We’re all in a group or two that are aimed at freelancers, whether that’s a Facebook community, or even a Slack channel or What’s App group. As well as offering a sounding board, or a place to sound off about a client, these groups are somewhere you can look for and find new clients or business, or even build contacts who can pass your name on for work.
But there’s a fine line between taking part, using the group to find work, and spamming. So how can you find balance, while making the groups work well for your business without seeming like a sales bore?
Shona Chambers runs Self Employed Club, a Facebook Group and Instagram community. “One of the best ways to stand out in a group is by answering questions from your area of expertise. If you are a frequent commenter on a certain topic, the admin will notice and the next time someone asks for help in that area, you'll be tagged. More people in the group will see you, and you'll gain more visibility simply for being a helpful member of the group.”
You could even go so far as to offer your services to the host, too, she adds. “Think about what you can add to the group. If you know about something and could provide a short talk to the group, ask the host if that would be ok. Some groups don't allow ‘lives’, but many do. Keep in mind that you are trying to help others with what you offer to share, not to pitch to them. You'll be certain to generate more awareness for your business whether you treat it as a sales opportunity or not.”
Over at the Being Freelance facebook group, founder and podcaster Steve Folland has some great ways members can join in, from a ‘Non-employee of the week’ award, to a book club. He says you need to be brave and give joining in a go, and people will be kind and helpful.
“Think of these Facebook groups like a real room where you’re hanging out with people. If you just stood in the corner shouting about yourself people would soon get bored of you or ignore you. Yet if you just stand in the corner by the biscuits and don’t say anything, how is anyone meant to know that you’re there? So, take that virtual step forward. Listen to what others are saying or asking and join in. Be helpful. Be supportive. Be yourself.
“Then when you have a genuine question, ask it. Being helpful is key. People like you because you help… but they also want to help you in return. If you show up and speak up in that room regularly enough, you’ll really feel the benefit. Don’t try to ’sell’ - try to be a human who joins in.”
It’s not just Facebook groups. Slack might feel like ‘just’ a messaging medium for internal business, but there are channels for freelancers, including Leapers.co, run by Matthew Knight.
“Every community, slack included, will have its own culture - what is and isn't acceptable. Most communities are supportive when you're sharing something you're really proud of, work that you've done which you've put time and effort and love into, and we always love seeing each others' work, so don't be embarrassed to post something if you are proud of it, you should be! If you're worried about coming across as spammy, ask yourself if you're adding something valuable to the conversation? If it will genuinely help someone out or answer their question - that's not spam, it's useful!”
Be mindful that there may be rules about self-promotion in the groups or channels, Matthew Knight advises.
“Often, communities will publish their policies and explain what is acceptable and what isn't, so you immediately understand what's allowed. For example, within Leapers, as we are a support group - we don't allow any sort of advertising or marketing or pitching your services. We do have a channel where people can do this, but everyone understands that you only join that channel if you're open to that sort of content. Likewise, we have a channel called littlewins which is 100% all about things you've done, and sharing things you're really proud of. It doesn't just have to be work either, perhaps you completed a training course, or just managed to get that invoice finally paid. We also have a set of policies around behaviours, like listening before speaking; not offering advice where it hasn't been asked for; sharing your personal experience rather than telling others what they 'should' do; and not judging people's actions as you almost never know the whole picture.”
That line between ‘friendly’ and ‘business’ is one that Heidi Scrimgeour helps members find in the What’s App group she and business partner Hazel Davis run for alumni of their pitching workshops at Museflash. Many What’s App groups are by invite only, but if you are in one, it’s easy to forget this is a business tool not ‘just another chat’.
Heidi advises: “Most of us feel a bit ‘ick' about self-promotion so there’s a real possibility that you might be accusing yourself of being spammy when you’re really not. If anything, our WhatsApp members constantly tell us that we’re not sales-y enough. We’ve worried so much about being spammy in the past that we haven’t communicated enough. And that can be as detrimental to your business as being too spammy.”