THE BLOG
10/24/2014 04:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Handshake and a Drink in a Digital World

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If you are in business in the 21st century, you've heard from multiple sources that you need to have an optimized digital presence if you hope to succeed. This message may ring a little louder if you are an independent worker. But what does an "optimized digital presence" even mean? In so many words, it means an updated LinkedIn profile, active social accounts, participation in online discussions, and so forth, all with the goal of popping up in a potential client's search results.

Now, think about your last few projects. How did you find them?

If you answered Facebook or Twitter, good for you. You've finally broken through the independent consultant's glass ceiling. But you're in the minority; in-person referrals are still the best way for solopreneurs to get their next contract. In a study released last spring by The Career Advisory Board (CAB), 82% of independent workers claimed that word of mouth was their top source of work. Supporting this number is MBO Partners own State of Independence report that found that 75% of independent workers cited word of mouth as their main source of work. As for social media, 6% (CAB) and 2% (MBO) cited this as a top source of work.

However, small business owners (including the self-employed) aren't getting the memo. Forty-three percent of small businesses spend 6 or more hours per week twiddling around on social accounts, with 11% spending up to 20 hours a week! Sixty-six percent of small businesses report spending more time on social media this year than they did last year, and the vast majority reported that they aren't spending the same amount of time talking to potential customers; they're spending it looking for something to say.

What do the numbers mean for you?

If updates and shares are not converting to new business it may be time to rethink your strategy. How many social sites are you on? Whittle the number down to one or two that you've gotten the most traction on. Define a strategy, set a time limit per week, and stick to it. The two hours you save in a week just may be the happy hour that wins you the next big deal.

Better yet, do you have the cash to bring on a part-time social media guru to manage your accounts for you? If you found a service that costs a few hundred dollars a month, ask yourself this: how much is a billable hour worth to me, and how many hours do I spend on social? The service could pay for itself.

Even if that's not the move for you, it's ok to tone it down on social and refocus on good old-fashioned face-to-face networking.

If you've spent hours and hours on social each week, and don't have a dime to show for it, it's time to get back to your roots. A handshake and a drink is still the best way to seal a contract, as well as learn about others who need your services. At least we know that type of networking will never go out of style.