How to Use Social Networks to Find Gigs
I can see through you. You read the headline and think “MySpace”. Far from it. It’s true that social networks are all the rage these days. Every day a number of new communities pop up on the scene. Some are for fun, but some can be quite useful, especially for the job-seeking freelancer.
MySpace for some is only a place to hang out, chat, be friends with hundreds of bands, or just have cool-looking personal pages. For others MySpace is a place to get new gigs. I know many people who’ve gotten new jobs through it, and I’m pretty sure that some of you could tell similar stories.
Without passing judgment on any of them, the platforms I’d keep my eye on are LinkedIn, FaceBook, and especially for European freelancers, Xing (formerly known as OpenBC). The latter is my main platform for business networking. Since my focus is on the German market this works out pretty well for me.
FaceBook became an attractive new source when it expanded outside the student world. I can’t say for myself that I’ve gotten a gig through it as I mainly use it to stay in touch with my international friends, but you just never know.
The most widespread of them is probably LinkedIn, especially when it comes to business networking.
All of them are based on a simple idea: you know people, and they know other people who might need your services. You’ve probably already gotten a gig through a friend who knows a friend (and so on) in your career. I know I have. Social networks make this even easier and offers much more than just an introduction.
Let Clients Find You
The good thing about social networks is that clients can actually find you. They can search for skills they need, can limit the search to a specific area, and so on. They can find you through the people you know or through the people they know. They can find you in specialized groups, discussions or while browsing through a random person’s contact. The important thing is: they can find you without any effort on your part.
What can you do to increase the chances of a potential client stumbling across your profile? The first thing is to represent yourself accurately. List your skills, include them in your profile. List your recent projects and what your tasks were. Don’t push it though. Endless list of tools, programming languages or general buzzwords make you look like someone who is desperate to make contact. And frankly, those lists are almost always far from the truth.
Choose the right keywords for your skills. When someone looks for a Ruby on Rails developer you don’t want to be missed because you assumed it would be obvious you wrote Rails. If you try to put yourself in a laypersons shoes it should help you come up with some good keywords. If in doubt, ask your mum or anyone tech-illiterate what they’d type in if they were looking for your services, and work your way up from there.
Most social networks offer groups for almost every topic and industry. Everything from programming (and all the glorious topics related to it) to making cupcakes will be available. They’re a great place to meet people, though in my personal experience there are some that are nothing more than infighting and resumes disguised as discussion. If there is a genuine discussion in which you can learn or share your expertise than certainly participate, otherwise don’t waste your time.
A social network is not only a place to show off, it’s also a place to publish your needs. While you need gigs, your next client needs certain skills. In the same way clients can look for you, you can search for them. You don’t have to do it all the time, but keeping an open eye for people looking for your skills can’t hurt, right?
However, don’t fall into the habit of just collecting people. Having several hundreds (or even more) people in your network doesn’t mean you’re in for an endless supply of new projects. Your network isn’t stale, it’s constantly changing, refocusing and rearranging. People get new jobs, they meet new people, they have changing needs or work on new projects. Social networks can be a great way to stay in the loop with what’s happening, but a huge network requires a great deal of care and attention. The more people you have on your list the bigger the chances of you missing the important information in between all the noise. So you might want to keep it to a level that you can handle.
And now for the main advantage of social networks: the networking itself. Traditional networkers spend a lot of time caring for the people in their networks. They send emails or call every now and then just to see what’s up. They play golf with the people in their network.
It took me a while to understand why networking is important for freelancers. Your network consists of people. People who have their own networks – who know other people, and who know you. When these people know you, your skills and the way you deal with others and their problems, they know that when they have a problem of their own, be it a job or just a favour, they can count on you.
The same is true the other way around. When you have a job you can’t deal with yourself, when you need a specific skill, you spread this information in your network. You spread the word and contact people who fit the profile. There’s no guarantee that one of your contacts will be available, but here’s the kicker: they know other people who might fit.
That’s the beauty of networking, and that’s also why you as a freelancer need to have both clients and people you’d normally consider as competition in your network. Doing someone a favour might result in a favour in return.
A social network is a valuable tool when used appropriately. Try to focus your networking on one or two and keep it up to date. Care for your network, expand it, keep in touch with the people in it and it might turn up new opportunities for you. I know it did for me, even through something unlikely like Flickr.