I get a lot of e-mail from TechRepublic readers who want to know how to find freelance training or consulting work. Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because I’m going to give away some of my professional secrets. Use them in good health to increase your wealth!
Getting the word out
Here’s a note I recently received from TechRepublic passport owner J.E.P., a college instructor who wrote, “I've recently completed a master's degree in Communication with emphasis on Computer Mediated Communication. I plan to collaborate my research into a publication that would have relevance to organizations in their e-mail, teleconferencing, and other 'computer mediated' applications. After that, I would like to apply this research in terms of seminars. What advice would you offer in marketing myself and my programs?”
I referred J.E.P. to two articles written in May 1999 by one of TechRepublic’s most popular columnists, Bruce Maples:
- "You need a broker (and I don't mean stock broker), part 1"
- "Brokered expectations: You need a broker, part II"
A good broker knows all of the conventional ways to publicize your services and keep you working. But what if you don’t have a master’s degree or an interest in publishing research—what if you’re just a great trainer who doesn’t want to work as a captive employee for a training company? Or someone who wants to keep the “day job” and do some moonlighting for a little extra cash?
Here are some unconventional things you can do to get your name in front of potential customers. I can’t guarantee they’ll work in every circumstance, but I’ve had a lot of success with them in my experience.
Get in front of the microphone or the camera
Is there a computer call-in radio show in your area? Contact the folks who produce that show, and volunteer to sit in and help answer questions. Invite yourself on as a guest. Bring a piece of software to review, or be prepared to intelligently discuss a hot topic in the IT training industry.
If there’s no computer call-in radio show in your area, pitch the idea of starting such a show with one of the local radio stations. Don’t bother with the rock-and-roll or other music stations. Pick the National Public Radio affiliate or one of the talk radio stations.
Ditto for public access cable. If there’s already a show on the air, contact the producers and tell them, “I’d love to be a guest on your show sometime.” If there’s no such show, start one! Most of the public access stations have plenty of slots to fill.
Once you book yourself to appear on one of these shows, start practicing your public speaking. Be upbeat. Be prepared to answer questions succinctly and clearly. At some point, you’ll get to reply to the question, “So what kind of business are you in?”
Have a pat answer ready that includes a telephone number where potential customers can reach you. I’ve filled the seats in computer skills workshops by doing no formal advertising—just mentioning the workshops and my telephone number when I appeared on a local computer radio show.
Here’s another way to break into the media. Contact the news departments of all of the radio stations and television stations in your area, and let them know that you’re available for interviews. Just say, “I’m an expert in this or that field, and I’d be happy to talk to you any time you want to interview someone from the IT industry.” You never know when they’ll call—and you never know who’ll see you or hear you on the air. And be forewarned—you probably won’t get paid for any cable TV or radio appearances. Your payoff is the invaluable publicity.
Speak at career day
One great way to practice your public speaking and publicize your business is to speak at a career day. Contact the schools in your area (elementary, middle, and high schools) and let the guidance counselors know you’re willing to speak at any of their career day functions.
Some of you are thinking, “How will speaking to a bunch of kids help me grow my business?” The kids may not line up to hire you, but their parents might if the kids go home and tell them about the cool speaker they met at career day. I’ve spoken at dozens of these functions over the years, and many times the teachers have hired me or referred me to their friends for freelance work.
Join or start a user group
User groups bring together all kinds of computer professionals—including trainers, programmers, and IT managers. Membership in those organizations is typically pretty cheap—$30 or $40 per year—and the meetings usually take place once a month or so. Go to these meetings and meet people. Volunteer to be part of a program. Take your business cards! Networking with your peers is one of the best ways to generate new business.
What about paid print advertising?
Print advertising is a strange thing. It obviously works for some businesses—people look to newspapers and magazines for information every day. However, in my experience, it takes a LONG time for a newspaper ad to generate referrals, and running ads over a long period of time gets expensive.
I spent a little over $100 to advertise my computer skills workshop in a local daily paper for three days; I got zero responses. On the other hand, I spent $20 for a cheap ad in a local weekly tabloid, and two people responded and paid to attend my workshop.
If you’ve devised a clever marketing plan that’s helped you grow your training business (and you’re willing to share it), please post a comment below or send me a note.