Otherwise known as “talking to other people about what they do” or “collecting as many business cards / twitter / LinkedIn connections as physically possible”.
Have you ever read an article about networking that wasn’t full of common sense points and cliché?
They mostly describe networking experiences as working something like this:
In this article, I’m going to try and outline why you should be networking and some simple, practical ways to build your freelance network – all without giving out a single business card (or photocopying any burritos).
Why is Networking Important?
Networking is mainly about making the most of your personal and industry connections to help bring you a regular supply of new business.
You are a freelancer, you will often need to find new work, so getting new work from people you know is the most straightforward way of finding new work.
But you need to know people who can refer you new work, so the personal networks that you accumulate over time, both socially and professionally, will be an invaluable resource.
Here’s a few reasons why networking as a freelancer is important:
- New Business: I’ve received a lot of new business referrals from my network. It is an uncomfortable experience at times or for some, but as a freelancer networking is an important way for you to get new business and client leads.
- Inside Leads: Networking leads to information and project leads, often before a formal project description is created or a project is announced.
- Making a Connection: Portfolios and cover letters alone are often too impersonal to convince potential clients to hire you, as people do business primarily with people they know and like.
- Collaborative Opportunities: Meeting other freelancers opens you up to new opportunities where you can team up with them, or pitch for bigger work by presenting yourselves as a team
Convinced? Ready to start networking and build your freelance contacts list?
Here are 11 ways you can nurture your freelance network.
1. Be An Everyday Networker
Every time you go out, be ready to network.
Do not underestimate the power of just being a sociable person and being open to networking opportunities on an everyday basis.
Networking doesn’t only happen at ‘networking events’.
Make sure that when you start networking that you aren’t just peddling business cards, but actually talking to people.
If you meet a potential new business lead, this doesn’t mean you should go straight into sales mode.
If someone you meet is potentially interested in your services, have a normal conversation, keep it casual. Ask her to get in touch, and / or get her contact details to offer a relaxed follow-up hello email. Networking can be as simple as that.
It’s about making a connection, adding value to others, and staying in touch. Not about forcing a business card into their hand.
2. Help Others Often
I’m a big believer in helping others first as one of the best ways to build your network.
By helping others, you are letting them know specifically what you do, what your ability is in, and that you’re willing to share that knowledge – all of which is very beneficial.
Helping others can be as simple as replying to their email promptly, responding to a tweet for help, writing a blog post offering advice in an areas related to your freelance work, giving support over a phone call or Skype conversation, or by meeting someone for a coffee to chat about some of their issues they’re facing.
Help others and you’ll find that the favour is returned in abundance when people recommend you to others who are looking for similar help – and that can mean paying clients.
Passing work someone’s way, when it’s not the right project or time for you, is a massive relationship strengthener. Use it wisely to offer the client a great referral, build a connection with someone who’s work you admire and who may be encouraged to do the same for you.
I’ve gotten a lot of referrals from my network, but a lot of those recommendations have started by giving back first and reaping the rewards later.
3. When Coffee Leads To Contacts
Getting in touch with contacts that you haven’t seen for a while is a great way to keep your relationship from going stale.
Offer to take an old contact out for a coffee, listen to how they’re faring and learn from what they’ve been working on. You’ll learn a lot and strengthen your relationship with them.
Although it likely won’t lead to any new business there and then, you will be front of mind when someone comes to them looking for someone to recommend for a new freelance project.
4. Make Friends With Other Freelancers
You shouldn’t treat other freelancers as competition.
Most freelancers want others in their field to succeed, will be happy to work with you if the right project comes up, or refer you work if they’re too busy to take a project on themselves.
Even if you don’t plan on keeping in close contact, you never know when a fellow freelancer, who’s a relatively weak tie in your network, may have an opportunity to refer business to you or send your introductions to others.
Looking to build networks with people needing to offload busy work means that if you can stay top of mind with those people, then you’ll have access to more opportunities.
And if you connect with someone, it’s a great chance to make life-long friends. Some of my closest friends have been people I’ve got to know when networking with my peers.
5. Connect Your Contacts
The most effective way for anyone to start networking is by connecting people.
Take a look at your existing contacts list and ask yourself these questions:
- Who can potentially help you in your career?
- Who is their ideal client?
- How can you connect this person with someone you know who is their ideal client?
Once you get into the habit of referring people, the opportunities will come flowing back to you as people remember the connections and opportunities you have created for them.
6. Go To Events
It can feel easier to stay behind your screen and network online, but meeting people in real life builds stronger relationships from the start.
Attending events in your industry is the simplest way to network, as you should already have a clear interest in the subject area.
Don’t go along with the expectation you’re going to get a new project. Just go to meet local professionals and listen and learn about what they’re doing and what’s happening in your community. You’ll be surprised at how often this insight can help you professionally.
Here’s a few websites that list networking events in countries and cities around the world:
- Meetup is the long-time online home for local groups that organise meetings. They’ve also just released Meetup Messages, which allows you to message other members that you meet at events. A great place to start and probably the fastest way to find industry groups near you.
- Eventbrite is a self-service ticketing platform, but it does also have a search feature and an events directory so you can find events taking place near you.
- Lanyrd allows you to add events, discover new and exciting conferences and track your friends to see what events they are going to. Particularly good if you speak at events, as you can list where you’ve spoken to build up your credibility among other Lanyrd users.
See also:Where to find meetups and events
7. Speak At Events
Even better than attending events is being a speaker at one.
This connects to point 2, because if you’re speaking at event then you are more than likely speaking about something you are knowledgeable about, and want to share with others to help them.
Speaking at events gives you extra networking opportunities as you’ll be more visible than the other people at the event.
You’ll have a time when all attention is focussed on you, so you can truly prove your expertise and publicise your contact details at the end of your presentation.
More people will come up to you following your presentation, so you can connect with them then.
8. Connect at Co-Working Spaces
What better way to find new business opportunities than to work in a space where others are looking to do the same?
Sharing desk space with other freelancers is a great way to build contacts and connections. by meeting a range of other freelancers from different industries, you can swap contacts, leads and refer new business to each other.
Co-working spaces often run networking events themselves, so you can meet other freelancers and small businesses hiring desk space. Going along to one of these events will be a great way to make your co-working space a little friendlier and you never know when you might make a valuable connection.
9. Keep in Touch with Ex-Colleagues and Clients
If you’ve worked in a job for a few years and are only just making the leap into your freelance career, then make sure you keep in touch with your old colleagues.
They will know your skills and experience and what you’re good at, so if a contact of theirs is looking to hire a freelancer then they can be free to recommend you, now you are no longer colleagues.
Adding them to LinkedIn is the simplest way to keep in touch with old colleagues, but back this up by keeping a note of their personal email address and phone number.
Simply emailing your soon to be ex colleagues as you leave your current job to go freelance can be a big help. Clearly say that it was great to work with them, give them your contact details so they can stay in touch, and mention that if they happened to hear of anyone looking to hire a freelance in your field that you would be happy for them to pass your details on.
10. Get Sociable on Social Media
As the social network for professionals, LinkedIn is the gold standard for building your freelance network online.
Even by doing just the basics – adding a photo, filling out your profile, and connecting to your contacts list to make connections with people you already know – can reap huge benefits. LinkedIn has high SEO value, so it’s likely to appear high in search results for your name. Make sure it works as hard for you as your own website, CV or portfolio.
There’s also a range of groups to join, so you can find and connect with a range of professionals whatever industry you work in or wherever you’re located.
And with the new, upcoming publishing feature, you’ll be able to post your own articles and thought-leadership pieces – another reason that LinkedIn is great for networking.
Apart from LinkedIn, most of my professional work has been built up through Twitter. I find the conversational nature of the platform makes it easier to connect with new people and quickly get a feel for what they’re all about.
Using a tool like FollowerWonk, you can search people’s bios and locations, meaning you can hone down more on the people you should follow.
Add this to the list of suggestions that Twitter gives you and you can quickly build up a network of contacts in your area.
See also: How to network online as a freelancer
11. Books To Level Up Your Networking Skills
Looking for more insights into building up your freelance network and contacts? Here are some books worth reading:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People: Offering practical advice and techniques in an exuberant style on how to make friends quickly and easily.
- Never Eat Alone: Offers a rare, detailed glimpse into how those with no special access can connect to those they want to meet.
- Adversaries into Allies: This book shows how networking is not just about influencing and persuading others. It’s doing so the right way so that people feel good about themselves – and about you.
Networking is something that you need to spend time doing: building relationships with other freelancers and potential clients, refining your networking skills to help make the most of the people you meet and build strong relationships with them. In the long run it can be one of the most valuable parts of your freelance business.
How do you go about building your freelance network? How do you network without putting yourself in uncomfortable situations? What are the most valuable things that your contacts bring to your freelance work?
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