Getting your name out there: Networking for Freelancers
Paradoxically, networking is both essential to running a freelance business, and also much harder to do as a freelancer – especially if you’re working from home. Not only is finding people a struggle, but convincing them of your value isn’t as easy when you’re a lone wolf
But there are still plenty of opportunities to build your list of contacts and clients, and getting into good networking habits can help you boost your reputation, bring in new business and work more assuredly & confidently.
Find your people online
The first obvious point of call is to seek out connections via the internet. There’s no shortage of great business communities out there – here are just a few to explore.
LinkedIn – known as the social network for professionals, LinkedIn is solely focused on business, so there’s fluff to wade through than other social media platforms. Join some groups in your industry sector and join in their discussions – but keep in mind that adding people you don’t know and you’ve never met or worked with is generally frowned upon.
Facebook – good if you’re offering services as opposed to products, but remember, it’s a social place. People use Facebook to communicate with friends and enjoy great content, not to see their feeds flooded with sales pitches.
Twitter – unlike other social networks, it’s somewhat acceptable on Twitter to introduce yourself to potential clients by adding them as contacts. Personally I think it’s smarter to add them to a list of ‘Cool People’ or ‘Top Companies’ – people will sit up and take notice of the person who thinks they’re interesting, and show their appreciation by following you (therefore increasing your ratio of followers vs people you’re following).
Talk to those who care enough to follow you with a friendly personal message – just make sure it’s not too sales-ey and it doesn’t look like a standard automated message.
Reddit – there’s some great subreddits for finding gigs (such as r/ForHire), interacting with fellow freelancers (r/Freelance) and promoting your expertise in your field (r/IAmA). Make an effort to integrate with the community, though – Reddit doesn’t take too kindly to shameless self promoters.
Forums – don’t discount the old message boards, since they usually play host to loyal, niche communities, allowing you to target your services more directly. For example, if you design posters and album covers for a living, you’re bound to find some valuable contacts on guitar forums.
Seek out networking events
There are plenty of trade shows, exhibitions, conferences and workshops happening around the country on a regular basis, and these provide a great way of meeting new contacts.
These events are often free to attend, and since everyone else will be on full-on networking mode too, approaching people with your spiel is a less embarrassing prospect.
Go where the clients will be
Don’t limit yourself to industry events, or events just for freelancers. See what kind of things are taking place for the kind of people you’re targeting. For example, if you’re a voiceover artist, why not see if there’s any awards evenings or conferences for radio broadcasters which you can attend for free?
Talk to everyone
When you’re at a conference, don’t just approach the people who you think might need your business. Your services might be sought by the people you’d least expect to need them. Even those who aren’t interested now might be interested months or even years later – or they might be able to recommend you to a contact of their own.
It’s also important to interact with fellow freelancers, even those who do the same work as you. They might seem like rivals, but there may be opportunities for you to collaborate, or lend each other a hand when a creative block strikes.
Use business cards
It’s 2015 – why would anyone want business cards in this age of Twitter handles and smartphones? Quite simply, business cards still work:
- They let a potential client know who you are, what you do and how they can reach you, at a glance
- They make you look professional (or at least, more professional than scrawling your email on a scrap of paper)
- They provide a tangible physical object which can be a great memory jogger down the line, if an old contact suddenly has a need for your services
- They never break down, run out of battery, lose reception, or have to be turned off for safety or legal reasons
- People are welcome to throw it away if they’re not interested, but unlike an email, your business card won’t end up landing in a spam folder by accident
- People are more likely to pass on your business card to others who might be interested in you, compared to an email address or a phone number
Keep at least three business cards with you at all times – add a few more if you’re going to a big event. Don’t just push them into the hands of everyone you meet as soon as you meet them, though – let the conversation flow naturally first, and if all goes well, offer your card when it’s time for you to go your separate ways.
Prepare what you’ll say
It’s important to know how you’ll introduce yourself, but memorising and repeating the exact same speech each time will make you sound robotic and uninspiring.
Instead, make a brief list of bullet points (two or three will do) which sum up what you do and – crucially – what you can offer them. People don’t want to hear your life story, they want to know what you can do to solve their problems. Each time you get talking to somebody new, make sure you cover all those points as succinctly as possible.
Keep your social media up to date
The first thing a potential client will do after they meet you is type your name into Google and see what social networking profiles exist for you. If they’re greeted with a Facebook page you haven’t touched in years, they’ll probably think twice about sending that follow-up email.
Don’t pester people
A follow-up message is acceptable, but nobody wants to be badgered constantly with services, even if they’re services they might be interested in. Be patient and respect other people’s time.
Don’t always focus on finding clients
Sometimes just chatting with people about your area of expertise can be enough to convince them that you’re the freelancer for them. Share your knowledge, help those that need guidance, discuss the current affairs of your industry, and above all, be yourself.
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