Social media is a great way to connect with new people, including potential freelance clients. Having a presence on one of the hugely trafficked social-media platforms can also help your own freelancer website rank better in search and help you get found by prospects.
But here's the problem: You're not supposed to be salesy on social media. It's supposed to be mostly a place to hang out and socialize.
As a result, it takes a little finesse to use social media for prospecting, since messages like "Got any design work for me?" tend to get you unfollowed, disconnected and/or blocked, depending on the platform.
Also, each social-media platform has its own flavor and etiquette. It's hard to make time to figure them all out and use your time on them productively...without becoming distracted and ending up playing Mafia Wars or forwarding funny YouTube video links. But if you focus on specific marketing and network-building activities, social media can be well worth your time investment.
If you think it's all a waste of time, let me report that I've gotten several high-caliber clients off LinkedIn and Twitter that booked tens of thousands of dollars of work with me in the past couple of years. Full disclosure: The collection of tips below represent my personal take on what I'm seeing out there that's really working for freelancers in social media.
Besides having social buttons on your own blog and hoping to heck someone retweets your stuff and a prospect sees it, how can social media help you find clients?
If you've only got a sec, the short version is: Connect with and then help others, and they will help you.
Want more? Here are 15 specific social-media marketing techniques new freelancers can use:
1. Guest post on big blogs. This is the mother of all social-media promotion strategies. You want to appear on the most prominent, highly trafficked blogs you can.This puts you in front of millions of viewers and can get you exposure across many social-media platforms...which greatly ups your odds that a prospect might notice you.
If you follow the guidelines, you’d be surprised at the popular blogs you could guest for, even if your own blog is brand new.
If you follow the guidelines, you'd be surprised at the popular blogs you could guest for, even if your own blog is brand new. Any site that posts its guidelines is wide open.
Also, just the fact that you've got it together to write for a big blog -- even if it was a free guest post -- impresses many prospects. I know quite a few writers who get all their clients from their guest-post exposure, and for a while I got a steady stream of small-business clients from one major blog I contributed to regularly.
LinkedIn is like no other social-media channel in that it is focused on business, rather than chatting about what happened on The Walking Dead this week or whatever. You can do more proactive marketing of your freelance business here, without pissing people off, than on any other platform.
If you only get into one form of social media, make it this one. My LinkedIn tips:
2. Set it up to get found. Many quality companies use LinkedIn like the freelancer phone book, meaning they do searches within LinkedIn for services they need. That's why Job One on here is to completely fill out your bio and stuff it with keywords.
For instance, where most people's top bio line has one or two identifying words, my LinkedIn profile says, "Freelance writer, copywriter, journalist, blogger, and writing mentor" -- all key search terms prospects can now use to find me on LI. You can also up your search juice on here by listing your skills and getting recommendations from your clients.
3. Status updates. Another thrill of LinkedIn is nobody expects you to spend hours a week on here. If you come on once a week and update your status and maybe comment in a couple groups (more on that later), you're good.
One way I use my status to remind people I'm a freelance writer -- without overtly begging for work -- is to post about needs I have for sources. "Looking for a company that recently got business interruption insurance to interview for an upcoming article," was one recent update, for instance.
You can also post about collaboration partners you're looking for, or about finishing a recent project, or ask for help connecting with a prospect you'd like to meet. People love to help out with that last one.
4. Who's Viewed My Profile. A cool feature of LinkedIn is that one sidebar widget shows who has been looking at your profile. If you're on the free level some of this information is hidden, but not all. I've used Who's Viewed My Profile to identify prospects I then reached out to on LinkedIn's internal email system known as InMail, with a quick message like this:
Subject line: Were you looking for a freelance writer?
Hi -- I saw you were checking out my profile. If you're looking for a writer, I have experience in [your industry]. Happy to send you some samples or hear more about your needs.
Let me know if I can help!
By the way, that 'experience' might be that you once worked in a bank and it's a financial-services company. You'll be surprised how little knowledge will set you apart and make you seem like an expert to a client.
Besides InMailing people who've been viewing your profile, you can take InMail further:
5. Direct prospecting via InMail. If you pay for premium membership, you can send all the InMails you want monthly, even to people you aren't connected to and who haven't viewed your profile. This allows you to simply research companies you wish to freelance for, find likely decision-makers, and pitch them right inside LinkedIn.
LinkedIn reports InMail gets a 30 percent response rate -- which in the world of direct mail is ah-mazing. There's a novelty factor with this form of communication right now, so take advantage of it. (Even at the free level, you can send three InMails a month.)
6. Check the full-time job ads. LinkedIn's job ads are a gold mine, because the companies have to pay to place them on the platform. That immediately qualifies this as a quality prospect group.
It often takes companies many months to replace a full-time designer, writer, or photographer. Meanwhile, they need to freelance out the work left by the departing creative person. They may well also have ongoing freelance needs -- and if they like you, they'll keep using you after that staff hire is made.
7. Job leads within groups. LinkedIn has scads of interest groups for freelancers that you can join. Some groups have job boards, and sometimes referrals will also come up in the course of a discussion. Some groups such as Writeful Share for freelance writers are entirely dedicated to sharing job leads.
I know what you're thinking: "It's only 140 characters! How can I possibly pitch a prospect on here?"
While it's hard to make an elaborate pitch on Twitter, you can discover and get to know editors and marketing managers on here through keyword searches, following relevant industry hashtags, and by starting to build relationships. (If you're looking for editors or journalists you might know who could refer you, try MuckRack.) If something develops, you can always take it further on email or the phone later to land the actual gig.
Here's how I've used Twitter to connect with editors:
8. Find and follow prospects. Once you've found a possible client, follow them. Retweet and respond to their stuff (but not constantly or in a stalker-ish way).
Go comment on their blog, if they have one. This is step one in preparing to ask them a work-related question.
9. Ask easy questions. Once you think they may have a dim sense who you are, ask a question that is easy for them to answer, such as "Are you the right editor to pitch an X topic story for X magazine?" or "Are you the marketing manager who works with freelancers at X company?"
Twitter has a freewheeling, open-minded culture where people from all strata of success mix and mingle easily.
Twitter has a freewheeling, open-minded culture where people from all strata of success mix and mingle easily. You might get a response on here where a formal query letter or emailed letter of introduction might be ignored.
10. Find collaborators. Even better than trolling for prospects, Twitter is a great place to find partners for projects. Follow others in related niches and you might find a graphic designer for your novel, or a writer for your photographer's website. Agree to recommend and refer each other clients, and you've just grown your marketing team.
Facebook is notoriously social and tough to do business on if you're not a major corporation with a big ad budget...but there are a couple of useful ways to find clients through this platform:
11. Do prospect research. If you have a particular type of business you frequently target as a client, you can use Facebook to search for businesses of that type. Check out their Facebook presence and see if it's looking pro. From there, take a look at their website. Spotting substandard online marketing gives you an easy angle for pitching companies that they need your services.
12. Have your own business page. Most freelancers don't have a Facebook business page -- which means you can stand out by being the only freelancer in town that has one. (For extra marketing boost, offer some authority-building free product full of links to your website to visitors who 'like' your page.)
For instance, I did a quick search for "Freelance graphic designer" on Facebook recently, and discovered the most popular site -- the top result -- has only 3,500 fans. Four of the top sites are based in Third World countries.
Put up a page in this niche and it's going to be pretty easy to start ranking well and getting found on searches inside Facebook. And if you're a freelancer who'd like to manage social media or create Facebook pages for clients, creating your own page is mandatory.
YouTube is a great place to put up a visual portfolio or some short how-to videos that might help your prospects.
13. Build authority with videos. This one's tough for writers, but if you're a visual artist of any kind, YouTube is a great place to put up a visual portfolio or some short how-to videos that might help your prospects. Offer a few business writing or newsletter design tips, with an offer of help if they need it.
Remember, this is the third most-popular site on the Internet. It can pay to have a presence here.
14. Go friend-surfing. Giving full credit, I learned this technique for identifying prospects on Google+ from Chris Brogan. As you start adding people to your circles, you should then go check out who is in their circles.
If you find interesting prospects, start commenting on and sharing their stuff. Then if they check you out, they'll see you have a friend in common and you'll seem like less of a stalker. You can also identify people by topics of interest through the site Find People on Plus.
Your local social-media platform
15. Market to local prospects. All the action isn't on the giant, brand-name social media platforms. In many cities and towns, there are exclusively local social-media platforms that are the go-to grapevine for what's happening -- and for where to shop for products and services. Since most new freelancers start with local clients, this can be a great place to get started in social media.
Maybe it's a Yahoo! or BigTent group, or even a simple email listserv. But whatever form it takes, local chat boards are worth checking out.
On the local community chat board I belong to in my small town, it is forbidden to say anything negative about a local company on the board. No one can trash you! It's a dream environment for freelance marketing, and there's even a channel expressly for promoting your business -- and one for patrons to rave about you.
I see freelancers of all stripes on my local list make special offers, donate their services to charities, and generally put their name around town. Winning strategies here also include offering a referral bonus. Leverage your local friends and neighbors who like you personally. They'll probably be happy to help you out.
It takes a little sleuthing to discover your local social-media hub, but it can be well worth the time. Hint: Call your local Chamber of Commerce or ask other local solopreneurs.
Have you gotten clients on social media? Leave a comment and tell us where you're getting results.