In my last post as part of the 15 Days to Running a Successful Freelance Business series, I mentioned the fact that I’d landed a five-figure client on Twitter and promised I’d write about it.
So here it is.
I won’t go into details about who the client is (names have been changed to protect the innocent and all that) but I thought that writing about it here might:
a) show that PLANNED social media can give your freelance business effective results;
b) provide you with some inspiration if you feel like your efforts are going nowhere and
c) give you some tips on engaging with potential clients on Twitter
To begin with, I had very little clue about social media. Although I activated my Twitter account 5 years ago, I certainly wasn’t using it to any great effect initially.
In fact, I was only using it because I’d taken a course about setting up a business blog, which was run by Erica Douglas of LittleMummy and Antonia Chitty of Family Friendly Working (the course doesn’t run anymore but it kick started me into the online world in the first place).
After the course, I spent about 18 months of quite literally faffing around with no clue whatsoever of what I was doing on Twitter and had an underwhelming 300 followers by June 2012. Pathetic.
So much so, that I decided to invest in a little bit of social media training.
Finding People to Follow
The first part of my strategy on Twitter was to think about my idea client and start to connect with people who I wanted to work with.
Obviously, this will vary depending on what your freelance business is, so if you’re a writer you might want to connect with editors of publications that you want to write for.
If you’re a consultant, you’ll want to hook up with companies that fit your ideal client profile. And if you sell cupcakes… OK, OK, enough of the cupcakes (I’m doing 5:2 and starting to obsess about food!) but you get the picture…
I used TweetAdder to help me to research and build my Twitter followers by searching on particular types of tweet content and geographical location. So, for example, I was looking for tweets mentioning ‘fundraising’ from charities in the UK.
TweetAdder is no longer available – thanks to an update in the Twitter algorithm that made parts of it pretty much defunct. It had an autofollow facility and that helped me to grow the numbers of people that I was following relatively quickly.
However, it is still possible to find people to follow – and who will hopefully follow you back if your tweets are interesting to them – on Twitter itself. As long as you’re consistent about what you’re looking for and commit some time to it. Decide what you want to search on in terms of key words, location and have a look.
I also used (and still use) ManageFlitter to see who actually uses Twitter. (It has many other functions but I primarily use it to determine if I’m following people who are engaging on Twitter).
So, for example, when I used TweetAdder, as it was automated, a lot of the people I was following within the chosen criteria hadn’t tweeted anything for months – if at all – so ManageFlitter was good for weeding them out. I still use it now to check whether any previous accounts that I’ve followed are now defunct or have stopped using Twitter regularly, and to sort out my Twitter following in general. It’s useful to get an overview of your followers and who you are following.
Using this strategy consistently for a couple of months saw my Twitter followers increase from 300 to 1,500. And they were, in the main, strategic follows rather than ‘I will follow anyone who follows me and who is probably selling me something I don’t want to buy’.
Strategy for Engagement
Finding people to follow – and getting them to follow you – are two different things. If you want people to follow you then you really need to have something engaging and relevant to say.
“Look what we’re having for breakfast” is only going to be of interest if you’re business is all about making muffins, or feeding kids nutritious meals. If you’re a writer specializing in personal finance, it’s only going to be relevant if you have some amazing money/cost saving idea related to breakfast.
So have a think about what value you can add to clients and the sort of problems that they face that you can help with.
Give really good insight into their problems. Link to blog posts that have solutions that they can implement and show them your expertise in this area.
And ASK QUESTIONS.
If you’re not sure what your potential clients are struggling with, just ask them. Try to be specific. So rather than asking ‘what are your main difficulties in your business?’ for example, ask ‘if there was one aspect of your marketing you could ask for help with, what would it be?’ Or ‘do you know what social media platform is best for your company?’.
As a charity consultant, I asked questions like ‘who does your fundraising in your charity?’ ‘do your board help with fundraising. If not, why not?’
Very specific questions. You only have 140 characters. Use them well.
You know that person who you meet at parties or networking events. Oh you do. You know the one. The one that you get stuck with when no-one else wants to talk to them because all they ever do is talk about themselves. All. The. Time.
Well, when you go on Twitter and send out constant messages like ‘Follow me and find out about my business’ or ‘Want more followers? I can help’ or even if you just constantly direct people to your blog then you have become that person.
This is NOT what you want to be doing on Twitter if you want to have anything approaching success. And I very much doubt that these strategies result in engaged followers who are likely to give you any work.
The whole point of this is that you want to start to build a reputation as an expert in your field – and you do that by pointing your followers to helpful content. This can be your content or useful articles and advice from other people too – in fact, mixing it up is the best way to be as useful as possible.
Sign up to feedly or bloglovin’ and start following other blogs in your field – or in related fields – that you are interested in and who are also writing excellent content that might appeal to your followers (just make sure they’re not direct competitors!)
Don’t constantly talk about how brilliant you are or about your skills and why your followers should work with you.
Focus on their needs and provide solutions to their problems – and that is how you will become recognized as the ‘go to’ person.
The Survey Method
Let’s assume that you’ve been on Twitter for a few weeks or months, and that you’re regularly posting helpful hints and tips and linking to really useful content that will help your potential clients solve their business problems and meet their specific needs.
What I did next was put together a really short survey – 3 questions in total – and asked my followers if they would answer the survey. The purpose of the survey was to find out what specific issues people were having so that I had the information to shape my consultancy services for my ideal client.
If you are going to do this, you will need to prepare a survey that is going to meet your needs best.
If you want to develop an e-product, for example, you might want to use a survey as an initial market tester to get some early feedback on your idea. 3 questions are unlikely to give you much in the way of depth but they might start to give you an idea of the subject of your e-product.
Or, if you’re honing your services like I was, you might want to ask for the 3 main areas (again, be as specific as possible) that they are struggling with.
To make sure you get as much engagement with your survey (mention that it is VERY short) AND offer them something in return for filling it out.
Offer entry into a prize draw where they will win something FREE from your business services.
This shouldn’t cost you too much but should still be valuable to the winner. I offered a free 15 minute Skype consultation.
Make sure this offer is in the main body of your Tweet (use bit.ly to shorten the link to the survey so you can fit it all in to 140 characters).
The Easier Method
The other method you could use is simply to ask potential clients to RT your latest blog post by a certain time and you will then enter them into a ‘free prize draw’. The prize is still the same – a free 15 minute Skype consultation with you – and, if you don’t need to or want to survey your potential clients, then this could be an easier way to get engagement.
Either way, the end result is the same, you have a list of people that you are offering a free 15 minute consultation to.
Remember – the idea of this is NOT to win a $22,000 client. You are using Twitter strategically to build engagement with your audience, and you need to determine how best you want to do that. Perhaps, now that you’re recognized as an expert you want to hone your services, or offer a new service, or diversify your offer or simply increase the number of visitors to your blog.
Make sure that you the fact that they will be entered in a free prize draw to win a consultancy session (or whatever your business model is) in the main body of the Tweet.
Remember to include a ‘sell by’ date. They need to fill the survey in by xx in order to be entered for the free prize draw or they need to RT your blog post by xx. You get the drift.
Another way to increase engagement is to offer the free session in return for a comment on your latest blog post. I haven’t tried this but, as I know people are always looking for comments on their blogs (and please feel free – I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks for asking…) this might be something you are interested in too.
Now at this stage, I should say that all I was aiming to do was increase my engagement with my audience on Twitter and hone my consultancy services via the survey that I sent out.
What happened next was a total surprise.
The winner of the prize draw was duly noted (I used the very simple method of choosing a number between 1 and whatever the total number of surveys completed was. It wasn’t huge, but I think it was around 98, which wasn’t too shabby at the time either as I was relatively new).
Anyway, they were survey number 45 (I can’t actually remember the exact number I picked) and I sent them a DM to let them know they’d won asking for their email to arrange their Skype consult.
Once I had the email address, I then sent a more detailed email advising that, as we only had 15 minutes, we should concentrate on one aspect (I knew at this point the main issues they were facing thanks to their survey results) and suggested a few possible areas, asking for them to either choose one or suggest another for our call.
The call itself went particularly well. We dealt with a key issue for his organization and, obviously, he was pleased with the way our conversation went and the strategies that I proposed.
I DID NOT try to sell anything on at this point. I know some people would do this and if you’re comfortable with that approach, that is entirely up to you. Personally, I felt it would be a bit dishonest given that in everything else I’d been clear it was a free draw and a free consultancy – but whatever you are happy with is up to you. It just isn’t me.
However, during the call itself, he asked if I would train a couple of members of his staff in a few techniques. Training wasn’t part of my offer – but it is an aspect I can offer – and so I submitted a proposal to offer coaching over 4 sessions and agreed a price.
Building the Relationship
As most people will tell you, word of mouth can help you to uncover a lot of clients. Working with clients can also help you to uncover more work.
From the initial training work, it transpired that they were looking for an entire strategy, additional staff development, board training and initial implementation.
What started as a free 15 minute Skype consultation, designed to help me to provide clients with a consultancy service tailored to the needs of the market, resulted in over $22,000 of work over 18 months.
Are you going to win the same level of work from Twitter? Truthfully, I have no idea.
Obviously, I was in the right place at the right time and my offer resonated with this particular client.
My main strategy at the beginning was to use Twitter as a tool to promote my business, get me in front of new clients, and show that I was an expert to this group.
My aim was to increase the numbers of visitors to my website, to increase engagement on the blog via comments and RTs, and, as a result, to be easier to find online.
I hadn’t for a minute considered that it would actually get me any direct work.
Of course, I’ve since read about people like me who have won work via Twitter by putting themselves in front of the right clients at the right time.
I’ve also read about freelance writers connecting with editors on Twitter – in a useful and not an ‘in your face’ self promotion type of way – who have then successfully sent these editors queries for their magazine.
My success lay in 3 key areas:
Having a plan
Engaging in conversations
So that’s it. How I landed $22,000 work via Twitter. Nothing complicated. Nothing requiring a social media expert. Just a plan to engage people. Consistent strategies to increase followers and to follow my ideal clients, and engagement with people by solving their problems and not just bleating on about myself and what I could offer. I’d love to hear of any times that you’ve won work via social media or from unexpected sources. Pop them in the comments below. And please share this with anyone who you think might feel inspired.