Internet marketing

How the self-employed can sell themselves online

August 12, 2011: 12:41 PM ET

Marketing your expertise on the web goes way beyond Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. What works and what doesn't.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I recently left a 26-year corporate career to start my own consulting business, with my former employer as my first client. A friend sent me your column about how to drum up new business, and I'm doing everything it suggests, but I also wonder how to make the most of the Internet in getting the word out about my services. So far, I'm just using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and a blog, but there must be more I could be doing online if I just knew where to start.

Also, how should I handle negative comments on my blog? When people make nasty remarks about points I've made, should I respond and get into a protracted argument, or just ignore them? — Flying Solo

Dear Solo: "A lot of people are singing the praises of online marketing and social media these days, but much of it is just a bunch of hype," observes Patrick Schwerdtfeger, a serial entrepreneur who now heads the Entrepreneur and Small Business Academy, a nationwide network of small business owners based in Berkeley, Calif.

"A few businesses, however, really are using the Internet to explode their revenues practically overnight," he adds.

How? Over the past seven years, Schwerdtfeger says he "tried everything" to build his own ventures' credibility and exposure. "Some of my efforts succeeded. Most didn't," he admits.

To spare other solo fliers that trial-and-error approach, he has now collected his experiences in a book you might want to check out. Called Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed: Leverage Resources, Establish Online Credibility, and Crush Your Competition, it's organized into 80 short chapters, each with step-by-step instructions on a different brand-building move.

Happily, most of these tactics are cheap or free and take less time than you might expect. For example, Schwerdtfeger suggests, "Contribute 50 intelligent comments on relevant industry forums. Offering a quick piece of advice on a forum is easy and can be done in 10 minutes or less, so you could accumulate 50 of them in a couple of days." Include your phone number or email address in your forum signature.

A more in-depth approach to positioning yourself as an expert in your field: Publish articles online, through low-cost services like iSnare and EzineArticles, and include a link back to your website or blog. More

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