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Marketing on the Internet: Adventures in cyberspace

When things seem a bit slow and you wish there were more assignments in the pipeline, a jog along the Internet may be worth your while. At least that's what we've heard from acquaintances and read in various publications. So we decided to give some consulting sites a try. The following are musings and observations from that experience.
First, some assurance. These bulletin boards aren't simply black holes for resumes. They do work. You can use them to get interviews, requests for proposals, and profitable assignments. By keeping active and updated, you can also receive regular inquiries from those seeking consulting assistance. In other words, if you approach these sites positively and systematically, you'll find they can be a valuable component in your marketing mix.
To start, you need to know a bit about how these sites work. Most of them play both sides of the board-they both list assignments from companies and maintain a database of consultants' resumes. Generally, you have to post your resume in order to see the assignments, but not always. The assignment lists may be relatively select and scannable in a minute or two, or they may be very extensive and require that you use the site's search engine.
If you have to list your resume, consider your options.To some extent, this is like being in a police lineup behind a one-way mirror.Those looking for consultants can see you, but you can't see them. If you are a generalist and describe yourself as such, you may eliminate the market that seeks "best of breed" specialists. On the other hand, if you describe yourself in specialist terms, you may miss some attractive assignments.
What to do? First, remember your decision is not a one-time thing. In fact, you are encouraged to continually update your resume, or "profile," as it is often called. Therefore, our advice is to keep your eye on the goal-to get a positive response. In light of this, you need to decide how to present yourself in a compelling way so that people call or e-mail you.You can close on the project after that. So if what you post at first doesn't work, try something else; keep experimenting.
One factor that will shape how you do this is that sites vary in level of control. At some, you can post your resume as you want it, while others require that you follow a site-provided format. At some, you can include key words-- marketing, e-commerce, manufacturing, and so on-that potential clients will use to find you, so you can determine your positioning. Other sites either don't have this feature or give you a list of key words from which to choose. Some sites submit your resume directly to potential clients, who then contact you. Others work much like old-fashioned employment agencies.You apply for an assignment through an intermediary, who presents you-along with a lot of others-to a client.These sites may also stay in the middle on fees. They require that you state your fee, often without knowing much about the actual project, and they negotiate it for you.You then bill through the firm running the site, rather than directly to the client. This can be hard on cash flow. Overall, our vote goes to those who provide the opportunities without the controlling apparatus.
These sites let you be more direct and proactive. For the best marketing results, we suggest setting aside some time each month to access your favorite sites and search for assignments that interest you. When you find one, follow the instructions for submitting your resume.
Generally, these sites ask you to add a cover note. The cover note is your opportunity to tell the recipient exactly how your experience and expertise apply to the listed assignment. Whether you are a generalist or specialist, it's an ideal opportunity to make a clear sales pitch addressing specifically stated client needs. Always make the most of this opportunity.
Geographical reach is another factor to consider when reviewing a site. Some sites let you include this in your search; so if you are in New Mexico, you can look for assignments specifically in that region. Sites with more limited numbers of assignments generally don't have this feature, but the job description usually indicates where the assignment has to be performed.
It is surprising how many sites are locally oriented, although they are on the "worldwide"Web.We even had one group respond to our resume by telling us that they were only interested in jobs and consultants in a specific geographic region. We wondered why they didn't just use the local newspaper. We suppose it's indicative of the extent to which the Internet has permeated the times that even local businesses can't imagine operating otherwise. For our readers, however, it's worth noting whether a given site actually serves your geographic market.
We also found that if you are a skillful writer, these sites are your world. That's the medium through which all occurs.You describe yourself on your resume in the way you feel will be most attractive to prospects.When you submit your resume for an assignment, you write a cover letter that positions you in relation to that assignment exactly as you want. And often, the initial responses will be via e-mail, providing additional opportunities to apply your writing skills. So if writing is a strong suit with you, working the online bulletin boards may be a good marketing tactic.
Writing, however, is not always the major skill of those doing assignment descriptions. The lack of writing skills combined with uncertainty about the message to be conveyed often produces vague and misleading communications. Therefore, don't take it personally when you find an assignment that is perfect for you, submit your resume, and get no response. Once they began talking to people, the seeking company may have discovered that it was actually looking for someone with entirely different skills.
We received an inquiry from a company that wanted a "content consultant"-someone to help develop key and supporting messages and position products for a global corporation's trade show materials. It sounded good.
As we read further, however, we found that this person's "real"job would be to track the production and delivery of all brochures, buttons, and the like to ensure that they were at the show on time. In short, what this firm wanted was a project manager to monitor production schedules, not a content consultant.This was not a wanton attempt to deceive, but a case of mistaken terminology. Nevertheless, misleading assignment descriptions appear regularly, so be ready to reverse course if you find the seeker doesn't want what you actually do.
Finally, even if you're not interested in looking for potential projects on the Web, these sites can be a valuable and inexpensive source of marketing research. A couple of hours a month perusing these sites can reward you with a range of valuable insights. If you watch the patterns, you can see what areas of consulting are most in demand and what kinds of needs these areas are being asked to meet, in what industries, and by what types of companies. You can also see larger trends developing and spot market shifts.
Obviously, your information will apply only to a specific group of clients inclined to use the Internet as a resource. On the other hand, these aren't all dotcoms. Sizeable, established companies are increasingly casting their nets on the Web. Where and why are questions these sites can help you answer. Then, you can market accordingly.
(For readers who want to add the Web to their marketing mix, we suggest that you try guru.com, the monster.com free agent section, and msquared.com. Of course, in countries where the IMC has a website, members would be wise to avail themselves of it.)