Recently, a link appeared on the Google homepage reading, “Here’s to the dreamers, doers, shakers, and makers.” Although we’d like to think that “shakers” refers to our users, the link was actually commemorating National Small Business Week, and the launch of the search giant’s new small business community.
The Google Small Business Community lives within the Google+ ecosystem and plays host to discussion boards where small business owners and entrepreneurs can post questions, tips, stories, case studies, thought leadership pieces, etc. Although this part of the community can be quite useful and entertaining, the most intriguing feature for freelancers is probably the community’s integration with the new Helpouts for Small Business section.
What Are Helpouts?
Google Helpouts are a peer-to-peer marketplace that connects subject matter experts with people who need immediate help with a particular problem. Let’s refer to the people who need help as clients. All Helpout experts have a profile that lists their area of expertise, their credentials and a window of times when they are available for consultation. When selected by a client, a subject matter expert offers assistance via live video tutorials.
Some of these experts offer their services for free while others charge either by the minute or a flat fee, say $25 for 15 minutes. All pricing info is listed in the expert’s profile.
Helpouts themselves aren’t a new service. They were actually first launched last November with a focus on Home & Garden, Computers & Electronics, Health & Counseling, Nutrition & Fitness, Fashion & Beauty, Art & Music, and Cooking & Education. The small business Helpouts focus specifically on verticals relevant to entrepreneurs:
- Website Design & Development
- Social Media Strategy
- Marketing & Business Consulting
- Online Advertising & Analytics
- IT Support
- Tax & Payroll Software Support
Helpouts create several business opportunities for freelancers and consultants.
Put Unused Billable Hours To Work
Billable hours are a valuable commodity because they determine whether or not a freelancer will earn a paycheck. In a perfect world, freelancers would have a constant stream of clients coming in the door and all of their available billable hours would be booked. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Even the most experienced of independent contractors will experience periods where they are either in between clients or are just not operating at their full capacity.
With Helpouts, you can take those unused billable hours and create a block of time when clients can reach out to you for small jobs. Think of it sort of like Airbnb, except instead of renting out your unused extra room, you’re renting our your unused extra work hours.
Helpouts can also be used as a lead generation channel. As was previously mentioned, it’s possible to offer your consultation services for free on Google Helpouts. Some client problems will be easy to solve with a quick chat, but others will require a more in-depth solution. For those more complex business problems, you could work with the client on building out a larger engagement.
Gain Insight Into Freelance Rates
Freelancers always want to know how much they should charge for services and how much their colleagues are charging. Since people have their rates listed in the Helpouts interface, it can provide valuable information about the current state of pay rates.
You can also use Helpouts to test whether you should adjust your rate. Adjusting your listed price and measuring the impact on the number of leads coming in over a certain period of time should offer some insight as to what sort of rate the market will tolerate.
Build Your Brand
Every independent worker is a brand. If you want to win clients, you need to learn how to shape that personal brand in a way that make clients want to work with you. Google Helpout clients choose an expert based on their listing. You can use this listing to try different messages to see which perform best with clients. For instance, you might find that stressing your years of work experience may do better at attracting clients than emphasizing your education. These learnings will tell you how you should present yourself to prospective clients both on Google Helpouts and in the real world.
Earn Social Proof
You most likely have a website for your business. A successful tactic for business websites is to feature product ratings and client testimonials. Helpouts have a built-in function whereby people are asked to rate and review the experts they’ve worked with. You could use that feedback and ratings on your own business website to demonstrate your abilities and to make yourself more attractive to would-be clients.
Google’s small business community and Helpouts are in many ways a sharing economy approach to freelancing gigs. They provide the self-employed with an easy way to “rent out” an unused asset (their extra hours), and, on top of that, gives them a mechanism to gain insight about the freelancing marketplace. It’s definitely a tool that freelancers should check out and that will be interesting to watch as it develops and takes shape over the next few years.
Do you have some thoughts on the small business community and helpouts? If so, let us know on Google+.