Like it or not, social media is here to stay — at least for a while. More importantly, if you are not using the various social media tools that are available to grow your freelance business, you are missing out on a prime opportunity. The audience is global, the tools are almost all free and, with proper time management, the return on your investment could be phenomenal.
I have heard from numerous peers of their struggles to grasp the reigns of the wild stallion that is social media marketing, but I have had measurable success learning how to utilize Twitter in ways that have increased my clientele, enlarged my network of connections, and strengthened my standing as a member of the freelance and design community. In fact, without Twitter I would not be writing for Freelance Folder!
In this post I will share some basic transferable principles I have discovered that could help you not only get your feet wet with Twitter, but quite possibly could open doors you thought were locked to you and your freelance business.
For those of you who are not yet convinced you should be on Twitter, here is a brief explanation of how it can benefit you and your business.
- Twitter provides a global connection. If you can learn how to provide quality information combined with interaction that is personable and engaging, you will strengthen your online reputation as well as gather loyal followers who will tell others about you. Of course, if you present yourself in a negative way, the opposite can happen. The risk is worth the reward, though. Many freelancers — especially web workers — conduct most of their business online, often without ever meeting clients face to face. Twitter provides another vehicle to make those connections, and reaches to every corner of the globe.
- Twitter gives you a stronger voice to a larger audience. As your follower base grows, you may find that more and more people are listening to what you have to say, many who you would not have ever had contact with otherwise. Twitter gives you the ability to reach hundreds to potentially thousands of people in an instant. The power of the spoken word is immeasurable, and it can be used to your greatest benefit in the Twitter context.
- Twitter connects you with your peers. I have met countless web and graphic designers and freelancers through Twitter who I know without a doubt I never would have otherwise. Now I interact with many of them on a regular basis. They read my blog and I read theirs, we chat or Skype, we critique each other’s work when asked, and more. I have grown my skills and the quality of the services I offer because of this. And I’ve made new friends with common interests!
- Twitter spreads the word (good or bad) like wildfire. If you can build a solid reputation through your interactions on Twitter, free word-of-mouth marketing will be yours. I can’t count on both hands the number of new projects and clients I have gained due to the kind recommendation of someone else on Twitter. If you can endear yourself and your work to others, they will send people your way.
Still not convinced? If so, all I can say then is, “What do you have to lose?” At the very least, you may waste some time if you don’t see results that have a positive impact on your business. And yes, I realize that time is money. But, the investment can be so relatively minimal with the possibility of remarkable results, why not give it a shot?
Set Up Your Profile The RIGHT Way
Once you’re ready to dive in, you just need to sign up and set up your account. Signing up is easy, but how you set up your profile can be fraught with mistakes that could cost you later. Here are some things I’ve learned from some mistakes I’ve made and successes I’ve stumbled upon.
- Account Name. Make sure when you sign up that you create an account name that is easy to remember as well as associates you with your business. Mine is @bkmacdaddy, which pushes my business name out there every time I tweet. Settle on a name that will be beneficial to your freelance business and memorable to others.
- Bio. There are numerous ways you can go with this, but whatever you do, understand that people do actually read your bio. In 140 characters or less you need to communicate who you and your business are. Some bios are hilarious. Others list services offered. I don’t personally believe there is a wrong way to populate the bio section — just make sure you do it in a way that is advantageous to your business.
- Avatar. The avatar very quickly becomes your Twitter “identity”. It is the most often seen element others will identify you by as it flows through their Twitter stream in whatever app they are using. It is important to create an avatar that is memorable, unique, and communicates something about who you are. Some use logos as their avatar, but I have found it is better to include a photo of yourself in some manner. When I first started, I only had my logo as my avatar, but when I changed it to a photo of myself integrated with the logo the response was overwhelming. People loved it! They expressed how the change helped them identify the person they had been communicating with and the humorous spin I included gave them an insight into the type of personality I have. Determine what you want to communicate with this tiny 72 x 72 pixel space and utilize every inch of it.
- Profile Background. Dump the standard background as soon as possible. For many, it is the first sign of a noob when they visit your profile, and it can be interpreted as a lack of desire to make a serious commitment to becoming a part of the Twitter community. More importantly, it provides valuable real estate to share information about you and your business. Whether you utilize a free background generator or hire someone to create one for you, seize the opportunity to share the addresses of your other social media profiles, your contact information, your logo and possibly more photos of yourself. I still get compliments and laughs from my Twitter profile background, and I’m aware of a few people who followed me because of it. Be sure to use this space wisely.
Find People to Follow
It is pointless for you to be on Twitter if no one is following you, and it is difficult to gain followers without following others first. Take some time to find others who share similar interests and/or are in similar fields of business. There are several directories and tools you can use to narrow your search as well as hashtags (i.e. #design) that you can look up on Twitter Search to identify people who you may want to follow. Check out their profiles, read their bios and a few of their recent tweets to see if they will add value to your stream. Investing a good amount of time here will pay off great dividends in the long run. In my first few weeks, I followed about 100 new people a day, all with some type of connection to what I wanted to focus on.
Establish and Maintain Your Twitter Presence
Now that you’re all set up, what’s next? Tweeting, of course! For those that are new to Twitter, this can be a daunting moment. What should you say? Who is listening? So many possibilities. My recommendation is to just go for it! Realize that you will make mistakes, but ultimately true transparency — which includes making mistakes — is highly valued in social media circles. Rather than stress about what to do or not do, just be yourself. Of course, if you are a jerk you may want to consider an alternative approach, but most of us just need to share who we are and what we’re all about in order to begin tweeting. Once you get going, you will realize the only rules of etiquette you should be armed with are those that are common to humanity: respect yourself and others, treat people the way you want to be treated, be kind and generous and humble. I am a strong proponent of each person bringing their own personality to the party rather than sitting back with the wallflowers and trying to figure out who the popular kids are and how they behave. So far, it is working well for me.
Here are some tips for establishing and maintaining your Twitter presence in ways that will grow your business:
- Give more than you receive. I realized pretty quickly that no one wants to be bombarded by self-serving or self-absorbed tweets. People are on Twitter for a variety of reasons, but I have yet to meet someone who is there to hear all about me and my business. Instead, I have set out to share what knowledge and assistance I can in my field. I blog about it. I tweet about it. I ask questions about it. Ultimately, I interact with others about web and graphic design, freelancing, family, and anything else that others seem interested in. I believe that is the key — I’m not there to promote myself. I am there to connect, and the promotion of my business comes from others who have discovered value in who I am and what I offer. The beauty of word of mouth marketing is that the best results come from someone else’s recommendation of you, so you must establish yourself in ways that others will want to recommend you. Give, then give some more.
- Don’t Abuse Your Podium. In many ways, Twitter is a broadcasting channel for every individual. The problem with this is that, just like any other broadcast, viewers or listeners will change the channel whenever they get annoyed or bored or offended. I encourage you to be yourself, but to the end that who you are is someone others will find engaging and interesting. If all you ever do is tweet links to your blog posts or ask people to hire you or other self-promotion, you quite possibly will never see any return and many may stop following you altogether. Consider what you would pay attention to, and offer the same value. On the opposite end of the spectrum, tweeting once a day or even less can be just as damaging. Find a balance that invites your followers to interact with you, get to know you and provides value to them in ways that doesn’t completely disrupt your life or schedule.
- Integrate Your Blog. While it is unwise to tweet your latest blog post every five minutes, which would have the opposite of the desired effect, Twitter is a fantastic way to bring new readers to your blog. For the freelancer, it is even more important because your blog can be a great tool to help potential connections and clients get to know more about you, your business and what you have to offer. Operating from the understanding that, as a freelancer, you can provide more personal service than most larger organizations or agencies, use your blog posts to share personal and professional insights that will help visitors gain confidence and interest in you. Then, of course, be sure to tweet your blog posts. I usually try to tweet my posts every three to four hours on the day of publishing, and then once a day thereafter for the next week or so. (If you don’t already have a blog for your freelance business, I highly recommend starting one.)
Set a Schedule
One of the biggest concerns that people have about using Twitter and other social networks is the time investment. The truth is that anything of value will take an investment of some type, so it is important to know and accept this when you start. I have found that the key to not being overtaken by your social media usage is to set a schedule. If you work from home, Twitter can become quite the distraction, so try to identify your best times to use it and best times to disconnect. I recommend checking in at least two to three times per day minimum, especially when you first start out, in order to maintain a presence and build familiarity. If you engage at the same times each day, you will begin to interact with a lot of the same people because they also choose those times. This can be another aid in establishing relationships and connections.
One of the best solutions I stumbled upon is to make Twitter fit into your preexisting schedule, rather than make adjustments for Twitter. For instance, I tweet in the morning while reading my RSS feeds and share articles I think others may be interested in. I usually do the same around lunch, during breaks and in the wind down time of the evening. I confess I am a bit of a “Twitterholic,” but I have never rearranged my schedule for it. Instead, I have learned the best ways to integrate Twitter into my day, and it has worked very well so far. Do what you can to stay in control of your Twitter usage and don’t let it control you. Set a schedule, and then modify it as you go until you have found what works best for you and your daily routine.
Since we are focusing on word of mouth via Twitter, why not step outside the box a bit and create the most positive of buzzes about yourself? Early on, I learned that by offering assistance to those in need I was establishing my online reputation as someone who cares, who is willing to help, and who is not solely on Twitter to promote myself or my business. I have helped others with website problems when their current web designer was MIA. I have given direction or provided links to help people set up their RSS feeds or Gmail. I have assisted others in relatively small ways that were easy for me because of my skills and knowledge, and in return they have expressed their gratitude by keeping me in mind when someone asks them if they know anyone who designs websites. Again, the word of mouth has sent numerous clients my way, and my willingness to help others has helped strengthen my reputation in the Twitter community.
Use search tools to find people who are tweeting questions that you may have the answers to, or requests for help that you may be able to assist with in a quick and painless way. I’m not suggesting giving away your services left and right, but you can definitely help some people out in ways only you can at little or no cost to you, but with great dividends in social media status.
After taking the above steps, you should be able to navigate your own way toward a successful Twitter engagement. Of course, this list of tips is not exhaustive, but it should help you get started with or improve your Twitter usage to help grow your freelance business. The bottom line is to get out there and do it! Your freelance business can gain so much from the social media exposure and connections, so don’t miss out on the opportunities and possibilities that a small time investment can unleash. Above all, just be yourself.
What tips have you tried? Do you have some that were not included that you can share? What has your experience been with Twitter and its impact on your freelance business? Be sure to share your thoughts and tips in the comments.