Marketing for Free Agents redux

I’ve often said that learning and working are becoming the same thing in our hyper-connected workplaces. As a free-agent there are great opportunities to integrate work and learning and that is by thinking of marketing as education, both for you and your clients. Since a one-person business doesn’t have separate marketing and training departments, there’s no need to worry about any turf wars. Marketing is the same as Learning & Development.

Marketing and education have certain similarities – gaining attention; getting your message across; and changing behaviour. Much of our learning is through conversations with others, as is marketing, or as the Cluetrain Manifesto states in Thesis #1 – Markets are conversation.

Without conversation (oral, written, graphical, physical) there are no social transactions. This has been the key aspect of the un-marketing approach for my own consulting business. Learning and working are mostly conversation as well. To market yourself as a free-agent online, start by giving. That means be a valued contributor to conversations with your professional community. Helping to educate potential clients is an excellent path to develop relationships

The Cluetrain’s Thesis #6 is that the Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media. I started blogging here in 2004, and my blog is my pervasive presence on the Web. This is where you can find me as well as links to other things I may be doing. It has now become my knowledge base and provides fodder for articles and presentations. My blog enables me to have conversations with other professionals about things that matter to us. I’ve said many times that my blog doesn’t get me clients but, using a baseball metaphor, it gets me from 1st base onward. It’s also my business card that tells more about what I think than any interview ever could.

Cluetrain Thesis #7 is that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. The advantage of being a free-agent today is that you can use the Internet to get around most hierarchies. Information on almost any field is available for free. Tools like Twitter let you “follow” people in fields that interest you; making it excellent for competitive intelligence. Checking out “crowd-sourced” tags on Delicious lets you see what others find important. You can connect with people on Facebook or on Linked-In, with its discussion groups. Personally, I use Linked-In for business and Facebook for friends & colleagues. Both networks, as well as Twitter, have connected me to paid work.

Cluetrain Thesis #9 says that networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge. It still requires hard work, perseverance, skill and knowledge but you can get recognized for your expertise. Kathy Sierra has an excellent graph showing the work required, but the tools to disseminate your expertise are here now:

Posting questions on blogs, Twitter or social networks usually results in a lot of good advice. I revamped my website in 2007 after asking advice from readers, which increased traffic to my consulting section. Once you go online, you are no longer alone, for better or worse.

We now have many tools to engage in conversation and to create some wealth along the way, without giving up our rights in indentured servitude as salaried workers.

Cluetrain Thesis #10 concludes that markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. I have found that participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally. This is supported by Jeff Jarvis:

To make the money I don’t make teaching, I consult and speak for various media companies and brands. The only reason I get those gigs is because companies read the ideas I discuss at Buzzmachine and ask me to come and repeat them in PowerPoint form and explore them with their staff. I’ve also been asked to teach executives how to blog (a class that should, by rights, take about two minutes). That work and the teaching get me to a nice income in six figures. So I’m not looking quite as idiotic now, I hope.

Rob Paterson explains how important blogging is for his work:

NPR, all my work in New Media, Blackwater, Education – all my paying gigs have come through this medium [blogging].

Some Quick Start Tips to market yourself online:

  1. Get your own domain name
  2. Free your Bookmarks and start sharing what you do
  3. Read blogs & make comments and don’t forget to Aggregate before you’re swamped
  4. Establish a consistent presence on Linked-In, Facebook, etc.
  5. Start your blog (WordPress, Typepad) without any fanfare
  6. Check out other social media like Twitter or what others are talking about
  7. Watch for patterns and see what makes sense for you

These Small Business Blogs may give some inspiration.

After several years of blogging and engaging in educational (un-marketing) conversations online, here are some of the tangible benefits to my business. Many of these practices are interwoven with my personal knowledge management processes as well.

  • Using a feed reader (via RSS), saves a lot of time and bookmarking.
  • The information I get from blogs and Twitter is usually weeks ahead of the mainstream press. This is competitive intelligence.
  • By blogging and tweeting I have raised my profile on the web, which is cheap, but time-consuming, marketing.
  • I use my knowledge base of blogs posts when preparing reports, proposals and presentations. WordPress is an excellent tool and has become much easier to use with version 3.0.
  • Blogging forces me to think and reflect in order to write, so that what was just an idea in my mind becomes more concrete. I am better prepared when asked questions by potential clients.
  • Through blogging and Twitter I have met a number of business partners.
  • Online writing keeps me in touch with a lot of interesting people and expands my view of the world, providing new ideas for my business.
  • When I have a problem, especially a technical one, I post it on Twitter and usually get an informed answer within 24 hours. It’s like a large performance support system.
  • My web presence allows people to get to know my opinions before they engage me as a consultant; saving time and potential frustrations.

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One Response to “Marketing for Free Agents redux”

  1. Holly MacDonald

    Un-marketing – great term. I have to agree Harold, I use the web in many similar ways as a free agent.

    One nuance to add – I also link to various things on my blog/website wthin proposals themselves as a way to extrapolate on a point within the proposal. I find that RFP’s especially are limited in what/how they want you to respond and linking allows for a broader representation of me.

    Now, I have to go read your post on free your bookmarks, as I’m looking to go up to the next level on delicious (as per my recent post: http://sparkyourinterest.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/mmmmmmm-delicious/).

    As always, I appreciate what and how you share.