5 Principles to Better Networking for Freelancers
Networking is more than just attending events and swapping business cards. Freelancers, in particular, can find fellow collaborators, future partners, prospective clients, and a tribe of fellow freelancers when they network. Networking is about building relationships and like all relationships it takes trust and personal contact built over time.
1. Do a head check first and look inward.
The first relationship to consider before you jump into networking is the one you have with yourself. Can you deliver commitments and handle setbacks in a professional way? Do you recover quickly when things don’t go your way? Do you truly enjoy your work? You’ll need to get comfortable with your lifestyle as a freelancer to have the right interactions with others. Learn how to lead a more relaxed freelance lifestyle and ask yourself if you should really be freelancing.
A more appropriate self-image for a freelancer is someone who is self-employed. Remember, you are, in fact, a business owner– with all the perks and headaches.
Establishing your self-identity (and confidence) as a freelancer sometimes takes time and practice. The term “freelancer” often has negative connotations that many people new to the business can’t shake. Leaving a well-established career and shifting into being a free agent can be both an ego boost and ego deflator.
A more appropriate self-image for a freelancer is someone who is self-employed. Remember, you are, in fact, a business owner– with all the perks and headaches. For one thing, you have to wear a lot of hats. Not only are you a professional in your field, but you are also a project manager, a customer service rep, a marketer, a sales agent, a secretary, and an accountant. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking freelancing is an easy life.
So, the next time you present yourself to others, hold your head high, and remember that you are a professional. If you treat yourself with respect, the rule of karma will follow you into that room when you present yourself to others and network.
2. Focus on quality, not quantity.
Freelancers don’t need to win over dozens of people to call themselves networked. A network is best assessed by the quality of the relationships, not the quantity of names in your contact list. Build solid relationships with your connections by following up with phone calls or e-mails. Thank people you meet for their time and offer to help them in the future.
If you promised to send information or exchange ideas, do that. Even if you don’t work directly together, keep in touch routinely with these key people. And don’t expect too much too soon; it takes time for you to build the trust in relationships and establish a professional, friendly rapport.
- Focus on giving not getting. Show an interest in the needs of others, rather than always being driven to make that sale or procure that business lead. Try to help others with referrals, introductions, information, and feedback. The rewards from sowing strong connections will come naturally over time.
- Listen well. It helps when you genuinely enjoy the company of the contacts in your network. Take the time to ask questions and provide constructive input. Showing interest usually leads to others showing interest in you. Find out more about someone’s business, which usually makes it easier for you to offer your services later or to ask for relevant leads. Don’t be a hit-and-run networker. Maintain contact either through social media on a fairly regular basis or on a more personal basis (in person, for example) several times a year.
3. Cast your networking net far and wide.
You might not realize it, but you’re actually already a member of multiple networks. Some may be so obvious you probably hadn’t thought to consider them as potential sources for leads and work partners. Here are several groups never to take for granted:
- Family and friends. From parents to distant cousins and your pals from grade school, family and friends can be wonderful source of contacts and work leads. Someone always knows someone who might need your services. Make sure you announce to the world your freelancing business and encourage family members and friends to spread the word.
- School. Classmates and former professors can all be wonderful sources of information. Keep up your ties to your alumni network.
- Colleagues at work. Never burn your bridges, even to the old job you left behind to become a freelancer. Assuming you left on good terms, former co-workers, even old bosses, can be excellent sources for leads for your freelancing business. Just be sure you’re not competing in the same space. Learn how to handle non-compete clauses.
- Meetups and volunteer events. Join a group around an activity you enjoy.
Professional groups are good for networking, but potential clients can be found in recreational and social groups, as well. Try attending a brown bag talk or after-hours event at a local coworking space.
4. Reach out, even if you have to cold call.
We all think we can hide behind our computers, but first contact is often better made over the telephone or in person. Many experts agree that the telephone is your best bet to reach someone and secure a favor or ask for a job.
E-mails can be ignored, mailers and letters trashed, but once you have someone on the phone, you can engage them more directly and get to the point. Here are several ways to minimize the sting of first contact:
- Prepare an opening script. This technique may sound a bit stilted, but one way to settle your nerves is to produce a snappy short outline of what you plan to say. Write down the person’s name clearly in your notes and include any personal details that may help you frame your conversation in a lighter, more personal way.
- Prepare a list of questions. Surprisingly, most calls will lead to the person asking you to provide more context about your request. Seize the opportunity they’ve given you by asking meaningful questions to get the important information you need to develop or pursue a lead.
- Practice how you would react in different scenarios. People may respond to you in a gruff way, or they may ask you to set up a meeting on the spot. Be prepared for the objection or the enthusiastic offer to help.
5. Be the expert.
A great way to network is to present yourself as an expert in your field. Volunteer to give a lecture or presentation. Most likely these events will be attended by potential clients who might be interested in your freelance services.
Small business events are helpful; check with your local chamber of commerce. Or, look into organizing a Meetup, or hold a Skillshare or Udemy class. Make sure you get a list of the attendees and their contact information. Include your contact information on all hand-outs and materials you give out.