It is by now standard operating procedure for business owners and other self-employed professionals to have a visible presence on one or more social media platforms, in addition to an online presence provided by a website. We’ve internalized the assumption that there is no way to either launch or sustain a viable business without an active online presence spread over an array of platforms.
The majority of my colleagues and competitors spend rather a large amount of time researching and writing newsletters, tweeting, Instagramming, or linking with and friending sometimes 500 + “connections”. But really folks, what is the demonstrable ROI of most of this effort? Beyond a certain point, I respectfully submit, social media produces very little beyond siphoning off a chunk of scarce time and money.
How does social media provide a demonstrable ROI for Freelance consultants, who typically provide an intangible service? Our ventures run on referrals based on trust and reputation—how can that resource be communicated electronically? Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting and author of numerous books that address the consulting trade, including Million Dollar Consulting (2009), has for several years offered to split his (large) consulting fee with anyone who shows him how to acquire a client purely through social media or website channels and he signs a client as a result. To date, there have been no takers.
The reality is that most of us in business are afraid to dial back the social media and so the practice continues. We fear that if we don’t participate, our competitors will eat our lunch and customers will abandon us. I’ve observed that in certain businesses and organizations, social media and website marketing yield a good ROI. A large collaborative of Boston artists and galleries has recently hired me to edit a newsletter and perform PR functions for an ongoing monthly event plus an annual special event and that is money well spent for the group. Performing artists, clothing designers, restaurateurs and professional organizations come to mind as excellent candidates for Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to provide outreach / engagement with past, present and future patrons.
Nevertheless, there is a group of social media and website holdouts and at least a handful are making a good living. Maybe they possess valuable competitive advantages, such as excellent word-of-mouth, always the best form of advertising, and exceptional skills? Among that group are two interior designers who have more clients than can be handled (in three or four cities, mind you) and the owner of a small neighborhood breakfast and lunch restaurant that is always packed. Three of the six most successful Freelance consultants with whom I’m acquainted do not even show up on Google. Author Otessa Moshfegh, a member of the internet-obsessed Millennial Generation, has eschewed both website and social media and her debut novel is selling nicely.
I’ve learned that Ms. Moshfegh has a professional publicity team and that gives her a significant edge. Her team portrays her as elusive and not given to crass displays of self-promotion and that is good publicity (!). The consultants once worked for larger consulting firms and like any hairdresser, when they went out on their own, they stole clients. Nevertheless, they continue to grow their client lists without websites. The interior designers seem to be known by the right people and receive lots of referrals. On an a laptop or tablet, they have a few photos to show their work to prospects. The restaurateur has been in business for 20 years, a Starbucks opened across the street at least a decade ago, but he continues to prosper. Patrons started Trip Advisor and Yelp pages for him and patrons control the reviews on those sites.
You may wonder how my website and blog perform for my venture? I did not work for a consulting firm, so the website I feel helps me look legitimate. However, no one has ever hired me as a direct and exclusive result of visiting. This blog has shown prospective clients that I have a solid knowledge of business topics and that I have a certain writing proficiency. The blog has been a factor in my hiring, but the clients were a result of referrals and not this blog alone.
I do not advocate that Freelancers and business owners close down their internet presence. Rather, I respectfully recommend that you consider the ROI of your investment and take heed of the analysis.
Thanks for reading,