A freelancer’s business rarely tracks in a predictable line. There are periods when we have more work than we can handle followed by stretches when we begin to second-guess this freelance life. The important lesson is learning how to keep enough prospects in the pipeline to prevent the well from going dry.
The key, of course, is networking.
Networking is about building relationships, not making sales. Business only comes after the freelancer develops relationships. It’s one of the first lessons you learn when you go into business for yourself. We all know that we have to do it. Some of us might even enjoy it. The rest of us just see it as yet another task to be checked off our “to do” list. But there are ways to make the most out of networking and maybe even have a little fun doing it. Use these six tips to help you make those most of your networking efforts.
- Treat networking as part of your job
Some freelancers resist going to networking events because they feel it takes time away from doing client work or it costs too much. This is an easy trap to fall into when you have a steady stream of clients and business is good. But complacency is dangerous. What if your biggest client suddenly pulls out and your income stream dries up? You need to be proactive in developing relationships that will lead to the next opportunity. And remember, any costs can be written off as a business expense. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself.
- Join a networking group
While this one may seem obvious, it can also be a bit intimidating. There are myriad networking groups broken out by industry, profession, special interests, tradecraft, and more, and it can quickly become overwhelming to someone new to the networking scene. Some groups charge membership dues while others are free or only charge a nominal fee.
Joining Freelance Austin and attending the monthly meetings is a good start, but branch out into other relevant networking groups as well. When evaluating a group, consider how often it meets and the variety of members. Remember, networking is about building relationships, so look for groups that meet on a regular schedule and provide a directory of members. This helps foster getting to know people better.
- Look for people in complementary professions
I like to find groups where I can meet people in complementary professions and where their client bases overlap with mine. For example, as a web designer, I like to connect with people who design logos or write content. It’s the same ecosystem, but different animals so we aren’t competing for the same business. We can combine our talents to provide a client a complete solution.
- Have the right attitude
It’s important to approach networking with the right attitude. You don’t want to walk into a group desperate to make a sale, passing out business cards like candy on Halloween. This is a sure-fire turnoff. Instead, you want to focus on building relationships.
When meeting someone, don’t spend the whole time talking about yourself. Instead, spend half the time talking about yourself and half the time talking about the other person. Also, look at the next ten appointments on your calendar and see if any of them mesh with the other person’s needs. Offer to make an introduction or referral. This is an opportunity to help someone make connections for their own business. Ultimately, when you help others, they will help you in return.
- Follow up with new contacts
Continue your networking even beyond the group events. Schedule one-on-one meetings and cultivate your business relationships. Before meeting with someone new, do your homework. Spend some time researching them. Make sure you understand their business and background and look for areas where your interests and theirs overlap. Use this information to prepare some questions and talking points for when you meet.
- Update your public profiles and company web page
Your public profile is an important part of your networking strategy. This is where prospective clients and potential partners will go to learn more about you and your business, so you want to have a professional profile. Make sure that your LinkedIn information and company website are up-to-date and that you are taking advantage of membership directories for any networking groups you join. For instance, you will want to confirm that your Freelance Austin profile is complete and current.
In freelance, as in life, nothing remains the same and you need to prepare for all the possibilities. By being proactive about networking and building relationships now, you’re more likely to weather the next storm.