How Much Time Should You Really Spend Networking with Other Freelancers?
We all know that we need to spend as much time as we can networking with prospective clients. But how much time should you spend networking with other freelancers?
Other Freelancers Aren’t Just Competition
As a freelancer, other freelancers have to seem like competition. But those other freelancers can also be resources. Most of us have had mentors that have helped us get our freelancing careers off the ground. We learn how to be better freelancers from the community, more than anything else. Networking makes it easier to learn how to keep growing your business.
Dealing with your competition as a part of your network can be tough. It’s more than just having a mindset that there’s enough work to go around. If you’ve got a good marketing plan and a clear idea of your client base, that’s not a problem. But you need to go a step beyond that: you have to be personally comfortable making nice with someone who may be pitching the exact same people you are. It takes some practice and plenty of self-confidence.
We Don’t Work in a Vacuum
I’ve been freelancing long enough that I get emails about opportunities pretty regularly. I pass along about half of what I receive to other freelancers, rather than taking on those projects myself. A lot of it is because what comes my way isn’t exactly what I do. I take on very specific projects and turn down anything that doesn’t fall into that category. But I keep a list of freelancers with other specialties.
When I get something that isn’t a good fit, my immediate response is, “I don’t do this, but I know another freelancer who would be perfect!” I’ve gotten plenty of work that way myself. I also get emails from past clients asking if I know someone who will take on design projects or development projects or anything else that they have, but know isn’t up my alley.
On the other hand, clients I’ve worked with will use me as a reference check for other freelancers they’re considering. I know this is fairly common, especially if everyone involved is local. We all have reputations, good or bad, with both clients and other freelancers we’ve worked with. That’s one reason that it’s important to network with freelancers outside your specialty.
There’s another reason: many creative projects have multiple moving parts. A client looking for a new website could need a freelance designer, a freelance coder, a freelance writer and maybe even more help. She’ll almost always go to just one person (probably the website designer) and ask them to handle all the details. That means that other freelancers can be an excellent source of work, especially if you look for opportunities to prove that you’re going to make them look good.
Getting Freelance Networking Right
The real question is how much time you should spend networking with other freelancers, especially since you have to network with clients and then actually get some work done at some point.
Personally, I don’t break out my networking into two separate categories. I spend several hours a week networking online — which includes commenting on blogs, using social media and sending email after email. I try to go to one networking event every week, as well. I devote a lot of time to making sure I know who is who, both in terms of freelancers who work on the same types of projects I do and more generally.
This isn’t just my experience, by the way. I’m a little biased, because I write about freelancing regularly. But other freelancers feel the same way. Steph Auteri, a freelance writer with plenty of experience, has had similar experiences:
Building up a network of fellow freelancers — and maintaining it — has been so integral to my own success as a freelancer that I try to engage with this community online at least 30 to 60 minutes a day, whether it be in the form of link-sharing, advice-giving, or random conversation (about my cats). But networking shouldn’t stop there. Even at my busiest, I try to meet with other freelancers in person a few times a month. This allows for a greater cross-pollination of ideas, and the greater possibility of collaboration. Alone, you can accomplish so much. But when you work together, you can really see things grow.
So get out there and network!