If you're one of the many millions of consultants hoping to live the dream of working for yourself doing what you love, you'll no doubt be aiming to use social media to get clients. However, many who try are often frustrated by the seemingly impossible task of building a great following. Are social networks really any good for gaining customers, or have we been sold a lie?
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are often promoted as the three most popular social media sites for doing business on-line. For many, though, they can be daunting places to hang out, and if you're only just starting in business, the question has to be asked - "what can they do for me?"
For some, it's easy. They're already socially engaged and so if they then decide to use these networks for their business, it's a simple transition. Even though all sites have their quirks, each is essentially a way of engaging with people in order to gain favour.
Of the three, LinkedIn is the only one that was designed specifically for people looking to do business with others. It is also excellent for those hoping to land a new job, however even this can be daunting. You see, each one requires us to gain "followers" of some type. We are told we need to publish content and then promote this to these networks, but for people to read them, they have to be following us in the first place.
For example, if only 34 people had decided to follow my Twitter account and I post an article or blog, it's likely that only a fraction of those will see the notification. Of those that see it, a few might be interested enough to click on it.
If I'm writing all this content and people don't see it, what's the point?
In all cases and with all three networks, the answer lies in a word I used above - engagement. When many new businesses start posting to their content to these places, they very often go at it with a "fire and forget" attitude. They write a blog and then just post a link to their Facebook profile and Twitter account and pray someone will notice.
People often don't.
How to get more reach
The problem we're facing here is that if you're only posting this out to your own followers, not many people will see it. You need to expand your horizons and go and find them. You need to be where your potential customers are. In the case of Facebook and LinkedIn, this is a matter of finding groups based on your particular marketplace.
For example, let's say I'm starting a car valeting business in a local town. My first task would be to find local customers, and so I'm probably best to seek out a Facebook group for the town itself. Many towns have them, and very often they allow businesses to tout their wares, but be careful.
Many companies churn out links to their offers or their websites without any explanation. What’s worse, they do it regularly. The same link or image is posted every week or sometimes multiple times a week.
This is a huge mistake. It turns people off and it makes you look like a spammer. Very often, those post will be removed, or Facebook just won't show them to people.
So if this isn't the way to get sales, what is?
How do you react when someone turns up on your doorstep and tries to sell you something? At the very point they open up their brochure or show you their samples, you probably weren't thinking about double glazing or a new drive. The job of the door-to-door salesman is a tough one, and the take up is low because they're forcing themselves upon an unsuspecting prospect.
This is the same with any social media site. If all you do is post adverts and offers, you'll turn people away, and you may have the effect of putting people off using you at all.
Luckily, there's a way to tackle this and it's with "engagement". People don't want to be sold to, instead you need to gain their trust, and you can do this by helping them.
Let's take the example of the local Facebook group. We want to sell our valeting service, but we know we can't just keep making offers in the group. However, it's been an unusually rainy few days and we know that lots of cars will be getting muddy.
What we can do is to offer some advice to people. Maybe explain to them that they shouldn't be using washing up liquid to clean their car. Or even give them some free tips on how to get mud out of the carpets. Help people, and they will begin to trust you.
You probably need to do this a lot. I don't mean post a "tip of the day", that in itself can become annoying, but you could post the odd bit of helpful advice based on the weather or on a problem someone has mention in the group.
This is the key to engagement. You'll probably find that you won't have to post any adverts at all, people will eventually begin to ask for you and maybe even recommend you to others. It will take a long time though...
You've probably realised by now that this will take a long time. Social media isn't something you can just turn up at and suddenly make a thousand sales. You have to work on it and garner a reputation.
You wouldn't just turn up in a room of people you don't know and expect to walk away with hundreds of orders, you need to gain respect.
However, when you get that respect, you will find that selling isn't hard anymore. In fact, you won't be selling, you'll instead be dealing with keen buyers, and that's a much easier way to run a business.