A friend of mine recently told me that she wanted to try web working. Her biggest problem, though, was getting clients. They didn’t seem to think that she was a “real” person, and not a team of scammers planning to run away after they’ve sent the initial deposit. “The problem,” I said, “is that when clients probably Googled you, as I did, you didn’t have a social networking account, your blog has very few posts… you really didn’t seem real enough.”
Anyone who looks you up on the web, whether it’s a client, contractor, or potential employer, should be able to see that you’re a real person (and not, say, a Cylon). This is especially true for web workers who provide services outside their home country. How can you show your credibility in a digital world where it’s so easy to create fake evidence of a digital footprint?
Have credible social networking profiles. Recently, I’ve had a few new Twitter followers, some of them claiming to be interested in a project I’m doing. But when I check their Twitter page, all they have are 3 updates, or a long list of updates linking only to products and services they promote. There’s no human factor in their attempt at a connection.
It’s also important to have accounts in more than one network. This gives contacts several ways to reach you, depending on what they’re most comfortable with. If your client doesn’t receive a reply from you via email, he might send you a Facebook message, which one of my clients actually did when my email server was having problems.
Don’t just put up your profile in social networks and forget them, either. “Social” is the operative word here. Make sure that you take the time to interact with your contacts and contribute some thing to the community, whether it’s links to articles that interest you, or an insight you gained while working on a project.
Allow people to see and hear you. Many web workers I know have video and audio content on their site. They put up greetings, tutorials, and other content in these formats, allowing any interested parties to see and hear them as they are in person.
Don’t be afraid to get a little personal. Start by using the word “I”. Usually, beginning web workers make the mistake of using “we” in their professional blog or website, as if they were a fully-staffed company and not a single-person operation from a small office in their livingroom. The former isn’t always more professional than the latter.
As for more experienced web workers who publicly declare their independence, there’s nothing wrong with posting some online hints of your humanity – pet photos, a cute quote your 3-year old daughter said, or a brief blog post about your recent illness/vacation/favorite TV show. It would be even better if you can use these within the context of your branding.
Give your contacts a phone or fax number. It’s no question that having an offline means of contact makes you seem more “real”. People seem more trustworthy online when they give you a non-email way to reach them, probably because they don’t feel like their message will be stuck in some email inbox queue that may or may not be read.
In a recent post, Seth Godin asks his readers if they put phone numbers in their email signatures. He points out the following: “If you don’t trust me enough to give me your real phone number, I don’t trust you enough to read your mail.” Remember that he means this in the context of sending emails with people or businesses you want to make a connection with. You wouldn’t send your phone number as part of your reply to an annoying internet troll, who will probably become your annoying phone troll.
If you only have a personal phone line and you don’t want to disclose this to the rest of the world, you can opt to get a business line, a Skype In number, or an e-fax service (assuming your target clients haven’t ditched faxing yet).
While it may sound ridiculous to use a digital footprint as a way to quantify a person’s existence, it is a big factor when it comes to building trust online. It’s much like a brick and mortar store owner who ensures that their store sign is neat and readable, as well as hanging framed business licenses on the store walls. People who want to do business with you just need to be assured that there’s a reliable person on the other end of the line.
Have you ever had instances when you didn’t trust a new contact because of their lack of a digital footprint? What do you do in those cases?