The Pain-Free Guide to Generating Valuable Leads From Online Forums

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Serious about making your living via the Web?

Then you’ve likely shelled out good money for an online course or subscription that includes access to a forum.

And if you’re anything like me, you eagerly devour the webinars, worksheets, and ebooks … but avoid the forum, as you would the pee-smelling seat on the train.

I’ve seen forums more tedious than an office cocktail party — chock-full of people who want to talk about themselves and cozy up to important people.

Not to mention it’s a total time suck to wade through all the threads before you find anything interesting.

But it turns out, my attitude was a bit cynical.

I recently found a different type of forum — one that changed my mind.

When I ventured into Copyblogger’s Authority community, something caught my eye: Someone had created a thread called “Looking for great writers for my team.”

Hello.

You can find substantial leads on forums?

Yes, you can — quickly and easily.

So, here’s your pain-free guide to using forums for finding great leads and converting them into clients.

Why forums?

Forums are the first place many smart people look when they want to find someone competent.

Think about it — if you need an experienced writer, where should you look: Craigslist, or a forum populated with Copyblogger readers?

The choice of venue speaks volumes about the potential client.

And when you contact a prospect you found in a forum, you already have a connection — “Hey, we’re both in this great forum!” — as opposed to cold calling or sending an unsolicited email.

What types of forums work for lead generation?

Some forums make more sense for hunting leads than others.

When you’re considering joining a forum, ask yourself these key questions:

  1. Who’s in there?
  2. What are the chances they need my services?
  3. How much did they pay to get in?

Let’s apply these questions to some examples.

Example 1: The Freelance Writer’s Den
This forum is part of a subscription service for freelance writers. It’s fantastic for getting advice and swapping war stories. However, leads in the forum are sporadic, with stiff competition, since it’s populated mainly with other professional writers, not people looking to hire writers. It’s a great site with a lot to offer, just not necessarily the right place to prospect for clients.

Evaluate the forum’s participants and focus before you spend time looking for leads.

Example 2: Authority
This is Copyblogger’s subscription service that offers scads of content marketing resources like ebooks, seminars, and webinars. The forum is populated with plenty of other copywriters like me, but also with entrepreneurs who understand the importance of good content. And some of those people need writers.

If access to a forum requires a subscription fee, that’s a good sign someone is willing to invest in her business. Asking “how much did they pay to get in?” is a measure of seriousness when considering whether or not to use a forum.

Example 3: Seth Godin’s Modern Marketing Workshop
This is a class forum populated with budding entrepreneurs. Seth teaches them that good writing is essential, so they may be the right audience for you. You can explore the forum for leads, but always qualify prospects carefully to make sure they have a budget for your services.

Now that you know how to find the right types of forums, it’s time to log on.

How do you interact in a forum?

Once you’re in a forum, you may not know where to start.

Follow these tips:

  • Focus: Check for a topic or thread called “Community” (or something like it) that is specifically designed for networking. There may even be a “Help Wanted” thread — if there is, subscribe to it!
  • Search: Use the search function, and type phrases such as “looking for writers” or “need freelancers.”
  • Mingle: Find threads that genuinely interest you, read them, and add to the conversation in a meaningful way.
  • Contribute: Post a link to a great free resource you just discovered. Answer someone’s pressing question. Make yourself useful.
  • Participate: When you leave a post, check the “notify me of follow-up replies via email” box. It’s rude to start a conversation and then walk away.
  • Stay vigilant: If you get flaky vibes from someone, steer clear of offering your services, or at least carefully qualify them.
  • Strategize: Get involved during peak times. For example, forums may have more activity shortly after a class launches. You can usually see the last time there was activity on a given thread.

Here are some actions to avoid:

  • Hitting and running: Don’t log on, post a thread that says “Hey, I’m a great writer looking for work. You should hire me,” and then leave your email address and log off, never to return.
  • Brown-nosing: Don’t suck up to the person who runs the forum. Yuck. People who run forums want them to be useful places for their audience to connect, not a venue for empty flattery. You will make them happy by engaging others.

How do you approach leads?

Let’s say you find a fresh “help wanted’ post. You may be excited, but slow down and do your homework. Google the prospect and review his or her website.

Do you like the person’s website?

If so, craft a friendly email.

You may be tempted to respond to the forum post itself, but email is more direct and effective. I’ve never seen a “help wanted” post that didn’t include an email address, but it could happen. Look at the prospect’s website to get the correct email address or perform another Google search.

Keep the email short and include these elements:

  • Reference the forum where you found the “help wanted” post
  • Demonstrate why you’re a good fit for the position
  • Provide a link to samples
  • Say “thank you”
  • Close with a non-pushy invitation to contact you

Here’s the type of email that works for me:

Subject: Your forum post on Authority and your writing needs

Hi _______,

I was excited to see your post on the Copyblogger Authority forum about your need for writers. I want to throw my hat in the ring, as I believe my skills would be a great fit for your agency.

I’ve been a freelance writer since 2010, and I’ve recently deepened my love for content marketing by joining Copyblogger’s content certification program and taking a workshop on modern marketing from the incomparable Seth Godin.

If you want to know what it’s like to work with me, here’s what one client has to say about my abilities: “[succinct, descriptive testimonial]” ~ [testimonial provider’s name and company]

You can read some of my work on my website: [your website URL].

I’m truly excited about helping you [meet specific goal from the forum post]. Thanks so much for your time and reviewing my qualifications. I can be reached by phone or email: [your contact info].

Best,
[your name]

The first time I used this method, I got a reply back two days later. We had a follow-up phone conversation, hit it off, and launched a long-term working relationship.

I’m now hooked on using forums to find valuable prospects.

What methods have helped you get the most value out of your time spent in forums? Let’s discuss over at Google+.


Explore the Authority forum for yourself …

Ready to get exclusive content marketing training and generate new leads for your business?

Try the Authority community risk-free for 30 days.

Flickr Creative Commons Image via Nicola Corboy.

About the Author: Sue Campbell is a copywriter and Copyblogger certified content marketer. A former business systems analyst, she always avoided office cocktail parties, but loves an honest, cozy conversation. Follow her on Twitter or Google+.

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