Now you’re a creative freelancer, you might think you’ve waved goodbye to the corporate business world. So, it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn that networking is still an integral part of your business. But – put down that pinstripe suit and briefcase – you’ll be glad to know it’s possible to network and build authentic relationships without losing your soul.
First of all, stop thinking of networking as that thing corporate big wigs do in fancy wine bars after dark. This is the 21st century after all, and these days networking comes in all shapes and sizes. From slipping a business card to your car mechanic, to attending industry conferences, to tweeting – there are networking opportunities everywhere. You just need to learn how to seize them and grow your network.
For a lot of people, networking is a numbers game. It’s about getting the most connections on LinkedIn, handing out the most business cards or getting the most Twitter followers. But, all of those connections are useless if they’re not connecting you with people who are useful to you.
Beware of networking rookie errors. At networking events it can be easy to get caught up in the swing of things. Before you know it, you’ve handed out all of your business cards to people who were really positive and friendly, but probably weren’t potential clients. Done the wrong way, networking can be a lot of hot air and not much substance. Ask the right questions, and you’ll soon find out who will be useful to you. A good question to start with is ‘how can my business help you?’. Don’t waste time speaking to people who don’t need your help, and in fact are just trying to proposition you with their own business ideas.
Another common newbie mistake is to only approach people who could be potential clients, without realising the value that connecting with other creative freelancers can bring.
Networking is more complex than just directly approaching new clients. You should aim to build relationships with the movers and shakers that are already working in your field and find peers who can act as mentors. Through forging relationships in your industry, you’ll gain valuable insight into how other freelancers find work. Landing new clients will be a byproduct of this: once you establish a good relationship, your new friends will recommend your name to their clients when they’re booked up.
So how do you start? Firstly, you can network without leaving the house. Which is a bonus for freelancers who begrudge getting changed out of their pjs. Twitter is a great place to start growing your online network. Find people in your field you want to connect with, then engage and interact; re-tweet, like, follow, comment. If you meet someone influential IRL, interact with them on Twitter too, to solidify your relationship. Follow them or tag them in a tweet to build your relationship.
Any social media channel can be used to network. Think Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Vine, Tumblr – any platform that provides you with an audience can be used to to grow your network.
Blogging is also a great way to promote yourself and grow your network as a freelancer. Writing about your industry gives you a chance to flex your knowledge in your specialist area and build a reputation as a master of your craft. Start a blog and try to post at least one article a week. Share your posts on your social media channels so people know you’re blogging.
Writing for other people’s blogs can be a great way to grow your audience too, without the hassle of maintaining your own. Target publications in your industry that have a large readership, and offer to do a guest post.
Don’t use online networking as an excuse not to leave the house. Networking face-to-face can be much more effective. Faces are harder to forget than tweets. Your business is 50% personality, and there’s no better way to let that shine than in person with someone else. And, let’s face it, freelancing can be a lonely existence, so you should definitely take the opportunity to network in person.
There are lots of ways you can network in the real world with real people. Look for meet ups and events in your local area. Seek out local business coffee mornings, creative industry meet ups, freelancer events and industry conferences. Meeting up with similar freelancers is especially beneficial as any connections you make will be able to pass on extra work to you.
If you learn to do it right, networking needn’t be a corporate bore-fest. If you target the right people and attend the right gatherings it can be a lot of fun. You’ll make new friends, meet mentors, have a laugh and most importantly – gain new clients while you’re doing it.