Social Networking: Career Benefits for Contract Consultants

Social networking can play a key role in generating contractor leads and developing new business contacts and professional acquaintances. It is a crucial part of building an independent consulting business from scratch and securing a steady incoming stream of customers. Both professional networking sites and the social media can help put your business on the map and get you new business opportunity leads. There are, however, approaches that work and those that don't and, to achieve any amount of success, you need to know the difference between the two.

Professional social networking – where to begin?

The first step with professional and social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) is to create a list of former colleagues, business associates, clients, and just about every other professional contact you can think of, and see who might make a good client or bring in new sales leads for your consulting business. Once you have a sizeable list of contacts, track down as many of them as you can through mutual friends, business associates, and online social networks, get in touch and mention your new contractor business.

Spreading the word about your consulting services even on a small scale can have a very positive impact on your career down the line. At the very least, by talking to your business contacts, you will get feedback from professionals who are familiar with different facets of the industry and might be able to give you some sound advice for the future, while your old clients will likely give you an outside perspective that might prove useful when you are forming your business strategy and brainstorming ways to market your services.

If you have a professional website, you can direct your friends and business contacts to the info page for more details on your new consulting business. If not, you should at least have a document ready that breaks down the consulting services that you offer and the benefit these can bring to an organisation or a single entrepreneur. You never know when a potential client might ask for more details on how you can help his or her business. Having it all in one place always helps.

Social networking strategies: Expanding your social network

Professional and social networking sites can do a lot for your business if you know how to use them. When your goal is to expand the network of your business contacts, there are several critical factors you need to consider before you start using websites like Facebook or LinkedIn to grow your business or spread the word about your consulting services. The main one is adding value to the online community – any online community – of industry professionals and potential clients. If you can help someone out with a problem, teach them to do something, or provide a valuable resource for their business, you will not only be seen as an expert in your field, but also stand out of the crowd of your peers who are driving potential customers away by aggressively selling their services at every opportunity. The trick with social networking sites, blogs, forums, and other places on the web where you might look for potential clients, is to express genuine interest in people and find ways to give away something valuable for free instead of trying to sell it right away.

How to use Facebook for business

Using Facebook for business can bring in additional clients for your company, but this will not happen without your active involvement in various Facebook career groups or on your own company pages. First of all, if you already have a personal account on Facebook, consider opening a separate one for your business endeavours. While a personalized approach is something that can work for your blog, Facebook career groups are a different animal. They call for a professional image. Besides, you wouldn't want your potential clients to see that arm's length portrait of yourself hungover after a party anyway.

Joining various career groups on Facebook will not in itself get you contacts and clients. Using the career groups' pages only to repeatedly try to bring attention to your company is not likely to have much effect either. As with any other content sharing site (Twitter, Digg, and Reddit among others), it is the content that counts, not the brand that created it. The content you contribute to these sites must be meaningful, helpful and provide value to the people in the group. It does not need to be on your website or have anything to do with your consulting services. The idea is to build confidence in your expertise and integrity, not to flat out try to sell your services to a group of strangers.

Company pages on Facebook can be a good source of traffic and potential customers, but they will require a few minutes of your time each day. They will also require a little ingenuity. If you have a Facebook page for your business, it is usually not enough to simply promote it on your profile. You need to get people to participate and find ways to engage them in conversation from time to time. A very easy way to do this is to post weekly polls or just ask the members to share their experiences in any given field. People like to be asked questions, so be ready to show some genuine curiousity about who your new friends and contacts are.

Providing value: Internet marketing strategy that works

Whether you are trying to promote your business on Facebook or Twitter, the fastest way to get attention is to offer something of value for free. Social networking sites are full of marketers as it is and it is usually not enough to just show up and start following people or sending out friend requests. An effective short-term strategy that will get you some attention is to start a contest, promote it on social sites and ask others to spread the word that you are giving something away for free.

Twitter for business: How to get more followers

Uses of Twitter for business mostly hinge upon the number of followers you have. If you are trying to get your brand name out there by starting a contest, Twitter can definitely come in handy. You can, for instance, offer a free consultation to a random person who retweets your message by a certain time. This will usually grow your number of followers pretty quickly. You can do the same on Facebook and offer a prize to the person who gives the best answer to a question you ask. By using this strategy, you will have groups of strangers promoting your business to their friends and followers and it won't cost you more than a few hours of your time. All you need to do is make sure your friends and followers understand how the prize can bring real value to their business.

Another thing worth keeping in mind is that you need to get acquainted with the online communities and the different group dynamics that are at work on professional and social sites. First of all, you should be able to identify the most influential members – those who are most active and have the greatest number of friends or followers – and try to engage them in a conversation. The more often you do this, the more visible you become to entire groups of people.

Social media marketing: Can it work for a contractor?

Social sites are definitely not a short term investment of your time and will not convert into new customers overnight. As an Internet marketing strategy, they should come second to making your website visible to the search engines. Social networking sites, however, are an excellent tool for maintaining your existing relationships with past and present clients and colleagues, for forming new ones, and for making a name for your business in groups of your peers. Your efforts will probably not result in profit right off the bat, but down the line, they can go a long way in building confidence and establishing your brand beyond the industry circles that you are already part of.

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