This Is What Happened When One Freelancer Tried Social Selling

Does social selling on LinkedIn work for freelancers?After hearing and reading about social selling on LinkedIn for years, and taking a webinar by Wall Street Journal best-selling author Josh Turner, I decided to give it a try. Turner is the author of Connect, “the secret LinkedIn playbook to generate leads, build relationships and dramatically increase your sales.”

Social Selling Grows Businesses, Experts Say 

“Social selling refers to using social media platforms and other digital tools and processes to find and connect with potential prospects, thereby increasing sales. Social selling comes down to building relationships with potential prospects on platforms such as LinkedIn, says Melonie Dodaro in LinkedIn UnlockedThe book offers a “proven social selling strategy to get more business and sales using LinkedIn.”

Are you seeing a theme yet? Both Turner and Dodaro—and probably hundreds of other experts—offer proven processes for getting more clients and building a business using social selling.

My Experiment with Social Selling as a Freelancer

I was skeptical about social selling for a freelance business, but I wanted to see how it worked compared to my usual way of getting high-paying clients: direct email.  (Referrals from networking and satisfied clients is my other key freelance marketing strategy).

In early 2018, I conducted an experiment. I did two separate marketing campaigns for one of my main target markets as a freelance medical writer: hospital marketing and communications prospects. The two campaigns were:

  1. Social selling
  2. Direct email.

What I found is that direct email takes much less time and is much more effective than social selling.

Here’s how I did the social selling and direct email marketing campaigns and my results.

Planning my Social Selling Marketing Campaign

I used Connect to guide my social selling campaign. Dodaro didn’t publish LinkedIn Unlocked until April 2018, after I had finished my social selling campaign.

In Connect, Turner says to develop a database of 2,000-3,000 prospects. It took me 9.5 hours to find 67 qualified prospects on LinkedIn that met Turner’s criteria for being active:

  • Profile photo
  • Well-developed profile
  • More than a few connections.

With a paid account, I could have found prospects faster, but I doubt I could have found 2,000-3,000 qualified prospects. And I shudder at the thought of trying to manage that many prospects!

Here’s how I found my prospects on LinkedIn:

  • General searches: 41 prospects
  • LinkedIn groups: 7 prospects
  • Searching for people who were already on my direct email lists: 12 prospects.

Implementing My LinkedIn Social Selling Campaign

Following most of Turner’s advice, I prepared and implemented my campaign:

Week 1: Invitation to connect:

I would send a personalized invitation to each person, using relevant information from his/her profile in my invitation.

Week 3: Send resource #1:

The people who accepted my invitation to connect would be moved to an active prospect list. I would not contact the other prospects again.

Sharing valuable content is one of the keys to social selling, say both Turner and Dodaro. “You can’t add value to your potential customers by aggressively pestering them to buy your products. That will just annoy them and make them regret connecting with you on LinkedIn. Instead go out and find information that is both timely and helpful to your potential customers—and then share that info with them without asking for anything in return,” says Turner.

The content can be curated (developed by others) or original content. I decided to start with curated content so my sharing would be entirely non-promotional. I planned to send each active prospect a report on trends in health care marketing developed by a consulting firm.

Week 5: Send resource #2:

I would send each active prospect a tip sheet on creating quality healthcare content by another consulting firm.

Week 6: Send My storyteller’s checklist:

Once I had started to build a relationship with each prospect, I would send useful content that I developed: the storyteller’s checklist (scroll to the bottom of my home page).

Week 8: Follow up on storyteller’s checklist and mention freelance services:

Finally, I would mention my freelance writing services, in a message where I followed up on the storyteller’s checklist (e.g., “I hope you found my storyteller’s checklist useful . . .”). At that time, I would also suggest moving the conversation offline, that is, having a telephone conversation to chat about how I might help the prospect with freelance writing.

It took me about 3 hours to plan my social selling campaign, including finding relevant content to share.

My Own Strategy

I didn’t develop Turner’s “authority leadership platform.” He suggests starting your own LinkedIn group, inviting prospects to join, and then providing a steady stream of relevant content.

Turner published Connect in 2015, before Microsoft bought LinkedIn and made massive changes. Groups are virtually dead thanks to those changes. And I had a strong suspicion—which turned out to be right—that my prospects weren’t going to be very active on LinkedIn. So starting a group would have been a big waste of my time.

Connection Requests and Social Selling Results

I ended up inviting 34 of the 67 prospects to connect with me. After reviewing the profiles of the other prospects again, I realized that they weren’t at all active on LinkedIn (that is, they met Turner’s minimum criteria but they never or rarely shared or engaged with the people in their network).

Of the 34 prospects, 7 prospects accepted my invitation to connect. Only 1 person replied to my invitation. The others simply accepted the connection request.

As planned, I sent resource #1 followed by resource #2. None of my prospects even acknowledged receipt of the either resource.  At that point, I gave up and stopped my social selling campaign to focus on direct email.

Reviewing the 67 profiles, writing 34 personalized connection invitations, sending the resources, and tracking my social selling campaign took about 8.5 hours.

All told, my social selling campaign took about 21 hours for 0 results.

The Direct Email Marketing Campaign

In the same time period, I sent 43 direct emails and got:

  • 2 new clients
  • 2 prospects who put me on their list of freelancers for future needs.

In about 4 hours, I found 43 prospects for direct email. It took me about 12 hours to write all of the direct emails and follow up emails and track responses.

Direct email means writing a customized email for each prospect that focuses on helping that client meet his/her needs. It’s also called warm email prospecting, cold emailing, and sales emails. But it’s not email marketing, where you send everyone the same generic email.

Each direct email is short and targeted and includes:

  • Compelling, client-focused subject line
  • Sentence showing that you understand the organization’s needs
  • 1 or 2 sentences about your most relevant experience and how this enables you to meet the client’s needs
  • Link to your client-focused website (or your client-focused LinkedIn profile if you don’t have a website yet) so that the prospect can easily learn more about you
  • Call to action that clearly says what will happen next (e.g., “Should we schedule a call next week to discuss this?”).

Learn more about direct email

Why You Need to Use Direct Email: What 4 Freelancers Say

Social Selling Versus Direct Email

Direct email is faster and much more effective than social selling.

And direct email takes much less time than social selling because:

  • It’s easier to develop prospect lists
  • You don’t have to spend time trying to build relationships with prospects and tracking multiple contacts with them.

Prospects may or may not be active on LinkedIn, but they all use email every day. So they’ll definitely see your direct email.

Will Social Selling Work for You?  

Social selling on LinkedIn definitely didn’t work for me. I do know a few freelancers who have found clients through social selling. Your results may depend on the type of freelance work you do and the industries you work in.

So if you want to give is a try, do so. But be prepared to work hard.

Dodaro’s book, LinkedIn Unlocked (which wasn’t published yet when I did my social selling campaign), will be more helpful to you than what I used, Connect. It has some great information about LinkedIn, even if you don’t want to do social selling.

How Freelancers Get Clients through LinkedIn

Despite my failed experiment in social selling, I’m a big fan of LinkedIn for freelancers. The social network helps us get great clients, and lets us network with each other, which often leads to referrals. Through the posts and articles of people in our networks, we can learn many things that help us succeed in freelancing.

Clients often search for freelancers on LinkedIn. I know many freelancers who’ve gotten great clients by crafting a client-focused profile that enabled those clients to find them.

LinkedIn is also a great tool for finding prospects, especially if you know the organizations you want to work with but need to find the right contact person (people).

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Learn More About Social Selling and LinkedIn

Content from The Mighty Marketer

Why You Need to Use Direct Email: What 4 Freelancers Say

How to Supercharge Your LinkedIn Profile, with Free Checklist

How to Be Active and Effective on LinkedIn Even if You Hate Social Media

LinkedIn for freelancers: All Mighty Marketer blog posts on LinkedIn

Other Resources

Melonie Dodaro, LinkedIn Unlocked2018

Useful information about LinkedIn, even if you don’t want to do social selling

Josh Turner, Connect, 2015

Turner published Connect in 2015, before Microsoft bought LinkedIn and made massive changes. Much of the information in his book is outdated.

Josh Turner, Booked, 2017