In the excitement of using social media tools, many freelancers have completely overlooked an older means of networking–forum participation. Regular participation in the right forums can provide you with job leads.
Now, I’m not against social media. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m an active social media participant.
However, I don’t rely totally on social media for my prospects and neither should you. In this post, we’ll explain what a forum is and provide you with some tips to help you network effectively on them.
What Is a Forum?
If you’re not familiar with forums, you can take a good look at the Freelance Folder forums to get an idea of what they’re like. Basically, a forum is a series of topics (called threads) where members can discuss various topics.
Typically, you must register with a forum in order to participate. At some forums, you must also pay to be a member. But, participation in many other forums (including the Freelance Folder forum) is free.
Most forums are moderated, which simply means that there is an individual who monitors the posts on the threads to make sure that members comply with forum policies. The moderator (or moderators) can delete posts that are abusive to other members or do not otherwise meet with the forum’s standards.
Forum Tips for Freelancers
To get the most from your forum participation, it’s important to approach your forum participation thoughtfully and carefully. Here are some tips for freelancers:
- Join the right forum. Most freelancers select a forum that is their peers frequent. For example, web designers join a web design forum, writers participate in a writing forum, and so on. While this can be great for mentoring purposes and can help you to learn a lot, if you hope to find jobs through a forum you should also join some forums where your prospective clients are active.
- Read the forum rules. Nearly all forums post their rules and policies. While you may be tempted to skip over reading these guidelines, don’t do it. Take the time to read these sections carefully so that you understand what is permitted in the forum and what is not. Different forums have different rules, so you will have to read the policies of each forum that you join so that you can be a good forum citizen.
- Use a familiar name. Your profile name on the forum should be recognizable to clients and prospective clients. You can use the same username that you use for social media, your website name, or some other name that can easily be tied back to you and to your freelancing business.
- Fill out your user profile. A mistake that many forum participants make is to leave most parts of their forum user profile blank. Make sure that yours is complete. There is often a place to include a short bio, a link to your main website, your email address, and much more. Remember, you want prospective clients who meet you in the forums to have adequate information.
- Your avatar. Many forums allow you to download an image that will display with your forum posts. It is a good idea to use the same image for forums that you already use on social media sites. (Sometimes if you don’t download an image the forum will automatically assign a generic image to your user profile.)
- Your signature. Be sure to fill out your signature, since it will appear at the bottom of every forum post that you make. Read the forum rules to find out whether links are allowed in signatures. If links are allowed, your signature is another place where you can link back to your website. If they aren’t, try just putting a few descriptive words about what you do in your signature.
- Be a lurker. Before diving into the forum full-scale, it’s good idea to lurk for a few days or even for a week. By lurk, I mean read as many posts as you can without responding to get an idea of the atmosphere of the forum. Taking the time to do this will help you to fit into the forum’s community better.
- Introductory posts. Many blogs have a thread where new members introduce themselves. This is often another place where you can highlight your skills, explain what you do, and so on. As an added bonus, most new forum members will browse through these posts before adding their own contribution.
- Be helpful. When you do finally post to the forum, remember to convey a professional image. Look for ways that you can help other members. One way to do this is to answer member questions. In most forums, it is not appropriate to jump in and immediately try to sell your services. (Just as you wouldn’t go up to a complete stranger and make a sales pitch to them…)
- Look for a marketplace. A lot of forums have a designated area for job hunting and/or promoting your services. This area goes by different names. Sometimes it is called a “marketplace.” It may also be titled “service offers.” Or, it could simply be titled “help wanted.” Check this area of the forum regularly.
- Check your messages. At most forums you will be assigned a private inbox through which other forum members can contact you. Treat this inbox just like you would an email account–check it regularly. You may find that prospective clients use it to contact you.
By following these tips you are likely to build relationships with forum members that may, over time, lead to additional clients for your freelancing business.
Do You Still Have Doubts?
Maybe you’ve just read this post, but you’re not convinced that you can find any worthwhile clients on forums. That’s certainly understandable.
Let me share my own story. Two years ago, I responded to a posting about a blogger position under a service offers thread on a private forum. The blogger position was posted by Jon Phillips, founder of Freelance Folder. I got that position two years ago and I’m still blogging for Freelance Folder today.
So, as you can see, forum networking really does work.
What Do You Think?
Do you use forums to market your freelancing business? What tips would you add? What forums would you recommend for freelancers?
Share your answers in the comments.