We’ve all heard how freelancers and solopreneurs are using social media to market their businesses. If you’ve already delved into blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms, you’ll appreciate how much time and effort these tools can suck out of your day.
Given that none of us have endless hours to dedicate to social media marketing, what are the best and most effective strategies, methods and techniques for landing new clients through social media?
To find out, I invited successful self-employed professionals to share how they’ve used social media to land freelance work. An important pattern quickly emerged: You have to be creative and strategic with these tools. An automated, autopilot approach is not going to get you far.
What follows is a summary of the best tips I received.
#1: Participate Strategically in LinkedIn Groups
One of the key questions I’m repeatedly asked is this: “Can LinkedIn really increase sales?” To find out, in 2013 Ardath Albee and I surveyed 3,094 sellers to find out how they were using LinkedIn to create new business opportunities. This group included entrepreneurs, self-employed professionals, sales managers, consultants and service providers.
We found that one thing distinguishing top sellers from the rest of the pack was participation in LinkedIn groups. In fact, our research found that over 50% of the top sellers belonged to 30 or more groups.
We also found that top sellers more frequently ask and respond to questions, share resources and start conversations in groups.
And, if you measure only for active participation, 18.7% of top sellers frequently contribute to groups while only 2.9% of their counterparts are actively engaged. In fact, 44.8% of non-top sellers simply observe or lurk while 14.4% of them never engage in groups—even if they belong to them.
Top sellers know the attractive power of being seen as a thought leader in their market space. They use status updates and group interactions to showcase personal expertise and share relevant content. They think strategically about group membership and engagement. Specifically, they:
- Join groups as a way to start conversations with people who could benefit from their product/service.
- Review targeted prospect’s profiles to discover which groups they participate in.
- Analyze prospects’ group participation to look for ways to connect.
- Provide value by contributing to relevant discussions without expecting immediate returns.
- “Follow” prospects to keep abreast of changes, comments and updates. (Note: In groups, “follow” allows you to get people’s updates without being connected.)
In short, groups gave them another way to learn more about their prospects, build awareness and initiate online conversations. When potential opportunities arose, they’d already earned the trust and credibility needed to move conversations to the logical next step, which might be an email, phone call, online meeting or in-person conversation.
#2: Be a Resource, Not a Sales Pitch
People rarely do business with someone they don't know, like or trust. Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are great places to lay that groundwork. It's all about relationships, so building and nurturing those
relationships is vital to your business.
My strategy: Be a resource, not a sales pitch. Never connect because of what you can get. Connect because of what you can give. Go out of your way to be helpful. Build your reputation by being a resource.
Of course you could use your website to do that, but a website is static. You’re doing all the talking. Social media is great because you can engage in conversations.
I'm a voice-over professional. My European accent isn't always what a client’s looking for. If I'm not right for the job, I always recommend a few colleagues who are. Even though I don't make a sale that day, I'm saving a client time, and I'm helping fellow voice actors.
Quite often, this good turn comes back to me. Clients who were happy with my recommendation will return to me for their next project. Colleagues start referring me to their contacts. Today, thirty percent of my business is based on those referrals.
Paul Strikwerda, voice-over pro at Nethervoice.
#3: Demonstrate What You Do
I’ve found that Twitter is an excellent platform for reaching out to new contacts. My method is to "illustrate a tweet" almost every weekday from someone I follow. This started as a daily creative exercise, but it soon proved valuable as a marketing and branding tool.
I draw all kinds of tweets for all kinds of people. Keeping the process spontaneous is a great joy to me, but I also keep an eye out for opportunities to find new clients.
For me, the right prospect is someone who has a strong personal brand that hasn't been articulated visually. When I see an absence of graphics, illustrations and visual branding on a business website, I know I can help.
I follow people I'd like to work with as well as people who interest me and make me laugh. I usually follow people, not businesses, and a personalized profile with a photo (instead of a logo) with tweets on personal thoughts as well as professional work is a big plus in my book. It’s reassuring to know to whom I’m talking before I start a conversation.
From this pool of people I look for something inspiring to draw, and then surprise someone with artwork tailored to their tweet. It's a very personal introduction — often including their likeness in the illustration itself — and it gets people's attention.
Many times I will get a thank you. Sometimes the recipient shares my work with their followers by re-tweeting it. Sometimes the work generates a conversation. Overall, I rely on social media as an instant communication tool to demonstrate what I do in a relevant way.
There are times when my work isn't seen or acknowledged at all, which isn’t uncommon for tweets (especially if the person isn’t following you). It would be easy to get discouraged if I relied too heavily on this tactic to generate business. Instead I recognize other benefits of the process, such as establishing my style, building my portfolio, expanding my network and growing an engaged audience.
David Michael Moore, graphic designer and illustrator.
#4: Tap Your Personal Network
A couple of old friends I reconnected with through Facebook went on to complementary careers. One is a marketer and another is a programmer. They’ve both sent significant amounts of work my way.
And because I had connected with a programmer, I was able to land a couple of big accounts involving complex web projects. These two connections have brought me between $20,000 and $25,000.
The lesson: Don't be shy about telling your friends, relatives and colleagues what you're doing. Share your work and whom you serve on Facebook and other social networks.
Lynda Stewart, independent designer at Stewart Creative.
#5: Use A “Lead Lighthouse” to Land New Clients
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could always sell to the same people? We’d only have to convince a handful of clients that we’ve got the solution to their business woes. The money would never stop rolling in.
Unfortunately that’s the stuff of fairy tales. Just about every business needs new clients alongside the faithful oldies. So how can you bring in new leads every week?
The answer is to create a lead “lighthouse.” I’m talking about a piece of content that shines day and night and consistently brings in new leads.
Let me give you an example. At LKR we recently created a Google Analytics cheat sheet. To be honest, we first developed it to help our team figure out what was working for our business. We pinpointed the five most important metrics for us, added solid explanations and then turned it into a PDF file we could share with other small business owners.
Distributing your lead lighthouse is a great way to bring in leads. We built a simple WordPress landing page with an email opt-in for visitors to get their hands on the cheat sheet.
Once we have their email address, we plug them into a pre-determined follow-up email sequence. We send them a copy of the cheat sheet but also give them a chance to subscribe to our general newsletter, The Dash.
We also periodically send out information about our paid and free products. As a result, we often convert people who just started out needing help with analytics.
The lead lighthouse can work for you too, as long as you publicize it. Plug the link into Hootsuite and share it on Facebook and Twitter over several months (yes, months). Trust me, no one will notice the repeated link as long as you vary the language of the message.
Remember, not all of your followers and fans are on your mailing list, so use social media to build up your list and land more clients!
Laura Roeder, founder of LKR Social Media.
#6: Share Ideas on Twitter
In February 2010, I started implementing my marketing plan on Twitter — a daily post on the topic of how a virtual assistant can help your business, with a link to my site and blog.
In the very first week my efforts paid off: I landed my biggest client to date. This led to three years of steady work and referrals to other clients.
It all started when Pete Savage (@PeteSavage), co-author of The Wealthy Freelancer, saw one of my tweets. He checked out my site and sent me a direct message. I ended up connecting with Pete and Ed Gandia, and I started as their part-time virtual assistant two weeks later. Now, I work exclusively with Ed at International Freelancers Academy. Definitely a tweet that paid off!
I've landed two other clients through Twitter using the same technique over the past three years, so I know this wasn't a fluke. As a marketing strategy, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Crystal Coleman, chief happiness officer at International Freelancers Academy, and founder of Solo Solutions.
#7: Get the Most From Your Facebook Page
I’ve been growing a freelance copy editing business on the side since October 2012. I toyed with creating a website but then realized a Facebook business page would be easier to share and more fun (and free!). It would also provide all the functionality I need.
Through my Facebook business page, I’ve turned many friends into clients. I shared the new page on my personal page, and my Facebook friends came out of the woodwork asking for help.
I think an important part of using your own social network to market is to be respectful in your approach. I didn’t blast my page every day. I didn’t beg/demand/manipulate anyone to “Like” my page.
I simply posted it and asked my friends to “Like” it if they were interested in copy editing services or keeping up with my pursuits. I privately messaged it to people I thought would be particularly interested (and who may have missed the original post).
To make the page more engaging and provide value to my followers, I post helpful, short and easy-to-use writing tips about once a week. I also share some of my business knowledge (as an IT Consultant).
Jacki Flynn, freelance copy editor at Copy Editing by Jacki.
#8: Share Your Work
The best advice I can give freelancers, especially creative ones, is to openly share and talk about your work. When I’m developing work for a client, I’ll share
sketches and pre-production work (with permission) with my followers so they can watch it develop. Clients like it because they can share my updates with
their colleagues (which can lead to new referrals).
I share my art publicly on Facebook and Twitter and my Behance portfolio on LinkedIn. I also use Pinterest, YouTube and About.me to showcase my animation work. I’ve gotten big contracts from people simply researching freelancers for their business needs. They see my work, send me a tweet or direct message and it develops from there.
I’ve also gained freelance employment at several animation studios across the East Coast, including Primal Screen, Terminus Media and Spark-Flow Studios, by sharing my demo reel and work on Facebook.
It’s important to build an open dialogue and express your passion in your posts. When your professional friends need your services, they’ll already know you and your work.
Lamont Wayne, a Virginia-based freelance animator, creates animated videos for businesses.
#9: Find the Gaps
You can hang out on social media, make yourself useful, share free advice and make friends with all sorts of great folk. And you might just land work from those friendships.
But to quote Kevin O'Leary, we're not here to make friends. We're here to make money.
That's a fact that most freelancers often forget. You can have the largest network of connections and buddies in the world, but if it's not doing anything to help you pay the bills, what's the point? Popular doesn't beget wealth — at least, not the way we'd like to hope it does.
Sure, it helps... but there's a lot more you can do with social media to get gigs coming your way much faster.
Here's one tactic: learn about the people who connect with you and follow you. Check them out. Visit their website. Have a look at what they do. Take a gander at their copy (if you're a writer) or their website design (if you're a designer) or their marketing strategies (if marketing's your thing)... and figure out what these people don't have right now.
Know what they need.
Everyone, every business, has a hole that needs stitching up — and with your needle-sharp skills, you can offer to patch it up fast.
Of course, don't email people a cold-call pitch. That can work, and it's better than doing nothing, but it's smarter to just get in touch with these people and say hi, nice work, and you appreciate this or that.
Maybe they had a great blog post you enjoyed, or maybe they were recently mentioned in a magazine you read. Maybe you like how they lay out their services or appreciate their style of business.
Tell them. Compliment them. Show you noticed them and liked what they did. Flattery gets you everywhere.
Well, okay, so do persistence and hard work. So stay in touch with these people—every now and then, hop back on their radar with a friendly little note. Nurture the relationship without asking for anything in return. Help these people get to know you as someone smart, kind and helpful.
Then pitch them. They'll be more open to your suggestion that hey, maybe their home page copy could use an overhaul and you're the perfect person for the job. They know you now and think well of you. You just might get the gig, with their thanks for being so proactive about their business.
And besides, you have nothing to lose. Right?
They might say no, of course. That's always possible, but nothing tried, nothing gained. At worst, you've made a new relationship connection... and this person might refer you to someone else.
Win-win-win. Don't you think?
James Chartrand, founder of Damn Fine Words.
#10: Use Twitter to Develop Relationships
I routinely land work via Twitter. I don't search for any keywords or actively look for work (though that works too). For me, it's a mix of following small businesses and the people employed by them.
I also engage in conversations, share relevant content, routinely tweet about being a freelance writer and my work and answer as many questions as I can.
A lot of times, I get clients through my followers. They know someone looking for a writer and tag me in their tweet. It's not an avenue of work I depend solely on or actively seek, but a big
percentage of my work inquiries come through Twitter.
Interestingly, I get clients through guest posting or staff blogging too. I'm a regular contributor to a Technorati 100 blog and every time a post of mine goes up, I get work inquiries.
Samar Owais, a Dubai-based freelance writer.
#11: Give Away Awesome Content
Post awesome content on your blog that helps your audience solve a problem.
Even though this feels counter-intuitive because you’re "giving away" great advice you might otherwise charge for, this tip has helped bring amazing clients to my virtual doorstep.
Not only does it help you come up in the search engines by adding keywords to your blog, but your great content also gets shared by others.
Many people look for great content to share, and when they share your content with their networks, they’re doing your marketing for you. Sure, some people will go off and "do it on their own," but many people will ask you for help because they know you’re an expert.
Make sure your awesome content is easy to share on social media. You can easily add share buttons to your content by using a WordPress plugin, such as DiggDigg (which is what I use, see image below) or Shareaholic.
#12: Craft a Powerful Title for Your LinkedIn Profile
Recently, Karen McElmoyle, a Charlotte, NC-based designer who specializes in law firms, was awarded a $10,000+ web design project from a law firm that found her on LinkedIn — all because of her title, that tiny line under her name.
Her LinkedIn title reads, “Helping Law Firms & Financial Services Companies Elevate Their Brand & Bottom Line.”
These lawyers didn’t search Google for a local web designer. Like many professionals these days, they used LinkedIn as a search engine. And they chose someone who understands their business, rather than a generalist.
Because Karen positioned herself well, her expertise was communicated clearly in her title and even more thoroughly in her profile.
If her title had been generic, such as “Owner of KM Design,” or worse, “Graphic Designer,” those lawyers wouldn’t have seen her profile, much less chosen her.
That’s one reason why that tiny one-liner is the most important element in your profile.
Here’s another: Unless someone clicks on your full profile, your name and title are the only things visible on LinkedIn lists, such as the list of "People Also Viewed" and “People You May Know,” as well as when you accept someone’s invite to connect. So your title had better do a good job of saying what you do.
Ilise Benun, founder of Marketing Mentor, a business coaching program for creative professionals and the co-producer/host of CFC, the Business Conference for the Creatively Self-Employed.
Have You Landed Work Through Social Media?
What about you? Have you found clients through social media? How did you do it?
Share what worked for you in the comments area below.