3 Tools That Will Make You the Most Informed Contractor in Your Network
Having the right knowledge and information is a massive competitive advantage in the IT contracting market. The more up-to-date you are on client news, industry trends, and opportunities, the easier it is to find work and keep a steady flow of contracts. Unfortunately, there is no magical place you can go to that has all of that customized and readily available for you each morning... or is there? No, there isn't. At least not without a bit of work up-front.
What do you want to know?
The quest for being well informed begins with knowing what it is you want to be informed about. Take some time to plan out every source from which you want frequent updates. Consider your top clients or companies with whom you want to work, your top staffing agencies, some other job boards that have brought you success, and news websites or blogs that provide information on the latest trends in your trade. Now you have a list, albeit long, it's a list. Your next step is to find a tool that will aggregate and organize all of the information for you.
The simplest tool is probably LinkedIn because most contractors are already there. Go through your target client list, company-by-company, search out their page, and follow them. Now, updates from that company will appear on your newsfeed whenever you log in. As long as you're in the habit of checking regularly (LinkedIn's mobile app makes it very easy), you should be fairly up-to-date on your favourite companies.
Unfortunately with LinkedIn, "fairly up-to-date" is the best you can hope for. If you manage to find all of the LinkedIn pages for your favourite companies, you'll also find that some don't post updates. For those who are active, it's almost guaranteed that they're not posting all news and opportunities -- they don't want to spam their newsfeeds.
Speaking of newsfeeds, just because you follow somebody, it doesn't mean their updates will appear in your feed. LinkedIn can't show you everything, so it automatically filters posts based on what it thinks is more relevant to you.
Twitter is the other social network where you'll have good results with company updates. As with LinkedIn, there's no guarantee that everybody has a Twitter account and, if they do, there is no guarantee that they're active. The biggest differentiator between Twitter and LinkedIn is the posting etiquette. Where most pages on the professional social network only post a maximum of two to three times a day, Twitter profiles are more open, sometimes posting over twenty times per day. And Twitter feeds include all posts.
Many companies have a Twitter account dedicated to posting everything they publish -- every article, every job opportunity, and all company news. Twitter is fantastic if you want instantaneous news, but it's overwhelming, which is why lists are mandatory if you want to be organized. Twitter Lists allow you add certain profiles into a group, for example "IT Contract Opportunities." Then, when you're interested in learning more about that specific topic, you can view the news only in that list. We recommend using a tool such as HootSuite to manage and view your lists even more efficiently.
LinkedIn and Twitter are fantastic, but they are flawed in that they require a company to continually maintain their posts. Organizations often start with good intentions of posting everything, but those posts can start to fade. That's what makes RSS Feeds the superior method of following a company.
RSS Feeds automatically publish frequently updated information from specific web pages, such as blog entries, job boards, press releases and news headlines. RSS Feeds are a great "set it and forget it" tool, meaning once an RSS feed has been created, as long as no other back-end code changes affect it, the feed is continuously updating. (For example, you can view the RSS Feeds for the Talent Development Centre, Eagle Jobs, and Eagle's CEO Blog)
It takes a little bit more work upfront, but you can take advantage of RSS Feeds by subscribing to a feed reader (ex. Digg, Feedly, or any other app that you may find). Then, visit each company's website to search for their feed (it's often found by clicking on an image like the one to the right) or search out the company directly from your feed reader. Like Twitter, you can then group all of your feeds, and all of the most up-to-date information is available to you each time you open the reader. If you're still loyal to Twitter accounts but like the idea of RSS Feeds, this site will help you turn any Twitter feed into an RSS feed.
So what are you waiting for? It may take a time commitment to set yourself up properly, and you need to set time aside to keep up with all of your new information, but it's well worth it. You'll know about jobs as soon as their published, client news as soon as it breaks, and hot trends before they make it to the water cooler!