events. Twitter has Twitter Chats, which as hashtag-based tweet events. I usually try to attend the #MyBlogU chat every week and the #VCbuzz chat whenever I get the chance. A Twitter chat looks like this:
8. Build A Network
If the uses of a network are not already obvious for finding subcontractors and for becoming a subcontractor, consider also the benefit of a network when you have questions you can’t answer. Or when you need a resource that you can’t find through a Google search (Yes, I run into one of those several times per week.).
Your network is also your greatest promotion weapon, as that network can blast the great stuff you’ve created out to their followers on social media, too. A strong network means that you have a team, and you all benefit from each other. A tweet that might reach only 4,381 followers, can reach over a million followers if you have a network to share it for you. That’s the power of social media.
9. Build A Reputation
Social media is also a great way to build a reputation. Sure, you can blog to show your expertise. But with social media, you can amplify the exposure – especially if you have a strong network to share your blog posts with their followers.
It’s also a chance to brag. Don’t overdo the bragging; if much of what you say is boastful, you will lose people. But every now and then, it’s OK to burst with pride, as I did here:
A book writing client of mine just wrote: “I love your style and the angles you come at things to engage the reader.” Yes!
— David Leonhardt (@amabaie) August 16, 2015
The best way to build your reputation is through your profile. Make sure your avatar on each social network portrays you in the light you wish to be perceived. And don’t forget the backgrounds or header images on each social network.
On LinkedIn, you can link to articles you have written elsewhere right in your career profile. Your posts on LinkedIn Pulse will also show up on your profile, so don’t forget to include those. And finally, LinkedIn profiles have a place for endorsements, so you definitely want to seek those from your clients.
On Twitter, you get a paragraph, so make sure that it shows off your best features and links to something that will impress potential clients. You can also pin a tweet to the top of your timeline, so if you have a special offer or something you are really proud to show off, that is a good way to do it. Google Plus offers this same option.
10. Continuing Education
Needless to say, you will want to keep up with the latest developments in your field, as well as understand what your target market is reading. Social media gives you instant access to this information, simply by following accounts that post on these topics.
You could, for instance, make a Twitter list with the top 25 publications you want to follow to keep up on what is going on in the world of publishing. That way, you could skim the headlines every day, then scan the articles that you want to read in more detail. Or you could have their posts automatically come to your email in-basket using an IFTTT recipe…but that could be a lot emails if those accounts tweet a lot.
But continuing education is not just about updates in your field. It is also about keeping track of the competition. Yes, your competitors and collaborators are constantly innovating. Social media is a great way to keep track of what others are doing so that you can keep up and get ahead of the game.
You can also check who their followers are. It might give you ideas of markets you haven’t tapped…and it might give you ideas of whom you should be following, too. (hint, hint)
Is there anything social media can’t do? Apparently, it can feed your dog. And if it can do that, surely it can help you build your freelancer career. Just figure out what audience you want to target for clients and for collaborators, set up your profiles and follow these 11 steps, and you’ll be on your way.
[Main image: Flickr, Virtualwolf, Creative Commons Licence]