Relationships are the key to business expansion

Whether you’re starting out or established, increasing your business involves relationship building.

When I started out freelancing, my first couple of paying jobs came about quite by accident. Although I enjoyed writing, I’d never really thought about making a living from it. I sold my first paying story when a friend referred me. She was busy and needed someone to help out. I then made a point of going to visit the editor of that magazine. Through a Mac user group I met another journalist and he let me know that there was a journalist mailing list running that I’d be interested in. From there I met many other journalists and … well, you get the picture.

At every step of my journey, it’s been relationships with other people that have led to me getting work. I’m now at the point where I rarely have to pitch stories to editors. As I’ve worked with enough people and made a point of delivering what my editors want on time I’ve established a reputation as someone they can rely on.

But as well as delivering the best work I could, I made a point of meeting with people. That’s meant investing in some travel and setting time aside to meet with people. In some cases, that meant drinking a lot of coffee during casual meetings that weren’t about specific work but focussed on simply establishing a professional friendship.

I’ve gone on several conferences where there have been other journalists and editors.While those events have often been hard to justify on a pure dollars per day basis, they have all paid me back many times over. I’ve made contacts at those events that have lead to lots of new work.

More recently, it’s been the use of social media that’s been useful. The challenge of tools like Twitter is that the breadth of relationships is substantial but the connections are usually quite shallow. However, by engaging in dialog with contacts you can get leads for stories, fresh ideas and other valuable information.

A Junket Attendee’s Story

The payback on a junket can come in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Industry junkets can be a challenge for freelancers. Outside of the ethical issues associated with accepting what amounts to a gift from a vendor and having to weigh that against any genuine benefit that comes from participation, there is the question of how you value your time. I would assert that you can’t always count the value of participation in simple financial terms.

Sure, your time is worth money, but being a journalist, freelance or otherwise, is as much about participating in life as it is about making money and meeting deadlines. A case in point.

Coupla years back, Canon ran one of their famous “event” shindigs that took the assembled junketeers to the Hunter Valley [Editor’s note – in New South Wales, Australia].

Part of the itinerary involved spending some hours at a greyhound racing track, where the privilege of access with a license to shoot and the use of any of Canon’s L series lenses meant a bucketload of pics were taken. Three of those pics are still part of my folio.

Anyway, turns out that among the crowd was a bloke in a wheelchair. Crusty face, coke bottle glasses, form guide in one hand and a fag permanently hanging out his mouth. (Reality check: fag = ciggie, OK?)

He was the quintessential trackside character, and every tog on the course knew it. He got lots of pics taken.

Coupla days later, I get a call from a dog trainer. Ever the enterprising type, I’d managed a sale while I was there. Took some pics of his dogs. Anyway, the guy asks me if I got pics of Charlie.

“Charlie?”

“Yeah, you know, the guy in the wheelchair. His funeral is on Friday.”

“What? Funeral?”

“Yeah, the day you mob came down to the track was almost his last day on earth. You saw his mate there, right? Well, his mate asked him what he’d like to do most before kicking the bucket and Charlie said he’d like a day at the track. He was a fixture around here for years. So his mate nicked a hospital wheelchair, put ‘im on a bus… his mate had been done for drink driving … and brung him down to the track. At the end of the day, offers were coming from all corners to get Charlie back to the hospital, but his mate refused, saying ‘I got ‘im here. I’ll get ‘im home.'”

So I contacted Canon, told them what happened, and because they had all the photographers’ CF cards, they collected all the pics of Charlie they could find, put them on a disk and couriered them to the trainer the next day.

On the following day, the day of the funeral, the trainer gives me a call.

“Mate, I can’t thank you enough for organising that. The pictures were amazing. They were exactly how we all remembered Charlie. Try to imagine a room full of trackies and trainers huddled around a laptop watching the slideshow, mate. It was great. Couldn’t have done a better send-off.”

The moral of the story? Sometimes really good things happen when you throw your bean-counting to the wind and trust in the possibilities of serendipitous adventure.

———

Chris Oaten is a freelance photographer and writer with more than a decade of experience covering consumer technology. His web site is www.insightvisuals.com.au

 

The 7-step guide to using social media for small business owners

Social media can be an immensely useful tool for small businesses. Here’s our 7-step guide to getting the most from social media for your business.

This guest post is by Phoebe Netto, the Managing Director of Good Business Consulting, a marketing and public relations consultancy for small-to-medium businesses. Phoebe has a background in public relations and marketing, and takes these skills that are often reserved for big businesses with big budgets, and uses them to help good small businesses grow and meet their objectives. Visit www.goodbusiness.net.au (be sure to sign up for the Good Business Consulting newsletter and check out the blog while you’re there) or follow her on Twitter at @Phoebe_Netto

In marketing yourself and your business, you should aim to be at every watering hole where your ideal clients congregate. After all, if people do not know that you exist and what you can offer, how else will they become clients? For many of you, one of those waterholes will include social media.

Social media opens up a whole new audience to you, provides a means to make new connections, and gives you the tools to introduce yourself and your services in a subtle way to your ideal clients.

It allows you to extend the reach of your thought leadership and gives you the opportunity to share examples of your work and testimonials. Social media can also provide you with a constant flow of advice, ideas, and links to resources that are focused on your area of expertise or interest.

Regardless of what social media platform you decide to use, there are universal principles or golden rules that you must adhere to. You will notice that these rules are not much different to society’s rules for social engagement offline.

1.        Do things on purpose

If you are on twitter, know why you are on twitter and let your tweets reflect your purpose. The same rule applies for every social media platform. For example, I help small-to-medium businesses and sole operators grow with marketing and public relations. I need to ensure that the majority of my tweets on twitter are about small business, marketing and public relations. My twitter followers should know what to expect of my twitter content.

One of the mistakes that many small businesses and sole operators make when using social media is that they do not choose the right platform. This results in busy activity rather than productivity. Only focus on social media platforms that are a gathering place for your unique target group.

For example, young pet owners would be more inclined to interact with you on facebook than on LinkedIn. If you are a freelance journalist, twitter would be best as there are countless editors to interact with there and you can share links to examples of your work.

2.        It’s called SOCIAL media for a reason

Always remember that social media is not a foreign land speaking in another language. It is real life with real people, real relationships and real conversations.

This is why many of the same social etiquette principles that we value and operate by in business and in life, also apply to social media.

3.        It is better to give than to receive

In my business there are a couple of principles that lead to successful marketing and public relations. In media relations if you give others (journalists, editors and the publication’s readers) what they want, you will get what you want. For example, if I help a journalist by giving them a great piece of news or a well-written bylined article, I will get what I want which is great coverage for my client.

Similarly, marketing is most successful when it is focused on meeting needs and making life easier and more pleasant for others. When a small business addresses the deepest concerns and desires of both its clients and potential clients, and makes them feel special, they will attract leads and repeat business.

When operating by the following rules, social media can deliver your message to new audiences, provide you with new connections, and act as a platform to share your expertise and thought-leadership:

4.        No yelling in the hallway (or on social media)

Would you ever walk into a room full of strangers and announce, “I can take your business to the next level at half the price”? No? Didn’t think so. So don’t do it on social media.

If you notice that someone on your social media platform asks for a recommendation or complains that they can’t find a good provider of a certain product or service, then sure – feel free to suggest a solution or offer to discuss offline with them. You might even land a nice piece of new business. The point is to be helpful, with brings me to my next point.

5.        Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you

Use social media to share, give value, help others, provide helpful information, collaborate, and create a reason for people to want to know more about you and what you do.

You can give value and at the same time promote your business by sharing links to your blog, provide thought leadership, expertise and helpful advice. This shows that you are passionate about your industry area and gives people a non-confrontational and subtle way to experience your knowledge.

Make sure you also share other people’s blog posts, links to useful website, spread great social media content (such as tweets) from others, and promote other businesses (if worthy of promotion). Remember, it’s not all about you!

6.        You have two ears and only one mouth for a reason

My mother always used to tell me this and she was right (as usual). Social media is not a forum for monologues. Those who do not interact or listen to what others are saying on social media will eventually find themselves very lonely (offline and online).

Worthless tweets and overactive robots cause more harm than good.

Instead interact with others by asking questions, offering advice and responding to other people’s online questions.

7.       All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

Show your personality. People do business with people, not companies. So make sure show your personality so people can feel a connection.

Be sincere. You can’t fake relationships – even on social media. Put a smile on the faces of those who follow you.

These principles are also golden rules of social media. Zig Ziglar summarised it by saying, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” When you follow these principles you are well on your way to building important connections with your ideal clients.

Social media is one of the greatest tools available to small-to-medium businesses and sole operators. You can communicate directly with your ideal clients without going through a ‘middle-man’ such as a journalist, advertisement or website.

Five conference coverage tips for freelancers

Covering a conference or trade show can be a daunting task for freelancers. Here are five tips for getting the most value when covering events.

1. Preparation

Make sure you prepare before the event and plan what you’re going to do. Sure, the plan might change as circumstances dictate but having a plan means that you won’t be left doing nothing productive. Schedule your time, read conference material and talk to others that have been to similar events to make sure you’re ready for as many different scenarios as possible.

2. Power

If you’re taking a laptop, make sure it’s fully charged. If you can, have a spare battery as access to power outlets can be tricky at some events. For voice recorders, cameras and similar gadgets, try to buy gear that can either use standard AA or AAA batteries or can be charged over USB. This will reduce the number of chargers you need to carry.

3. Bags

We often buy bags based on their aesthetic value but that’s not a great criteria. Aside from comfort, bring a bag that is generously sized so you can easily carry the stacks of papers you’ll inevitably accumulate. Backpacks a re particularly

good as they won’t hurt your back as much as a shoulder satchel. However, they’re less convenient.

4. Business cards

It might sound silly but make sure you have a stock of business cards and make sure you give them out. We’ll talk about designing a great card in a future post but make sure your cards are current with a phone number, email address, your company name, website and a brief statement that describes you (what’s commonly called an “elevator pitch”). Lots of people hand out business cards so make your memorable. Given that cards can be purchased very cheaply it might even be worth producing event—specific cards.

5. Note-taking

My favourite note-taking application is Evernote. The beauty is that I can take notes on my laptop, iPad or phone and all the devices sync over the cloud. It’s easy and free. I know that I can use a paper and pen (I keep those

in my bag just in case of emergency) but as I need to convert my notes into stories, having them online makes that easy. It also means that my notes can be searched.

Also, with Twitter so common, most conferences have a hashtag – a code that starts with a “#” that can be used to identify tweets that relate to a common topic. Find out the hashtag for the event and then collate all of the related tweets. That will give you a stream of conference notes from lots of people and not just your own point of view.

Also, with Twitter so common, most conferences have a hashtag – a code that starts with a “#” that can be used to identify tweets that relate to a common topic. Find out the hashtag for the event and then collate all of the related tweets. That will give you a stream of conference notes from lots of people and not just your own point of view.

So, what are your tips?

Bookstore closures to impact freelancers

Major bookstores Angus and Robertson and Borders, owned by REDgroup, are heading into receivership. There is significant impact not just to customers but the many freelance operators who write books and shoot images that are sold through these outlets. Although this offers challenges, there are great opportunities for freelancers as well.

While REDgroup accounted for about 20% of the Australian book market, as they added new stores, the independent bookstore business suffered. About 20% of this market closed as well, So, over a short time, the number of bookstores in Australia has collapsed by close to 40%.

An article by Richard Flanagan for the Fairfax papers summarises so of the problem:

In Australia, where 20,000 sales is a bestseller, the maths on 4 per cent [royalty] of an average UK-US price of $14 is sobering – $11,200 for two or three years’ work. That is, if you get published.

So, the economics of writing an publishing a book in Australia has always difficult. No one I know has managed to get rich writing and publishing books in Australia. But the collapse of REDgroup and the closure of so many independent stores has reduced the number of outlets for selling those books.

Freelancers need to review their business model. If you’re writing a book with the expectation of making real money then you need either re-evaluate your goal or re-evaluate your business model.

In case you’d missed it – the Interent is here to stay and there’s a huge opportunity. Self-publishing is now easier than ever and good operators that have learned about marketing and search engine optimisation have been able to publish their own books through Amazon, Apple and even the humble PDF.

There’s little doubt that the fall of REDgroup and independent booksellers will cause significant pain. However, this also represents an opportunity for enterprising freelancers.

What will you do about it?