A forum of freelance professionals can be a lifesaver for the independent worker.
It offers an avenue for shared knowledge, inspiration, and the opportunity to connect socially and professionally.
Whether you’re trying to establish yourself in a forum that’s new to you, or you’re an old timer, here’s some do’s and don’ts to maximize your success.
Don’t talk numbers – What freelancer doesn’t wonder how they stack up financially to their peers? But a forum isn’t the place to nose around for numbers, or to broadcast your own figures.
If you are compelled to talk profits, do so in general terms. Ask what marketing strategies yielded their best return, what seasons tend to be dry/profitable, or what steps others have found that boosted their bottom line.
Don’t rush the relationship – Just like dating, don’t come on too strong when you join a new forum. Introduce yourself, then quietly read and learn the ropes. Gradually answer a few questions that are within your area of expertise.
You’ll be more welcome with a few respectable posts, rather than coming on board with a glut of postings.
Don’t rant – Everyone has days when they need to unload. But the forum’s not the best place for that. Ranting to an audience of forum readers, the majority of whom don’t know you, can easily backfire, making you look like a problem child. Plus, it’s difficult to share enough background in a brief posting to enable readers to fully sympathize with your situation.
But don’t bypass the forum as an avenue to work out professional grievances. Let your anger subside for a few days, compose a neutral message relaying the facts, then invite others to share their advise.
Don’t name drop – If you’ve frequented a forum for years, it may seem like your old stomping grounds. You may feel like you know everyone who visits, and who doesn’t.
It may be tempting to warn your fellow freelancers about a nasty client by name or business name, but don’t do it. Even if you’re certain the named person never reads the forum (you can never be too sure) word is likely to trickle back somehow.
Don’t alienate newcomers – Inside jokes were fun in high school, but they don’t have much purpose in a group of professionals. Don’t make your threads so familiar that newcomers wandering by feel like an uninvited guest to a party.
Avoid messages where you refer to other members by name instead of handle, mention events without giving any background, or talk about issues that leave the majority of readers in the dark. If you’ve become tight with one or two of the folks on the forum, keep up with them off-line.
Don’t typecast yourself – If you only post when you’re looking for a job, when you’re angry at a client, or when you’re panicking and need information, you’re likely to be sticking a (negative) label to your cyber forehead. Avoid this by interacting on a variety of levels – share answers when you have them, pass along industry news, ask for input, or congratulate another member.
Don’t answer – Remember what your mother taught you: if you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all. If a post leaves you irate, or aghast at a newcomer’s apparent lack of knowledge, just don’t respond. Similarly, if a post has hit a collective nerve and is being nailed with heated responses, don’t feel you need to add your two cents as well. Diffuse the situation with silence, rather than having an emotionally charged email with your name attached floating around forever in cyberspace.
Forums can fill a huge hole for the independent worker, and using them correctly is key to building up a professional relationship. What tips and techniques have you found to help maximize the usefulness of a forum?