Going Solo: Stephanie Booth; Laura Fitton – You Only Get What You Give

Stephanie Booth
It’s not enough to just know how to do my job, to do what I get paid for. To be successful you need business skills and these often, particularly if you became a freelance by passion, you might not have had a chance to learn them. Going Solo is a chance to fill this gap, and have a chance to learn from others’ experience. This is what we naturally do, when we have a problem we ask friends who are in the business who’ve done it before. That’s how the speakers were choses – they’re all freelancers.

Lots of freelances in the internet industry. Technology evolves very fast and for many things we do as freelances, there’s no real training or schooling in academia or professional schools. We’ve learnt on the job and maybe there are no positions in companies for what we’re doing because we’re too cutting edge or too in advance of what’s viable in a big company.

[Steph asks the audience what roughly attendees do. Many are consultants, developers, with a few journalists, designers in the mix too.]

Laura Fitton
Known because of Twittering, oddly, but investment of time is responsible for all incoming business, a lot of professional networks and mentoring, but people she’s met in the 9 months she’s been in Twitter blows her mind.

Why do you get hired when you get hired? Responses from audience: Reputation. Don’t know anyone else who can do it.

You as a unique individual, the company should want you as a person, not what you do as a commodity. Need to learn who you are, what you do uniquely. When people contact her is not because they want her to pitch, they want to already hire her.

Many companies/consultants just hide from web 20. Point of all these techs, approaches, etc. is to create gravity – the pre-existing condition that allows people to pick up the phone and say they want you. If you have good ideas and get them out there you can shortcut the old-school book method, instead blog, appear in podcasts, and draw people to you because of that.

Lots of talk about monetising social media, using ads. Don’t think that’s the point. The point is how it builds value and therefore business. All this hype and fuss about social media is nothing new.

Lives very heavily on Twitter. Gathers opinions from Twitter. Asked for one tip for people who want to use these tools. Themes were

– give it a try
– be useful, “Don’t annoy me or else I’ll tell my friends you suck”, and it is that casual.
– be helpful
– be friendly
– find the best audience, do research – plenty of freelances whose audiences are not on social media, although it’s still useful to be there because it increases your authority, they don’t need to find you through social media, if you can point them to your blog that’s useful. Can send anyone in the world to your blog.

HOw do ou know what you know? People tell you. Knowledge is socially mediated. Markets are likewise socially mediated – people trust their friends, referrals are very important.

What sort of social media presence do you have? What does your welcome mat say when people visit your blog? Not shortcuts, to this. There are the tips from Twitter, be helpful. You get what you give away. Ideas are a dime a dozen, what you are being hired for is not your ideas but your unique execution and your unique application of your ideas to a problem.

Giving time away – don’t do too much, if someone’s asking for free consulting you say “I”m really sorry, my commitment to my paying clients prevents me from doing that”. One example is that there are things like speaking opportunities, which Laura has a lot of. Was asked to speak for free, but said “I’m sorry, I can’t do it for free but I can do a quid pro quo” and got an hour and a half with the PR company in exchange. Picking brains lunches – it’s appropriate to draw the line.

What are the things that truly matter?
– Listen. Don’t worry too much about what you say, outbound communications. Listening is far more important. Any new community online that you’re looking to approach and be involved in, the most important thing to do is go in and listen before you engage.
– Be human. we’re so fixated on our professional appearance, can be so straight-laced, but it’s important to give a sense of your human voice on your blog. So show them you as a person with some well-rounded soul. YMMV, so know yourself. What are the unique ways that you work?
– When approaching your blog, be useful. Provide something that’s of value. You can change the point of view of your messaging: change the point of view to that of your audience.

Stowe said he sells “advisory capital”, but the user buys “a faster route to success”; a financial advisor sells “less stress and hassle”. How has the client condition changed after working with you? Useful both in direct and indirect communications. Focus on results you leave for your client.

– Be helpful. ComcastCares is on Twitter trying to reach out to people who have problems with Comcast. NOw, you can’t help everyone one-on-one, but answering questions helps more than just the asker.
– Get out and network.
– Be sincere. That will be picked up on. If you start trying to spam and brag and promote yourself, you need to build your value.

Most important thing is to give up control. The command and control age is over, that’s what the Cluetrain is about, and you need to learn to ride it. Let go, relax, engage in these conversations.

Stowe: Made the comment that this is ancient wiring, but the idea of surrendering control is new.
Laura: We had a public level of communications which was all very formal, and then we had the personal communications, so the stuff we already know about interacting personally are now being done on the public level. Old had two tiers, but the public/formal one is becoming public/informal. It’s very easy to go online and find someone. You don’t want to be on a commodity level, so to show how unique your ideas are you need to share those ideas very freely. Blogging for business, felt like it was a database of ideas to share.

Rochenda: How did you become known by Twitter?
Laura: I used to think that Twitter was dumb, and it’s fine to think that Twitter is dumb, had 250 people following in August, now it’s 3800. Bit of a tricky pony, people think I’m funny, but I’m also passionate. Engage very openly. People who find her through Twitter do hire her for her main area of consultancy in presentation advice. But having 3800 followers is not the point. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about engaging with the people who will sustain you. Surround with an incoming stream of information, have a peer community, it’s inspiration, support, ideas, challenge. That was the entry drug, and that alone is a great use of Twitter. You derive it and then you give it back. It’s what you give to the system that will pay you back. doesn’t have to be Twitter – what can I give? What about time suck? If you’re still printing brochures, paying for websites, then investing appropriately in social media, which isn’t free because it’s your time and your time is billable, that investment will pay off. But don’t spend time watching TV, reduced cold-call networking, cold-call meetings. A lot of that has been eliminated, so when does go to events, usually have pre-connected with the people there. Don’t just leave these relationships floating out in the online world but to pull them into the real world. Strongest relationships are those with people that I’ve met in person too. Build human connections is a multilayered process.

Q: I deal with bankers and they’re not even on Twitter. They don’t give a hoot about blogging or anything else. they are busy doing other things. I have a blog since 2000 which deals with information security and risk, but most of these people dont’ want to comment. Now I have a social media blog and you guys are really chatty. But the risk people dont’ want to come in, they call you, or they email. What your’e telling me is nice, but I think there’s a cultural thing you have to consider. I’m amazed by Americans, the way you Twitter, you make fun of yourselves, I could never have one of my guys do that, it’s not “what we do”.
Laura: I am very silly, I say words liek “suck”, but that’s my audience. And you have to put it in their language. What are the things that they hire you for?

Same chap: I have two kids on my Twitter feed, and they are banker’s kids, and the bankers found out about me through their kids. Because I deal with problems and those are compliance and security issues, they dont’ want it on emails, or on Google. Goes back to relationships, trust, confidence, and I appreciate your presentation, but depending on the country you’re in, and the business you’re in, you’re going to have to find a different way. Twitter is not going to work for me. But I think one gets, I get ideas from Twitter, it’s not my clients, they are not on Twitter, I have to find them through something else.
Laura: It’s not necessarily these tools where you’re pulling in clients, but because you have the blog, and that’s where they can find out about you.

Same chap: Yes, but he doesn’t use RSS, he wants it by email.
Laura: If he’s not on RSS then give it to him by email. Use the tools the way your clients to – use email, use Google, continually send articles to ex-clients if you have written something they might be interested in. You need to get to where the audience is, and give them what they want. Most presentations suck because they’re in the language of the presentation and not the language of the audience, so think about that across all your social media networks.

Dennis: Want to talk to our banking friend. What we’re really talking about here really is change. I ‘m building a community of chartered accountants, have 75k, and when people say “oh they don’t want to do it”, well maybe not today, but maybe tomorrow.

Laura: To talk a bit more about culture, there’s been a lot of talk about people having to clean up their Facebook so that they are attractive to employers. That’s ok to some extent, but if you’re doing it too much you have to ask if these are the people you really want to work with? People hire me because they like my style and they know I’ll work hard when they need me to.

Q: Is Twitter good for everyone? Say yoga teachers?
Laura: Twitter is good for one type of person: Humans. There are five yoga teachers I know of on Twitter, so go talk to them. Twitter is like a big pool of water, and within that pool you go and find the fish. Even if you’re highly specialised, you will find people talking about it.

Q: How do you introduce Twitter to people who are not early adopters?
Laura: Find something that’s of interest to them. Find people who do what they do, and then introduce them, and point out relevant questions from people. Package that together so they see utility in the stream. Also tell them the names of people on Twitter they might find interesting. But Twitter comes to people eventually, but again, take Twitter out of the mix – whatever tool it is, you have to find what’s useful and relevant. Trying to explain blogging to my father, who thinks blogs are useless. He’s a Redsox fan, so went to a baseball player’s blog. Before then, her dad could only rant about what the sports writer said, but now he can actually talk to the baseball player himself. Find something.

Q: Me – struggled last year with a lot of people wanting to “pick my brains” over coffee, and basically digging for free consulting.
Laura: Picking brains OK at a conference, thing but try not to get roped into the coffee chat, and it’s a way to network, but there are plenty of ways for someone to get to know me. Really can’t honour the lunch requests that come through Twitter, so using terms like ‘Out of respect to my paying clients’ or ‘Out of respect for my commitments, I’d be happy to help or answer questions by email’. Some interview questions are really bad because people clearly not read previous articles. People respect you when you respectfully and if they really push it, say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t realise you were looking for your consulting’, or point them to places to go. Respect yourself and know that you don’t scale. You feel bad turning people down, but you have put you’ve already given, doesn’t mean you have to keep giving just because you are asked. Have a friend who has a hard time saying no when asked for more advice. Be honest, be forthright, and you already know you’re being useful. Invest wisely, you have to be respectful of their time too.

Q: Have you found that through your social media, in trying to be human, that the human didn’t come across because of cultural issues. Have you found that people you’ve ended up working for where pushed away at first because they couldn’t relate to you?
Laura; That’s hard to answer because the people who were put off don’t come to me, so I can’t find out. I can’t think of an example where someone’s said “Oh, by the way, I really hated when you I first started reading you”.

One example is a talk that they gave in India at an architectural college. Talked to the professor for three hours before about what these women were about, what drives them. Found out that 60% of them were never going to practice, so didn’t just talk about architecture, talked about other things.

Another example, listen to your own mobile outgoing message, as that’s a very short presentation.

Screwing up is important. The human being who has made a mistake, and acknowledged it, their stock shoots right up. Be willing to make the mistake and be fully accountable for it.

Stowe: That’s very American.
Laura: So I made a mistake! A lot of these issues are past/future – so things change.

Rochenda: What I learnt in terms of trying to bridge that cultural divide, for me, I’m very emotional, and I realised that I get very emotional about terrorism, things of that nature, but if I get emotional, even if my message is good it doesn’t go over. So I try to pull my emotions down, it’s hard, but I don’t seem as excited. I try to calm myself down.

Q: What if you don’t speak English? What does Twitter look like?
Laura: Twitter’s not just in English. There are thousands of Japanese speakers on Twitter. The important thing is about understanding how these tools could be used, not to try to get your prospective clients on Twitter or blogs. If your prospective clients do not use Twitter or blogs, but do use email, then use email.

Steph Troeth: Comment about giving back. I spend about 10 hours a week to give back via volunteering. What I do when someone asks to pick my brains, the first thing I do is ask where are they going, what do they want to get out of it. Try to understand very early on where they are coming from, and where they want to go, then that helps understand what I and they can get out of it. Regarding Twitter, I keep my Twitter stream private, and that filters things, so if someone asks for help then I can spare ten minutes, then they will Twitter it and everyone will see.
Laura: If you invest ten minutes in helping people publicly online, that scales better, and is a more effective use of your time than going for a coffee. Regarding the meeting, shape the meeting, make it transparent that you are giving them an hour, so that there’s something clear there for them to appreciate. Work out what scales well for you.

Q: How would you build a community about Nato in the Balkans.
Find blogs for people writing about that, start a wiki to collate information, find people on Twitter, Jaiku etc. who are writing about it. Listening stage. Then start to blog, as prep for a quarterly newsletter. Lots of times people ask if CEOs should blog, usually say no, if they’re not already drawn to it then they maybe don’t have the DNA to be a blogger, so find someone who does and give them an hour a month with the CEO, but don’t force someone who doesn’t have the inclination to do it. The other big thing is to find a few case studies to show people. There’s a site called Qik,com, which lets you broadcast from your phone – friend was in Africa and came across Bob Geldof and used Qik to do a video with questions.

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