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.

Comments

  1. says

    The truth is that people would rather do business with people they know than with people they don’t know.

    Almost every single person I’ve worked with has been someone that I’d gotten to know before. Out of the blue applications for a job? File 13. I headhunt through the people I know and like. And if I can’t do that, I ask someone I know and like if they know someone.

    Relationship marketing works. I agree.

  2. says

    Good article, although I think it’s important to point out online friends can also ruin you as a freelancer…I know more than once I myself have wasted half a day reading other people’s posts rather than working…..like today (Hey it’s Friday…!) ;)

  3. says

    Thanks James!

    I count myself very lucky to have met the online friends that I have now.

    Amber – I know what you mean. You either spend all day reading your friend’s blogs OR you let it go and then suddenly you feel out of touch. I think organization is key. . .

  4. says

    Very goog article! I find very true the points underneath “How NOT to Build an Online Friendship”. I think these are the mistakes most of freelance beginners might often make. You really stress some good points in this article. Thanks.

  5. says

    One of the best things I read concerning commenting on people’s sites came from a Tweet I saw, “If you invest 3 minutes in READING a blog, invest another 20 seconds and COMMENT.”

    Indeed. We should have this monogrammed.

  6. says

    Thanks JohR and Doug C.

    I especially liked the point about commenting on blogs. I think that people are getting away from that due to Twitter and other tools, which is a shame. It’s a great way to start a discussion with someone.

  7. Lexi Rodrigo says

    You certainly know what you’re talking about, Laura, my gracious Twitter friend!

    Since moving halfway around the world, I’ve had nothing but online friends. Even my BFFs are now accessible only via email or Facebook. And i’ve been saved by online friends more times than I can count.

    The key is to be genuine, and a real friend, instead of seeing each follower or “virtual friend” as dollar signs – which is what so many social media gurus would have us do.

  8. says

    Thanks Lexi!

    I’m glad to have made friends with you online. You have a lot of valuable input.

    What do those “social media gurus” really know about anything, anyway? You can’t put a value on a good friendship.

  9. says

    Alright that’s it I’m taking this fluff blog off my RSS reader, waste of my time.

    “I can touch base nearly every day with professional freelance colleagues in distant locations” Ever heard of IM or email? This way you don’t need to read about their cat, their love life and all the other time wasters they post.

    For meeting these people, I bet they have websites. Now if only there where some sort of existing technology you could enter a search a term like “freealance writer +my_area_name” which would return a list of results for that term. Oh Google, bing, yahoo.

    “Abandoning your online profile” – The one part of this article I did like, it is important to maintain a good online presence.

    Anyway I agree with your friend: “What a total waste of time!” If your a freelancer your time is very limited, reading all your friends status updates in multiple locations is time consuming . I’m not saying social media isn’t beneficial to business, cause I think it is. I just think it is a better idea in a corporation situation not freelance environment.

  10. says

    So true! Some of my best clients are ones I haven’t met face-to-face. Online presence, email, IM, Twitter, LI and good old fashioned phone all work to keep us connected. Bottom line, if they like working with me, they recommend me to their contacts (in person/online).

    I use Twitter for business. Don’t follow those who over tweet w/too many trivialities, do follow those w/blogs and useful content. This led to discovery of local WordPress group and WordCamp–which in turn led to making new face-to-face contacts–a full network circle.

  11. says

    @Nick — The beautiful thing about freelancing is that you can run your business in any way that you want.

    I know a lot of freelancers (myself included) who have seen impressive results by spending time on social media. We don’t spend excessive amounts of time, and we don’t just read personal status updates all day — it is a legitimate marketing avenue.

    Of course, in your business you are free to allocate time how you choose, and if you are busy enough without social media then you can easily ignore it (though, I found you to be active on twitter?). At the end of the day it is your choice.

  12. says

    Sorry you’re disappointed Nick!

    I’m not sure what you do, but nearly every freelance profession needs other people. Just be sure to pick people who don’t post or tweet about their cat and otherwise waste your time.

    Thanks for the affirmation Catherine! You echo my experience, and probably the experience of others as well.

    I can see that there are two sides to this issue and welcome the discussion.

  13. says

    @Mason
    That is excellent you don’t spend excessive amount of time. I don’t think I made my point clearly above. I DO think social networking is a good tool (why I use it). I just wanted to make it clear to readers who have not yet jumped on the bandwagon: social media can become a time consuming addiction which can also destroy their business.

    And also you bring up another very good point that it does differ between industries (was only thinking about my own, which is web development). I create joomla, wordpress and code igniter apps and time that isn’t spent pushing product out the door is lost income. If you were in marketing I assume it would be deathly not to be on social apps.

    @Laura
    Yes every freelance profession does need other people, I’m just saying social media is by far not the most efficient. I need to talk to other programmers, graphic developers and of course clients in my profession. I find the most efficient to be IM in the case of graphic designers, email for clients and a bug tracker for programmers. So I guess it’s not the medium it’s the recipient.

    I change my mind I like this article because it inspires thought and discussion.

    Also those chicks on that stock photo are HOT! nice choice!

  14. says

    Thanks Nick!

    Part of what we’re here to do is inspire thought and discussion in the freelancing community. I’m glad you’ve decided to stay.

    It’s good to hear that IM works for you. That may be true for others as well. I wonder if this is a function of the type of work a freelancer does. It could be that some professions get more from social media that others.

    Maybe Mason will do a survey. . .

    (Hint, hint. . .)

  15. says

    @Doug C.

    One of the best things I read concerning commenting on people’s sites came from a Tweet I saw, “If you invest 3 minutes in READING a blog, invest another 20 seconds and COMMENT.”
    Indeed. We should have this monogrammed.

    True story: I’ve read countless blog posts in as many years and this is my first time posting a comment! I may as well start now!!

    @Laura This is an interesting article and I’m loving the fact that there’s much to discuss with regards to it. For me Social Networking is beginning to pay off. Ironically enough I am already a well paid web designer through the company that I work for however I thought that I was alone in what I did in my area until one or two online friends put me on to one or two other online friends… and now I realise that I’m in fact surrounded by a veritable plethora of incredibly talented and outstanding designers/developers!

    With regards to Twitter I think if you have a decent enough filtering process you can’t go too far wrong! For me it’s checking their recent tweets to see if they are relevant to my area of interest or not. If so then I check the frequency with which they post links to other blog posts, if this is too frequent then I tend to avoid. I’m more interested in someone who informs us about their own day to day dealings with web development but that also post the odd useful link.

    There were a few people that I was following that I stopped after I realised that every single post was a link to a blog post elsewhere. This doesn’t help me learn about the individual, get insight into their processes, have a bit of a laugh and in general connect with them. So far it seems to have worked!

    Anyway great post and I look forward to more of the same.

  16. says

    I consider my online “friends” to be my coworkers as well. We all share a virtual “office” on TinyChat.com (http://tinychat.com/awesome) and use webcams so we can all feel like we are working together with people we like. It’s great for freelancers because it helps avoid a lot of the anti-social aspects of being freelance and never getting away from the computer.

  17. says

    I will follow your advice and comment!

    Personally I feel that “No one likes a fake” should be highlighted and underlined! I feel, however, that this point applies more to freelancers who are starting up…

    Great article though, thanks!

  18. says

    Social networking has been an incredible boon to me. I live in South Korea and my Korean is not really good enough to interact on a professional level. With twitter et al, I have been able to interact and network with other people in my chosen profession.

    Moving into web development before social media would’ve been incredibly difficult as it would have been effectively impossible for me to find other English speakers in the same field.

  19. says

    Laura,

    I read and comment on blogs, but I don’t do much more. I am on Facebook and LinkedIn and respond to friend requests—even occasionally initiate one from a “your might know this person” suggestion—but I don’t use the networks effectively. I resisted Twitter for a long time and finally decided I would jump in. However, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t found the time to take the plunge yet.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking article. I know this is something I should do more of.

  20. says

    Thanks everyone for sharing your thoughts!

    Gareth – I’m glad we lured you out to comment. I hope to see more of your insights here.

    Chris – It sounds like you’ve found an innovative way to interact with your peers. Good for you!

    FreelanceShack – It sounds like you’ve some interesting experiences. Why do you think “no one likes a fake” only applies to beginners? (I’m just curious.)

    Sean – It sounds like you’re benefitting from the global aspects of social media.

    Lillie – It’s really good to see you here. I know that Twitter can seem overwhelming at first (and it is important to ration one’s time there). I hope that you enjoy your participation there.

  21. says

    Hi

    I must admit that I’ve been a bit disillusioned by the whole “online friends” thing. I’m still not used to the norm of making friends or fans when, at the end of the day, those “relationships” are not real or the other person only wants to promote themselves.
    Having said that, it has been worth the few people I have met who are genuine and wonderful to know.

    Juliet

  22. says

    Hi Juliet!

    Well, just like in the offline world, a few people that you meet online are bad apples who are only out to sell you something, scam you, or worse.

    However, the majority of folks that I’ve met are genuine and decent. They are well worth getting to know.

    Approach any online friendship carefully and cautiously, especially at first. Be particularly careful with your personal information.

  23. says

    Really clear and well explained article. I agree entirely, particularly that it can be very difficult to explain to “offline” friends why your social media activity is so important. I know that my wife, for example, thinks that the time I spend blogging and tweeting isn’t really “work”. Sure, it’s not something I’m being paid for directly, but in terms of long term profile development and business growth, it’s invaluable.

  24. says

    Laura – I think that it only applies to start ups because only they can think they would be able to pull off being fake. I think experience has shown most of us to be our own selves.

    FreelanceShack

  25. says

    Very useful article, Laura.

    Under ‘How NOT to Build an Online Friendship,’ I would like to add:
    7. Requesting a ‘#FollowFriday’
    Never, ever, send out requests to include your twitter ID in a ‘FollowFriday’ hash tag. True, a ‘FollowFriday’ tag will bring volumes of traffic to your Twitter Account. But it is extremely rude to demand your inclusion.

  26. says

    again and Again very nice article,

    for myself as web developer freelancer, 20% of my business comes from the social media and (twitter, facebook, and linkId).

    but I have a question,
    have you tried to change your friend’s mind bout social media?
    because I’ve tried to do the same with my friends, and no response.

  27. says

    Another great post Laura!
    I always get a buzz what someone mentions my blog on other sites or when people I am able to have a drawn out conversation in comments. It’s so nice in what could be a somewhat lonely lifestyle. Our job necessarily lacks water cooler type conversations: something I doubt I’m the only one who misses.
    Nic at CrossLingo

  28. says

    Great article.
    I’m a freelance teacher..if I may say that.
    I’ve just start to really believe in social media.
    So your tips are great for me and my school (small one).
    I’ve got many friends using twitter, blogs, etc.
    Thanks for your tips.

    Keep going.

  29. says

    Thanks for this article, I agree that the online world is just as valuable as the offline world and there is plenty to invest in, particularly friendships. Friendships are great not only for business and getting work but also for support and can help to brighten the day too!

  30. says

    As a freelancer, I feel (like a few others that commented) like the online community members are my co-workers as well.

    The amount of support, advice and great links to articles that help me continue to learn are so valuable to my own personal growth as a designer, developer and I’ve met some pretty awesome people too!

    I find that a lot of my friends that work full time have less of an understanding of the importance of the online community, mostly because they’re surrounded by their co-workers all day, and have less time to read/comment on articles during the day.

  31. says

    Fantastic article. Thank you! I was actually directed to it by one of my Twitter friends.

    So far, 95% of my business has come from friends or friends of friends. I find that working with people I know or who come endorsed by people I know is a lot more productive and by far less stressful than working with strangers. Maybe it’s knowing that you have something in common, or the mutual respect that’s built up from reading and commenting on each other’s stuff, or interacting on Twitter. I’m not sure – but I like it!

    Filed under how NOT to build an online friendship, I would also put “Don’t try too hard.” There’s always “that guy” in any Twitter group – the guy who tries too hard to get himself noticed or become the next big thing on Twitter. It always ends up backfiring and losing the guy a lot of friends in the process. You’re totally right that online friendships take time – just like offline ones do.

  32. says

    Thanks for this great article!
    Being an artists, most of us are freelancers, although we don’t “label” ourselves as such. For me the beginning of social networking was a lot of misses, trying to understand the added value, but you are absolutely right that it takes time, and friendships are the key to get more business.
    I wonder if there are studies already that shows time trends… and maybe in different type of jobs….
    As an artist, it is also interesting for me to see how art is influenced by social networking, and I am talking real-life art, not digital art that stays in cyberspace. So making sells, participating in exhibits, etc. I have wrote a blog article about 2 great examples. You can read it here:
    http://mikanovsky.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/2-great-examples-of-social-networking-success-for-online-artists/

    Thanks
    Moshe

  33. Claudia says

    Hi!
    I am very interested in this matter, thank you for this great article!
    I am Italian and live in Italy (bad time to live in Italy by the way). I say so because here people are a little slower than the rest of Europe (not to mention US) in understanding the importance of Internet, as a mean to connect with co-workers and potential clients, or to share job experiences. We use it more for “fun”, or in a political way. People use blogs to speak-up against government or say truths that you won’t read on newspapers or hear on tv. I see the importance of meeting people online for a freelancer, but need to learn how to use a social network that way! I only have one account on Facebook (in Italy it is the most popular), and there I connect with real friends, family, etc. Now – I guess I can’t have co-workers and my 16 years old nephew in the same group of friends. With real friends and family I can talk about my cat – they would enjoy that!!! But I understand that people who use Facebook as a professional tool aren’t interested in knowing how my cat or my sister are doing. So I just wanted to know: Do you have multiple accounts or you just don’t use facebook to connect with family members and real friends? And if you have an account for professional connections, how do you choose your “friends”? You say you like to be genuine, but what if you are just promoting yourself or others are?
    Forgive my English and the naiveness of my questions…
    Thank you very much,
    Claudia

  34. says

    Hi Claudia!

    Yeah, I think it’s a good idea to have separate social media accounts for personal and business use. Especially if you’re going to write about topics (like your cat) on your personal account that your business colleagues aren’t interested in.

    You bring up a valid question, because in today’s world families are often spread all over the world and use social media as a way to keep each other updated.

    Excellent question!

  35. Claudia says

    Hello Laura!

    Actually as soon as I hit the “submitt comment” button I thought that of course it is better to have separate accounts! So thank you for being so kind to reply anyway! As a matter of fact I am far from my family and friends right now, and I do use Facebook as a way to stay in touch, as you say. It is weird though how personal and business areas are so mixed up when it comes to Facebook. Some of your friends may write on your business account – while someone could be interested in your work just by reading more intimate or less “business” things (as it happened to me) on your personal page.
    I am just beginning to explore the infinite possibilities of all this and was feeling a little bit confused.
    Thanks again!

  36. says

    It’s okay Claudia – I’ve done the same thing. :) (Post a comment and then think the better of it.)

    It least this way it got you out of lurking mode so that we can interact some. :) And, seriously, a lot of people do wonder about the very thing that you commented on.

    I hope to see a lot more of you here.

  37. says

    Wow, now this is the way it should be – 50 comments and still going. Laura, you need to send some of your prowess at eliciting comments my way :)

  38. says

    LOL Doug C!

    I have to confess that not all posts generate quite this much interest.

    One of the secrets, I feel, is the community that we have here at Freelance Folder. It’s great group of readers who are willing to share and provide feedback, ideas, and experiences. I think it’s probably the best place online for freelancers to be.

  39. says

    Fantastic article. Thank you! I was actually directed to it by one of my Twitter friends.You certainly know what you’re talking about, Laura, my gracious Twitter friend!

    Thanks
    Sandi

  40. says

    “Ignoring the little guys” – I guess one of the good traits of a successful writer/blogger is not just creating good articles and becoming popular but also taking their time to small writers/bloggers. In fact, most of the big names in this field also started as a little guy.

  41. Agustín says

    Laura: yet another very interesting article from you.
    Somehow this subject in particular has been a HOT topic for the last few weeks in the several blogs/communities I usually visit.

    I do comment, but only when I have something to say. This time I also have something to say.

    For some time now it has come to my attention that the great majority of people participating actively in social media are freelancers.
    Freelancers CAN be good clients, but the best clients, the ideal kind (of which I’m glad to have a few) come from real life, from people in the flesh.
    Most of the decision-makers and budget-approvers I know don’t ever connect to Facebook or have a Tweeter account, I meet them at birthday parties, conventions (not the geek kind that are so much fun), art exhibitions, theatre plays, even former class or college mates, that I can barely keep in touch with, are turning to be great potential clients who will eventually call me. (Personally I don’t like to look for clients)

    So, it has been proven to me, in my short 5 years of freelancing, that the best marketing tool are your social skills… IN THE FLESH, and these, as well as any other skill CAN be developed and improved.

    The other great marketing tool is AMAZED clients, not just happy, AMAZED, some times one has to go way beyond the client’s expectations and budget… Working off the clock pays a hundred times more than tweeting or selling off the clock.

    I do like to participate in social media, because it keeps me up to date in what is going on in the world of design and web development. I’m not saying that social media should be dismissed as a waste of time, just saying, watch very carefully where you invest your time. There is good business in the cloud, but we have to be careful, or we’ll be soon looking at a “digital sub prime”.

    So these are my personal appreciations about clients, even though I do actively participate in many communities, I do so for the fun of it and to give a little something back to the general “design/development/freelancing internet communities” that has given so much to me. (open source software, code, inspiration, relaxation, counsel, profitable knowledge)

    Thanks for the article, keep up the good writing Laura. Sorry if my redaction or spelling or vocabulary isn’t very good, this isn’t may native language.

  42. says

    Laura…. ! you said a good thing in this post as the valuable social media will give the chance to manage the marketing for the betterment of the sales and also the friendship promotion within a single work…that is nice.I like this post for the optimum utilization about a media.keep sharing.

  43. says

    Good article with some great points. I find myself getting upset at those automated tweeters and freelancers/businesses that continually throw things at you without getting to know you. That traditional “CALL NOW! BUY NOW!” tactic just doesn’t work online. I did some social media work for a furniture store and a car dealership in Philadelphia. They continuously requested that I just post their sales and deals 20,000 times a day. Needless to say we didn’t see eye to eye and they just didn’t get it. Perhaps I failed in getting the point across of what they need, but regardless of that they continue to have no social media presence due to their unwillingness to evolve their strategy. In turn, I worked for a TV station in which I contributed to their social media by talking to people, including them in station contests, making comments that the people of Philadelphia would relate to their social media response increased by 2000%.

    Since I have joined twitter (@rivalmydesign) I have made it a point to be myself, interact with people and contribute to interesting conversation. Like you said, you can’t shake hands with someone and throw a sales pitch out them expecting them to buy while only knowing you for a few minutes. Developing relationships is huge and I tell my fellow freelancers that I went to school with (and who are currently in school or new to freelancing) to always be on your game. You never know where your next big lead will come from.

    Thanks for the great post as always!

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