If you run your own business, this line will sound familiar: “I heard of an entrepreneur who used [insert social media platform here: Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn] and got a heap of new business. You should try doing that!”
Indeed, social networking applications are widely celebrated and deemed full of promise to be powerful, even essential business tools. But that doesn’t help you justify the time you spent on it if it doesn’t perform well for you. Busy freelancers need to know: can you really get new clients through social media, or is it just a timesuck?
After chatting with numerous folks who run their own biz, it seems to depend on multiple factors. Many entrepreneurs have reported being successful in finding new clients through social media platforms. The bad news is that these results are not instantaneous, may never happen and may not even be easily measurable even if it does happen. Here are some of the findings:
Most results are anecdotal, and finding entrepreneurs who can definitely say they’ve acquired new business because of their social media marketing efforts are difficult to find, says Greg Weatherdon, small business advisor and president of MRG Media. Greg uses social media not to attract new business but to reinforce his own website.
“What my experience has shown me is that it, depending how you use it, it can be an effective tool in creating and sustaining credibility and awareness,” Weatherdon says. It’s one (free) tool to use in marketing a business and making it successful. According to Weatherdon, the biggest advantage [of social media] is in the speed of communication and the ability to tailor marketing messages to the audience.
Freelance graphic designer Jason Das uses social media for similar reasons: to keep himself out there and engaged in conversations with others in the industry. “When you rely on close-knit sources that you’ve pulled together, you make your decisions easier” explains Das.
Being found with social media
Internet marketing strategist Sue Sutcliffe is a social media power user who signs deals every week that she wouldn’t have otherwise found without a social media strategy. “I have no doubt that it is doable because it works for me,” says Sutcliffe. Much of her business gained through social media comes through LinkedIn, but Sutcliffe finds that she signs one deal a week because of Facebook. Sutcliffe even helps other entrepreneurs learn to use social media marketing for their own businesses.
One of those people who learned from Sutcliffe is Heather M. O’Connor, a writer who used Twitter to build a social media network of about 2,000 people. O’Connor has connected and networked with agents, authors and publishers, and she succeeded in getting new business as a journalist.
Michelle Warren, a leadership coach and president of MW Research & Consulting, uses both Twitter and LinkedIn for business (and to a lesser extent Facebook). She views it mostly as marketing, but new clients have found her by way of LinkedIn. “I look at Twitter as an awareness piece. Social media’s a conversation. It’s having an online conversation with prospective clients, existing clients, colleagues, anybody within your network,” Warren said.
Finding new business
Although most examples of success in social media marketing is in driving site traffic or in entrepreneurs positioning themselves as experts, there are cases where freelancers have come into new business directly because of sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (although LinkedIn is the most likely place to find new business).
John Kewley, a freelance creative director and writer, was found by a business who searched LinkedIn using the keyword phrase “freelance web writer.” The business found a writer that suited their needs, and Kewley found a new client.
Paul Lima, a freelance writer and business writing trainer, has a website, a blog and profiles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Most requests for proposals or quotes come from his static website, but how potential clients got there varies; and many of them came from one of his social media profiles.
“I have landed a couple of writing gigs and a training gig in part because of social media. People have, of course, gone to my website to check me out and they’ve asked for proposals from me, but that’s standard business practice. Also I’ve tweeted and posted messages on Facebook about blog posts related to my books and have sold books that way,” Lima said.
Whether it’s a static website or a blog, there seems to be a consensus that you need a web presence of some sort to direct people to if you want them to find you quickly and stay top of mind. If you’re going to focus on one particular social media tool, LinkedIn seems to be it, which makes sense. That’s where the professionals are, and they’re there to make business contacts and network.
Measure success by asking new (or potential) clients how they found you. When someone finally says “through your social media profile,” then you’ll finally have the proof that all your efforts are generating new business.