This column was written by Eric Ralph, who has dedicated himself to helping freelancers succeed. He is a former freelancer and now he is president of Milton, which offers the ability to manage contacts, projects, and finances together in one application. Follow him on Twitter @YourMilton.
Social media is growing by leaps and bounds, but it can be difficult to get a handle on it, and how it can really impact your business. Certainly there are a number of reasons to be active in social media, but building new business is often more important to freelancers than other social media benefits, like branding and customer service.
To see how social media can help you build your freelance business, think of a simple four-step sales process, where you identify a prospect, qualify the prospect, propose a job, and close the sale.
1. Using Social Media to Identify Prospects
Social media has some potential for identifying prospects. You can look for people asking questions or looking for service providers in your area of expertise. Search the Answers area of LinkedIn for people looking to hire, or asking questions about your area of expertise.
Once you find someone asking the right questions, look for other people in that person’s social network who know you to suggest your service as the answer. While you could respond directly, doing so would be less effective than a third-party suggestion. A suggestion coming from a third party is less self-serving, and so more believable than one coming directly from the provider.
2. Qualifying Prospects Using Social Media
When trying to set priorities, freelancers should qualify their prospects to ensure they are spending time with those most ready to buy, or at least cultivating the prospect to encourage them down the path. Social media can help in this process in a couple of ways.
First, you can check out social media to see what the customer is saying. Have they just announced a new name, indicating they might be in urgent need of freelance graphic design or web design help to implement the new name and branding? Or have they indicated they have tight budgets, are going on vacation, or have had to scale back some things due to the economy? These are all good clues as to their readiness to buy, or lack thereof.
Even if someone’s social media usage doesn’t give direct clues, social media can help you qualify a prospect in other ways. If you need to meet or schedule a call (to ask qualifying questions directly), use social media to figure out when and where might work best for them. Suggest talking at a meet-up you both are attending, or avoid days they’ve said they will be out of town or swamped with work.
Now you’ve got a great prospect, they are itching to buy, and they have asked for a proposal. What can social media do for you now? It can help you make the most of your proposal and your pitch.
People love it when someone speaks their language. You could offer great service, and be the perfect provider for the prospect, but if they don’t feel in tune with you, they won’t buy. Social media can help you get in tune. Spend some time reading their status updates, browsing their profiles, and checking out their pictures. Find videos they made, presentations they gave, or blog posts they’ve written. Get inside their head, and write the proposal (and prep your pitch) so it’s in tune with their voice.
Use the words the prospect would use. Use the style they like. If they are a bullet-point person, use bullet-points. If they use a lot of images, with minimal text, use a lot of images with minimal text. The more you can show that you understand them, the more they are willing to try to understand you (and hire you).
4. Closing the Sale
You’ve done a lot of hard work, issued a great proposal, and—nothing. No response, or maybe just a tepid “It’s under consideration”-style response. How can social media help get past this final hurdle to the sale?
Here your social media use needs to change a little bit. The prospect’s usage becomes a little less important, and your usage becomes key. Ask contacts you have in common to recommend you. Be sure to announce any good news for your business, like awards or compliments from customers you’ve received recently.
If you find (or write) a blog post relevant to the prospect’s business, send it to them with a brief note. Look to see if they are attending events you’ll be at, and look for them there. Don’t get too aggressive with it, but make sure you keep in touch. Don’t let them forget about you and how you can help them succeed.
Social media can be a great sales tool for freelancers. Keep these simple suggestions in mind, and build your business as you tweet, blog, and participate in social media. Then you will never again ask yourself why you spend so much time on it.
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