I hate networking. With a vengeance. It conjures up really bad memories of corporate gigs with slightly sweaty men thrusting business cards at me and talking about themselves for hours, whilst ensuring that I can’t escape.
I never got a freelance project on the back of one of those events.
But the unfortunate truth is that networking is how every freelancer gets work. The key is to reframe the way you think about networking and find new ways to build your tribe of collaborators and clients. Fundamentally, it is about relationships. It is about how you persuade others that you are trustworthy, talented and the go-to person for your specialist subject.
Here are our tried and tested tips for growing your network and getting those gigs rolling in:
1. See what’s in front of you
To be honest, those awful business networking events are almost a thing of the past now that social networking allows us to keep in touch with friends, family and ex colleagues via Facebook, Friends Reunited and LinkedIn.
Much has been written about the Six Degrees of Separation, but we are so used to chunking our lives up into boxes (close friends, work colleagues, family, exes), that we often lose sight of the fact that we know far more people that we realise.
And many people in your immediate tribe, realising that paying it forward is good for them too, are more than happy to connect one of their contacts to you. The most powerful network of all is family and friends. You don’t need to sell yourself to them, they know you are great, and have a vested interest in your future health and wealth.
Many of us retain our university or school friend networks for life. Studying the same subjects or sharing formative experiences means real bonds. So if you aren’t already, do join your alumni network, which is a great place to find suitable projects. Often these are within password-protected websites or email distribution lists. Management consultancies rely on their alumni networks to find associates to work on client projects.
No matter how much you hated your last job, you will have enjoyed the camaraderie of the team. Keep in touch with your ex-colleagues and bosses, keep going to industry events and asking how they are doing. This is where you will pick up industry gossip and find out which firms are looking for advice or freelance help. Many companies are struggling to copy on the back of having made redundancies and will welcome the help of someone who already knows the ropes and can hit the ground running.
Get out and about to Meet Up events, like our Pop Up Coworking events where you can hang out with fellow freelancers in a very non-threatening environment. Aside from learning new skills or meeting people who are as geeky as you are about your subject, they are a great source of intelligence about where the jobs and projects are.
2. Be your confident self
Look. We know that we have days when we barely move from the laptop, let alone leave the house. It’s hard to keep your confidence levels up and keep going. You might even be questioning whether it’s time to return to corporate life.
Or perhaps you are lucky enough to have a good, long-term project that is keeping you so busy that you don’t have time to get out much?
Don’t undersell yourself. You need to think of yourself as someone who runs a successful business doing something that you love, on your own terms. Not as the person who is desperate for the next project. Any project… You know what I’m saying 😉
You can’t expect anyone to take you seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously.
3. Be a niche expert
Almost everyone seems to be an expert these days. But even Google is starting to weed out the same old, same old rehashing of content to make sure that good, intelligent expertise is rising up the search rankings. We are starting to crave real, honest advice and guidance in a world where we are bombarded with production line rubbish.
This is where freelancers and independent professionals can really come into their own. Don’t underestimate the fact that people will want to come and listen to your talk if it is packed with great, practical advice and facts that people haven’t heard before. They’ll talk about it, and before you know it you will have a reputation as a speaker and you’ll see the benefit in new projects.
We organise Meet Ups and we share our learnings at other Meet Ups using tools like Eventbrite or Meetup.com.
Blogging is much easier than you think, and a great way to start getting yourself published and sharing your position on a subject. It’s a way to connect and debate with others in your sector too. Even better still, write a book on your subject. It’s easy enough to self publish your book these days.
Never forget that people like experts, and if you get it right, you can earn top dollars for your work.
4. It’s all in the company you keep
It is pointless and inefficient to simply network all over the place and try to grow your LinkedIn connections to many hundred.
Your client prospects aren’t stupid. They will be impressed at the kind of connections that you have rather than the quantity. Your connections list on LinkedIn speaks volumes about what you have been doing and at what level. Even if people don’t really trust the LinkedIn recommendations, the fact that you have some counts for something.
We often find that our best projects come in months after we have done a favour for someone in our network. Be that finding a link to an article or sending through a name to speak to, it means that you are thinking about them in their terms and putting thought into your relationship. It works wonders to do this, but only if you are authentic in your motivations. You can always spot someone who just wants to take rather than give.
5. Be human
Even for the most confident of freelancers, having to explain what we do to a stranger in person or on the phone can be terrifying. It feels so much easier to send an email or newsletter. Particularly for us Brits! But if you can steel yourself, it is much better to make a call or seize the moment at a meetup to talk to someone directly. It makes you much more difficult to ignore.
We write down our ‘ask’ on a post it note and a bullet point list of things that we want to know before picking up the phone, or launching into conversation. Once you’ve got the first 30 seconds out of the way its plain sailing.
How do you find work? We’d love to know. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.