Love it or hate it, networking is essential for freelancers in any field, for reasons ranging from finding someone who can fix your PC when it falls over, to giving you an opportunity to leave the house and eat some decent biscuits. Let’s take a closer look …
Networking gets you out there. Perhaps to meet other freelancers, solopreneurs or small business owners in your local area, other workers in your field, or those in an area that you’re interested in exploring further. It could be anything from a breakfast meeting with your local 4Networking group to a small gathering in a coffee shop. Decide on your aims and the kind of environment you feel most comfortable in and look for a group that looks like a good fit. You might have to try a few different formats before you find the one that suits you best. I’ve been to groups where no sooner have I pinned my name badge to my lapel than I’ve been asked to do the equivalent of speed dating with three people whose business cards I like the look of. This is not for me. I’m not going to meet three people in a small room who are going to want my ELT project management services, and I don’t need a health and safety inspection, boudoir photos or a watering service for my office plants. I don’t want a hard sell. I want a relaxed environment for sharing tips on working from home, the low-down on the latest app for working collaboratively on documents, and I might be looking for an accountant.
Ask yourself: What sort of meeting is going to suit me best?
Why not? What have you got to lose? You might meet some really nice people, have a couple of hours away from your desk, and learn something new. If that’s not reason enough, what about these ideas …
- You can ask for advice. Someone’s bound to have at least a suggestion, if not a contact they can put you in touch with or a link to a website.
- You can get a confidence boost. Others will ask you for advice and tips and will be genuinely interested in your answers.
- You can keep up to date with industry knowledge if you go to an event that’s targeted to your area of interest and expertise.
- You can build your network. I’ve met my accountant, a great person for social media training and a speaker for a conference I’m helping to organize next year through networking groups.
Ask yourself: Why am I going to the meeting?
Again, think about what’s going to suit you best and take it from there. I’ve recently joined a networking group which meets monthly for two hours on a Wednesday morning and has a Facebook group where I might join in a discussion at any time. Early mornings or evenings might suit you better, depending on what else you’ve got going on. Unless you pay to join an organization like 4Networking, you’ll probably only have to pay-as-you-go, so you can dip in and out of one or more groups as you try them out until you find your best fit.
If you really don’t like the idea of going to a meeting, you can always use LinkedIn or Facebook for some networking as and when you feel like it. Join groups on LinkedIn and take part in discussions to get your name out there, and watch the number of views of your profile increase steadily on that handy little graph they show you. While Facebook is generally considered the fun friend of LinkedIn, you can also use groups on Facebook to network in a similar way. Two of the groups I’m in on Facebook with the biggest number of members are the IATEFL group (industry insight – over 12,000 members) and the Editors’ Association Of Earth group (skills help – 4,252 members and the first place I go to ask an editing-related query).
There are also the annual opportunities that are offered by conferences. The drawback of these is that they can be expensive both in terms of time and money to attend, but the value you can get from them can make that so worthwhile.
Look for events put on by organizations you have (or would like to have – the cost for non-members is probably only slightly higher than for members) professional memberships to and consider investing once every few years. You’ll make new contacts, find out about what’s going on in the industry, and have a chance to socialize with people whose Twitter name you can remember more readily than their real one.
Ask yourself: When can I afford the time? When can I afford to speculate to accumulate?
Ask other freelancers if they know of any networking groups they’d recommend. Search online. Look in your local newspaper. Find out if your professional organization has regional group meetings.
Get some business cards printed. You can spend hours on Moo.com choosing designs, messing about with fonts, and deciding what text gives exactly the right message. Believe me. But presenting your brand is as important as a friendly smile and an opening question when you walk in feeling slightly nervous, so if you can avoid getting too carried away, it’s time well spent.
Try to relax and enjoy the meeting. You can leave at any time. No one’s taking a register.
Follow up. This is key. Send an email, connect on LinkedIn or send a tweet to anyone whose card you collected, who you enjoyed talking to, or who could be a useful contact in the future. Or even if you just met someone you felt you’d like to meet again for a coffee. You might have to buy your own biscuits, but it could be the start of a great relationship.
Ask yourself: How am I going to feel most confident walking in to a group of strangers? How can I prepare for that? How will I follow up?
As I’ve said, a quick online search will bring up plenty of options. But if it doesn’t, create your own. Here are some things I’ve set up, mainly with the aims of getting out of the house, talking to other people in my industry, keeping up with what’s going on, and drinking coffee.
Last year, after one lunch we’d organized for 50 ELT freelancers, Helen (pictured far right) and I had a chat about how we could answer the questions we’d been asked and do more for our freelance community of (mainly) editors. We thought an awayday would be just the thing to encourage more networking, sharing and training. The first ELT Freelancers’ Awayday was arranged and was a huge success. We’re currently planning the second one for January 2016. If you’d like to come and network with us, all the details are here.