My wife and I have run our business - an English law firm, offering advice on Internet, telecoms, and tech law - for seven years now.
Word of mouth
In that time, we have spent very little on marketing. Very little. Perhaps three small conference sponsorships? No paid media, no legal directories, no oh-look-I’ve-paid-money-to-enter-and-now-I-have-won-an-award, no explosive TV ads.
Instead, we have relied primarily on word of mouth recommendations from happy clients. I reckon that that accounted for perhaps 75% of new clients.
I also blog for work, but I honestly don’t know how impactful this is - I don’t track pageviews or anything like that. (And if you are tempted to read it, I strongly recommend you use RSS, to get posts directly into your chosen reader.)
Our other main source of new business was Twitter. Neither of us is on Facebook, and LinkedIn is a cesspit of self-congratulatory nonsense, but Twitter was good for us.
I posted on Twitter much as I do in the fediverse now: a mix of tech-related stuff, law-related stuff including my blogposts, and terribly poor puns and jokes. I also chatted with people, and made friends, and tried to be helpful.
I don’t know exactly how many clients joined us as a result of Twitter, but I suspect that Twitter played a role in about 25% of new clients.
One of the line items on my risk tracker was losing the ability to gain work via Twitter. I didn’t specify how that might happen - a ban, Twitter ceasing to operate, or whatever - merely that there was a risk that it could happen.
But that risk never seemed likely. It could happen, but why would it? I didn’t post any unduly controversial, I have plenty of privilege which means that I was unlikely to be harassed off the platform, and it seemed to be reasonably well run.
And then it happened.
My initial reaction - which I posted about on Twitter at the time - was that Musk’s takeover over Twitter would not lead to significant changes, at least not in the short term.
I was wrong.
With each change, Twitter became less and less palatable. Less justifiable.
But I hung on, and hung on, until I couldn’t justify to myself hanging on any longer. Until I couldn’t, in good conscience, support the platform with my content.
I stopped tweeting. I wiped my few remaining posts, cleared out my favourites/likes, and updated my Twitter profile to point to my fediverse profile instead.
The decision I made - consciously, and not without a degree of trepidation - was to shut off the tool which had helped me to find about a quarter of my client base.
I first played around with decentralised social media many years ago, with diaspora. But I didn’t stick with it. I don’t recall exactly why.
About five years ago, I installed Mastodon. Again, I didn’t stick with it.
But I’ve long had a preference for self-hosting and decentralisation, and so I started using fediverse (Mastodon, again) properly about three years ago. This time, I stuck with it.
For the first couple of years, it was a wonderfully niche place to chat, with some wonderfully geeky, nerdy people.
A year or so ago, it began to change. I went from several hundred followers to several thousand followers.
I post the same mix of tech, law, and poor jokes, although I’ve posted fewer law-related blogpost links recently, as I’ve not had the time or motivation to write work-related blogposts for a while. I chat. I engage. I boost and I like.
And, even though I’ve got roughly half the number of followers in the fediverse than I had on Twitter, engagement is much higher, by which I mean that each post I make gets more of a reaction - boosts, likes, responses, conversations started - than Twitter.
It’s also just so much more enjoyable: I see a higher volume of posts in which I am genuinely interested, and my interactions in the fediverse are simply more pleasant. I’ve chosen to resort to blocking or muting only a handful of times (again, I recognise the privilege in being in this position), and mostly because of unwanted content rather than unpleasant content.
I’ve also had three new clients as a direct consequence of being on the fediverse so far this year. Again, I don’t post adverts, but just post stuff I find interesting, and chat with people. I do it for fun, but it certainly does not hurt that it is good for business too.
I reckon that getting three clients in the course of a few months is really rather good, in the context of the services I provide, especially since I’m not trying to make it happen.
If anything, I’m trying not to take on new clients at the moment, as work is just so busy, and I prioritise looking after existing clients rather than chasing new work.
It’s almost exactly as good as Twitter as a source of new clients.
It will be interesting to see if I continue to get clients as a result of the fediverse. But, right now, it certainly seems possible.
Whether they are long term clients, as opposed to people with an immediate, short term need, I’m not sure. (Most of my word of mouth clients are long term clients, who want ongoing support.)
And if the fediverse doesn’t work out for this? Well, I’ll just have to find another way of winning work, or fall back entirely on recommendations (which would be no bad thing).