Why Online Friends are Important to Freelancers

Finding Friends Online

What a total waste of time!

The sharp words the hung in the air between us. My offline friend had just watched me check in at some of my favorite social sites.

Of course, her sentiment shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. She’d mentioned before that she didn’t see any value in sites like Twitter and Facebook. To say that my friend didn’t get social media would be a complete understatement.

For the freelancer, online friends are not a waste of time. Rather, they are a very valuable part of a freelancer’s networking. While freelancers can always benefit from networking locally, social media sites allow us to connect with individuals and organizations that we might not otherwise have the opportunity to connect with.

Online friends are very important to freelancers.

Connecting the World, One Tweet at a Time

I live in a fairly small town. The odds of there being many like-minded professional writers right where I live is fairly small.

Yes, there are a few freelance writers nearby, but my opportunities for face-to-face networking with colleagues are somewhat limited.

With the power of Twitter (and sites like Twitter), though, I can touch base nearly every day with professional freelance colleagues in distant locations such as Canada, New York, North Carolina, Germany, Singapore, and many others.

Ten or fifteen years ago, before the rise of social media, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to even meet some of these people — let alone form friendships. Using social media, though, we’re in regular contact with each other.

The Business Benefit To Friendships

I’ve not been shy about the fact that many of my clients come from referrals. While some of these referrals are from offline colleagues, many of them are also from online friends — folks that I have never actually met face-to-face.

In the past month alone I’ve had at least four leads from online friends. Two of these have resulted in paying clients, and I may yet see income from the other two leads.

The truth is that people would rather do business with people they know than with people they don’t know. Relationship marketing works — even for freelancers, and even online.

There is a definite business benefit to having friends. My online friendships are much, much more than just a means of getting jobs, though. Like my offline friends, my online friends are valuable colleagues who I can bounce ideas off of and share thoughts and experiences with.

How NOT to Build an Online Friendship

Too many people these days have lost the real purpose behind networking, which is to get to know people. People do things to online friends that they would never do to a friend face-to-face.

For example, you would probably not introduce yourself to a new person for the first time face-to-face and in the next breath demand that they hire you or buy something from you. You’d want to get to know them a little better first. Yet, this is a mistake that many freelancers and others who are online make.

Here are some other online networking mistakes that freelancers sometimes make:

  1. Spamming your online friends. Have you ever made an online “friend,” only to be spammed through social media and e-mail with constant requests to buy something? While some marketing is natural and can be expected (we all have to make a living), when the purchase requests outweigh the personal interaction the online relationship is in trouble.
  2. Becoming numbers-focused instead of people-focused. The online stats-obsession focus started on blogs (tracking the number of subscribers, Diggs, or comments) and has moved to social media (tracking the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers). While high numbers aren’t necessarily bad, they aren’t necessarily as good as some people might expect. That’s because they don’t always represent real relationships.
  3. Keeping score. I once heard of a freelancer who kept a list of all his online contacts and what they did for him. When they did something for him, he would try to reciprocate. If they didn’t do anything for him, well… maybe not Not only is this a lot of extra work, it sort of defeats the purpose of a real relationship which is about individuals and not what we can do for each other. Speaking for myself, if I am able to help someone then I will try to do it. If I can’t, then I don’t.
  4. Ignoring the little guy. While you may be tempted to befriend only “big name” freelancers and blogging gurus, these folks are usually inundated with friend requests. Often, they don’t have time to truly interact. However, a freelancer who is just getting started will have more time to interact. Who knows? Today’s “little guy” just may be tomorrow’s “big name.
  5. Abandoning your online profile. Consistency is an important part of online freelancing relationships. That means that you have multiple interactions over a period of time. Too many freelancers create an online profile and then abandon it when they don’t get instant results.
  6. Not being genuine. If you are phony online you will eventually be discovered. No one likes a fake, so don’t pretend to be someone that you are not.

Why do it wrong, when you can do it right? There are many right ways for a freelancer to build an online friendship.

How to Build Online Friendships

The keys to building a successful online friendship are consistency and time. That means interacting more than once with the same person over time. Most of the job leads that I received in the past month were from colleagues that I’ve known online for several years now.

Here are a few good ways to meet online friends:

  • Read blogs AND comment
  • Read forums AND comment
  • Tweet and respond to tweets
  • Participate in other social media events
  • Participate in online events such as webinars

What Do You Think?

As a freelancer do you value online friendships? How to you go about making online friends?

Share your ideas and tips in the comments.