For freelance workers who don’t have access to a full-fledged marketing department, utilizing social networking to reach out to both peers and clients is essential to business.

“Twenty years ago you’d have had to distribute flyers or brochures, ten years ago you’d have utilized a basic website and email. Now you can reach out quickly and for a fraction of the price to a captive global audience,” explains Jerome Iveson, founder of Thrive, which offers Solo project management software for freelancers. “We’ve had people take our trial from 175 countries which is amazing. While it would have been impossible to achieve through traditional channels, Twitter enabled us to reach this audience.”

That’s exactly the same kind of reach that makes social so valuable for businesses large and small, but for freelancers — the smallest of small businesses — its importance is magnified even further, as they might not have the resources to do more traditional marketing.

And for creative freelancers — like most of Thrive’s user base — social can play an even bigger role. “Social is a creative medium,” says Iveson. “The creative sector tends to be an earlier adopter of new and exciting technology. Creatives love to be involved in anything new and exciting, because essentially that’s what creating is.”

Social networks allow freelancers to flex their creative muscles in a way that can bring them new business by showcasing their work and making connections with both peers and potential clients — making it a valuable support system for freelance workers. But just what should freelance pros be doing on social channels to make the biggest impact?

How to Succeed as a Freelancer on Social

Freelancer working

The first step to any successful social strategy is to pick the right network to start on — though Facebook and Twitter are both good first social steps due to their size and reach. Consider the kind of work you’re doing, how you want to showcase it, and where you’re likely to find both people in the same industry and potential clients.

Once you’ve settled on the right network — or networks — it’s time to create a profile. Depending on your line of work and how you use social networks, you may want to create a specific business profile. Whether you choose to make a profile that’s all business or one that covers both business and personal, remember to keep things professional. While social is a great way to express your personality to potential clients, there’s plenty of things you probably don’t want them to see.

“Social is about genuine engagement from both ends,” says Iveson. “That’s probably what everyone should be striving to get out of their social networks: genuine engagement.”

Of course, this is easier said than done — establishing and maintaining a social presence can seem daunting for a busy freelancer who may not be familiar with the ins and outs of social networking. The key, as Iveson said, is being genuine. Be yourself and do your best to offer your followers updates they’re likely to find interesting.

Maintaining a social presence really isn’t that different from maintaining an in-person conversation — albeit with a bunch of strangers. You want to bring up topics of mutual interest and respond to the social cues you see your followers expressing through comments, likes, or shares. If your followers seem to like a particular kind of comment or messaging, keep it up — and if there’s something they clearly don’t like, a change of topic is probably in order.

“Keep it real,” advises Iveson. “Share stuff that you like — not what you think your followers will want to see. People can see through cheap marketing tricks in an instant, so it comes back again to honest engagement. Everything you do should be genuine.”

What Can Social Do for Me?

Social phone

You get as much out of your social activity as you put in, so the more effort you spend — so long as you’re spending that effort smartly — the more you’re likely to get back. However, social networking isn’t necessarily about immediate returns.

“It’s more about making connections and finding people who’ll become advocates for your brand,” says Iveson. “That will only happen if we put real and positive energy into our social networks.”

Once you have a social presence established, you should work to build a network of friends and allies. Share content you’ve created, reach out to your peers, and join in conversation with your virtual coworkers — or even potential clients.

“Social media can be a good, light touch way to get a prospective client’s attention,” explains Iveson. “Favoriting, retweeting, and joining in their conversations if you have something useful to add.”

The long-term value of connections you make on social can be invaluable — your social coworkers may wind up sending you job leads or a smart social post could put you on the radar of a future client. Though today’s social activity may not immediately boost your bottom line, if you work on building a good social community, you can reap the rewards of your social presence in the future.

Making Sure Your Social Presence Works

Home office

Is your social presence providing real, measurable value for your freelance business? Though, as we’ve said, you shouldn’t expect immediate results, you need to keep an eye on your social efforts to make sure you are getting the results you want — whether it’s client acquisition or just getting your name out.

One key metric to watch is time; social networking can absorb a lot of time for a lone freelancer, so it’s vital to make sure you’re not letting your social efforts take up too much of your schedule and getting in the way of work.

Beyond time, you’ll want to keep your eyes on the standard social metrics. “The main indicators of success are the obvious ones: an increase in retweets, shares, likes, etc,” says Iveson. “The best bit of advice I can give freelancers is to use a tool like Sprout Social to monitor their metrics and growth of their overall audience.”

Social tools like Sprout can help beyond metrics, too, by letting you plan and schedule social posts to go out at just the right time. And spending more time working and less time managing social channels is something any freelancer can get behind.

[Image credit: David Martyn Hunt, Jason Howie, Jeremy Levine]