Self-employment in a cold climate
I’ve been speaking with a number of solo professionals recently and many of them told me that they have been badly affected by the economic downturn. Business was going along quite nicely until around March this year when everything seems to have dried up. In some cases, companies that had been contracting these professionals for long-term projects are now bringing that work in-house. In other cases, businesses were no longer planning more than a couple of months ahead so these self-employed professionals - who had gotten used to having work lined up for the next 10 months - are now finding that they have to live from hand to mouth, with the contract work being drip fed to them from time to time.
I asked them what they are doing to market themselves and to get themselves “out there” in these difficult times. A number of them have been going through their address books, cold calling contacts and making arrangements to meet up and network in the hope that there might be some work thrown their way — or at least some leads that they could then follow up. It was painstakingly slow and long, hard work — with as many as thirty “no, thank yous” to every one “maybe”. Depressingly, in one case, the contacts that this one professional called up said, “I’m so glad you called. I want to pick your brain. I’ve just been made redundant”. Another professional sighed and said that he really should try to get networking but he wasn’t very good at it and he really didn’t like pushing himself on other people.
What, no website?
In quite a number of cases, none of them had a website.
When I asked them why they didn’t have websites for their businesses, the responses all had a similar theme:
• business had been good up till now, they didn’t need one;
• they didn’t want to spend the money and now in the downturn, they didn’t have the money to spend;
• they had been getting all their work through contacts and existing clients so there had never been the need for a website;
• they were too busy with the work to think about marketing and commissioning a website.
Benefits of having a website
I urged them to invest the time and money in resourcing a website, especially now that they had a bit of spare time to think about what they wanted to say about themselves on a website and what they wanted for the design of it. While personal contacts and real-world networking is extremely valuable, its reach is limited to the number of people you can personally talk to or spend time with. A website - literally - makes your credentials and services available 24/7 to the whole wide world. Also, when one of your contacts recommends you to a company, they can easily include a link to your website so that that company can easily check out what you offer and your track record - which may be critical to their decision about whether or not to hire you. In fact, if you were that company and you weree considering hiring a new consultant, would you go for the one with the website you can check out or rely on a recommendation that you can’t verify in any other way?
Case studies via Twitter and Facebook
I thought that the best way to make a strong case for how important it is for self-employed professionals to have a website it to offer them some real world case studies. So I opened up Twitter and sent the following “tweet” to the whole wide world:
If you are self-employed, how important is it to have your own website? Pls help me advise some solo professionals I know
These are a couple of responses I got back within the hour:
barrieingramacc: @fusionview I have site www.barrieingram.co.uk and its helped me get networkin people get to know what you do I have got podcasts as well .
I don’t know Barrie but he caught my “tweet” because he was on Twitter. I checked his website and see that he offers “Complete Accountancy Service specifically for small business”. Now he is getting some free publicity from my blog post! By engaging online, you can definitely widen your reach as Barrie has done.
gilescolborne: @fusionview Put it like this: when was the last time you looked up a number in the Yellow Pages? And on Google?
Giles is my cousin-in-law who is a usability expert and Managing Director of cxpartners, based in Bristol. What he says is so true. I hardly look up a business in the Yellow Pages - instead I google, because Google throws up businesses actual websites and other information about them such as articles, blog posts etc whereas Yellow Pages only gives me their address and phone number. If you don’t have a website, you miss out on potential clients who may be googling right now in the hope of finding someone just like you.
My Twitter feed also automatically appears in my Facebook profile so I also received these other responses via Facebook.
Moyra Weston at 11:36pm July 1
I launched mine 2 weeks ago and it has already given me 4 positive leads. We can manage without if we have great links and networks, but it appears that a professional looking website gives credibility and allows us to spread our message - especially when we use blogs/newsletters. I’ve had a lot of feedback on mine and am definitely seen as a professional with it… www.westoncoaching.com
Moyra is a client for whom my consultancy provided a website and associated blog as well as blog training. Weston Coaching is “Committed to supporting the development you need through coaching, training, consultancy and facilitation.” I’m thrilled that her website has already generated four positive leads within two weeks of launching!
Susan Macaulay at 12:38pm July 2
I think it’s great. gives people a place to go and get a bunch of information fast and easy. They can look at what they want. Saves time for you and for clients. Mine has been up about 4 years. Soon to be revamped based on experience. Haven’t used it as fully as would like to in the past, but will in the future….
Susan is a friend and Managing Director of Strike Communications, a public speaking consultant based in Dubai. She also runs Amazing Women Rock, a social network for, well, “amazing women”. Interestingly, I was going to put one of the solo professionals I met in contact with Susan before I got this message - but found that I couldn’t give Susan “a bunch of information” by merely forwarding that professional’s web address - and so I haven’t gotten around to writing Susan an email about this person yet because it’s so much more hassle for me to set out that “bunch of information” myself. Make it easy for your contacts to spread the word about you and your business by having a website.
I rest my case
So, if you’re self-employed - I hope that with these additional voices from small business owners and solo professionals, I have been able to make the case for investing in a website as soon as possible, if you don’t already have one! And please do pop back and let me know how it works out for you and your business.
Photo: thanks to Librarian By Day on flickr.com (CCL0