Being a Digital Freelancer in the Era of Context Collapse [en]

[fr] Réflexions sur ma carrière et les enjeux du marché d'aujourd'hui pour les "pionniers des médias sociaux", avec en toile de fond l'effondrement de nos contextes d'être et de communication dans le monde en ligne (Facebook, bonjour).

Contexte collapse. It’s crept up on me. It used to be semi-overlapping publics, or more precisely, they point to two different faces of the same thing.

Semi-overlapping publics remind us that we do not all see quite the same public. This was the “new” thing Twitter brought compared to our old IRC channels. Now it’s trivial, obvious even, to point it out.

Walking Alone

Context collapse points to the fact that the natural boundaries in our lives have broken down. I was aware of this going on, and it never really troubled me. On the contrary: I loved (still do) the idea of bringing people from different places together, of the melting-pot, of wrecking the big, artificial and sometimes even harmful boundaries we have erected between our private and professional lives. We are whole people.

But what I’m seeing now is that contexts have collapsed to the point where it is putting a break on our desire to express ourselves. I am feeling it myself.

I just had a great catch-up call with my old friend Deb Schultz from over the Atlantic. We shared our observations on our professional lives, so similar. I’ve had other conversations with my peers lately, people who have “been around” this “online social stuff” for a long time. I went freelance 10 years ago, and as I already mentioned the “market” has changed dramatically. From medium-sized fish in a small pond, pretty much the only person in my geographical area you could call up to interview about “blogs” or ask to give a talk on the topic, I feel I am now in a really big pond full of fish of all shapes and sizes, thrashing about much more vigorously than I am.

Talking with Deb tonight, I realised how “not alone” I was in my current professional predicament. And here’s what it has to do with context collapse: I feel I have lost the spaces I used to have which were public enough to be useful, and private enough that I might feel comfortable saying “hey guys, time to send me work/clients if you have any leads”.

Facebook is full of everybody, including ex-clients, future clients, even current clients. Peers, family and friends. Context so collapsed it is flat as a pancake. I think I did well online in the early days because I am not as scared of context collapse as most people. I am comfortable talking (and being honest) about a lot of things with a lot of people. My online presence brought me visibility, which brought me a career. Contexts “just collapsed enough”.

But everybody has their limits, and, like many people, I find it hard to talk about the challenges I might face running my business with people who are paying me for said business. Because you want your clients to trust you, and believe in you, because you’re good, right, and if you’re good you cannot be anything but successful. If there is a crack in your success, it can only mean you’re not that good.

It could mean you’re not that good at self-marketing and sales, though. (That’s another — long — post.)

(And a shout-out to Robert Scoble, who was an early inspiration to me when it comes to “putting it out there”, and who has come back from Facebook to tell us where he’s at. Read his post.)

During tonight’s discussion, on the backdrop of other recent conversations with my peers, I realised there really is a whole generation of us early independent social media professionals who are facing similar issues. Our industry has matured, “social media” (or whatever you want to call this online stuff) is in every company and agency. Those who arrived later in this area of expertise are specialised: you have community managers, social media marketers, digital content specialists, etc, etc.

We early birds often have more generalist profiles. I know it’s my case. We’ve touched all this, seen it grow and take shape. And now we wonder where we fit in. Personally, I’ve been wondering for years (on and off) if there was still a market for what I do. Is there a decent business case for “Stephanie Booth freelancer”, or am I just fooling myself?

At this stage, I don’t really have the answer. One answer I do have is that there is definitely still a market for what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years when I reframe it as “digital transformation” or “digital literacy”. I’d known for a long time that describing what I did as “social media” was problematic, because it bundled me up with “marketing”, or had people thinking I was a “community manager” who would “update their Facebook page”. So, it’s been a big relief to find a way to talk about this aspect of my work that feels right.

What I don’t know yet is:

  • how do I talk about “the rest” of what I do/can do: analysing needs, challenging solutions to make sure they really solve problems, digging to identify real problems, offering solutions, coordinating, planning…?
  • do I have the “business skills” (sales, marketing) to “make it” as a freelancer when I’m not benefitting from media spotlight or being one of the only fishies in the small pond?
  • is it time to “reboot” and work as an employee for a few/many years, and if so: client-side, agency, consulting… — and am I “employable”, at 40+, having been freelance for almost my entire career?

The “safe spaces” to talk about these things are not completely gone. We have one-one conversations, if we take the trouble to plan them, like my friend and I did tonight. We have spaces like the Going Solo Slack, where a handful of us chat from time to time. And newsletters. I really believe the context collapse and fragmentation of the major social spaces like Facebook has something to do with what I sense as renewed enthusiasm for a certain type of newsletters.

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Thinking About The Next Going Far Events [en]

[fr] Alors que je commence à penser aux conférences que j'organiserai après Going Solo, je me retrouve saisie par l'angoisse de la transparence. Même si je prêche l'authenticité et la transparence à mes clients, cela ne m'empêche pas d'être moi aussi sujette à la crainte d'en dire trop.

Je commence aussi à sentir le besoin de véritablement créer une entreprise. Il y a trop de travail pour moi seule. Je perçois quel devra être le profil de mon/mes associés: bon vendeur (je suis une bonne marketeuse, mais pas très douée pour clore et vendre), bon dans l'opérationnel, et qui ne rechigne pas aux tâches administratives. Il y en a probablement pour plus d'une personne, là. M'enfin, je réfléchis.

There hasn’t been much going on here, I have to admit, as I decided to postpone the actual incorporation of Going Far until Going Solo was off the ground. So, head over there (if that’s not where you’re coming from) to catch up, if necessary.

As Going Solo is taking shape, I’m really awed by how much support and how many positive responses and comments I’ve received, both from old friends and new contacts. It feels good to not be the only person to believe in what I’m doing. I have a great team of advisers, too, which has taken shape over these last months.

As I start thinking about the next events I want to organize, I find myself facing (once more) what I’m going to name “The Angst of Transparency”. Although I’m 100% sold on the idea of being transparent (the Cluetrain kool-aid and 8 years of blogging) I still find myself unsure about how much to say when business is at stake. It’s as if, when it came to myself and my own actions, I didn’t really believe what I was preaching to others. I find myself afraid, just like I sense others are afraid when I tell them transparency is the way to go. How transparent is too transparent?

I have a pretty good idea for what two (maybe three) of the next Going Far events are going to be. I’ve mentioned them in passing to a few people. I also have ideas for developing Going Solo, if the event on May 16th turns out to be the success it seems to be promising to be.

But I’m afraid to start blogging about this, on the one hand for fear of giving too much away and being overtaken (which in my right mind I find stupid), and on the other hand because it will set things in movement, and I’m already aware that there is not enough of me to deal with Going Solo itself — let alone get started on another two projects.

This is where I’m really starting to feel the need to create a company. I need other people on the boat with me. And I’m starting to see what kind of person/people I need to bring on board. I need a good salesperson. I’m good at marketing, but not so much at the actual selling/closing/getting the cash. I need somebody who’s good on the operational front, who actually gets things done, and doesn’t mind dealing with tasks like making sure people have paid, keeping track of what needs to be done when (that bit is project management, actually), and so on.

I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to go about finding that person or those people — but I guess having a clear “profile” in mind and making sure my advisers know what I’m looking for (and mentioning it here) is a good start. This isn’t a job ad, though. I’m far from there.

*Cross-posted from the Going Far blog.*

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Feeling Like a Born-Again Blogger [en]

[fr] Depuis quelques jours, je blogue à donf, comme on dit -- et j'ai l'impression de redécouvrir ce média. Oui, ça marche vraiment de mettre par écrit ses idées, ses doutes, ses problèmes stratégiques ou organisationnels. La communauté est une précieuse alliée. Continuez à laisser vos commentaires, je les apprécie beaucoup!

I feel like a born-again blogger.

Over the last days, I’ve been blogging like a madwoman about [Going Solo]( (and other things), and I feel like I’m rediscovering blogging. All this stuff that I tell my clients about, I’m in it now:

– blog about the process, the ideas — you’ll get great feedback
– blog about your doubts or problems — your readers are smarter than you are
– blog about stuff you want to get out there — once it’s online, it’s ready to spread.

Funnily, I find myself faced with the same kind of doubts that my clients often express (though, I’m happy to say, they’re fading fast):

– can I really blog about this when it hasn’t been set in stone yet?
– what if people steal my ideas?
– should I mention this or that, or is it best kept under wraps for the moment?
– how much should I tell people?
– do I make a separate blog for my event/company, or keep it all on mine?
– how do I get my partners to blog?

So far, the responses I’ve got to my blogging and talking about my project (online, offline, in public, or in private) have been overwhelmingly supportive, positive, and constructive. It’s very encouraging. Keep it coming. Reaching out to the community really *does* work — I knew it, but now I’m experimenting it again.

Thanks to everybody.

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