Freelancing is about more than spending your days doing what you do best, whether it’s design, web development, data entry, writing, or what have you. As a freelancer, you’re a one-person business too, so business development is a key part of your success.
Most freelancers aren’t experienced entrepreneurs, so your solo business is probably your first foray into recruiting clients and establishing a name for yourself. To some degree, that’s a skill you can only learn by diving in for yourself, but it helps if you know where to start. That starting point is networking.
Why Every Freelancer Should Network
No matter what industry you’re in or what services you offer, networking is a powerful tool in building your business. In fact, building relationships with the right people can give you more advantages than you realize.
Opportunities for New Clients
I’ll be honest with you: I’m not a natural salesperson, not by a long shot. When I first ditched my 9-5 to freelance full-time, I was worried about whether I had what it takes to build a portfolio of clients. I tried plenty of strategies and options, but as I look back now at my clients, almost all of them came from networking in one capacity or another.
The people you network with could need your services for a project. They all have their own networks beyond you too, so maybe someone in their network is looking for your specialty and your connection recommends you. The more people you know and have a relationship of respect with, the more doors will open.
Getting the Right Clients
Most seasoned freelancers will tell you that when it comes to your clients, you want quality over quantity. That’s more likely to happen with networking.
When you have a human connection with potential clients, they tend to have more respect for you as a professional. Because they value you for the expert you are, they’re happy to pay you what you’re worth rather than trying to nickel-and-dime you to a low rate. They’re also more likely to come back for future contracts or refer other clients to you because they truly know you.
Networking isn’t always about scoring new contracts. Sometimes it’s about learning how to better manage your business and find success on your own terms.
That’s why it’s great to network with other freelancers and entrepreneurs as well as other people in your industry. You could get some treasured advice from people who have been in your shoes.
Low Risk, High Reward
There are plenty of ways to develop freelance businesses, but let’s be honest, some of them take more time than they’re worth. Networking is the opposite. It could be as simple as spending a few minutes online messaging back and forth or having a chat in a coffee shop once per week. You barely notice the time you’ve spent but it has a huge potential pay-off.
Networking 101 for Freelancers: Where to Network
Sometimes the toughest part of networking is figuring out how to get started. Once you meet people, it’s a simple matter of having friendly chats and getting to know them, but where do you meet new connections? Start with these favorites.
Dedicated Networking Groups
Most metro areas have groups for the sole purpose of networking. It’s a bunch of professionals who get together for networking events or chat online to build connections. These can be terrific because everyone’s there for the same reason.
A word of caution, though: some of these groups turn into nothing more than a room of people exchanging business cards and elevator pitches, and that’s not networking. Real networking involves getting to know people and forming mutually beneficial relationships of professional respect. If you try a networking group and those real connections aren’t forming, try a different group.
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Anywhere You Work
Many freelancers don’t exclusively work at home. Every so often, you need to get out of the house and work around other human beings (at least that’s the case when there isn’t a raging pandemic). A lot of self-employed people spend time working at coffee shops, coworking spaces, and similar places.
All these places are terrific places to network. In fact, several of my best clients came from mere chats I struck up with the person sitting next to me at a coffee shop. Of course, be careful to gauge the people you meet and don’t force a conversation if they’re clearly trying to read a book or focus on something.
Social Media and Online Forums
You don’t have to be sipping a latte next to someone to get to know them. Especially since COVID-19 started, online networking has become a staple for many freelancers.
Look for professional or networking-focused Facebook groups. There are groups for freelancers, groups of professionals in specific industries, groups for certain types of professionals…you name it, it exists. LinkedIn is a terrific option too. Just look for LinkedIn profiles for people in your area in your target industry or look for other freelancers and start chatting.
The Ultimate Networking Rule: Authenticity
You have a variety of avenues you can use to go out and start networking at any moment, but let’s talk about one important factor first: authenticity.
“Networking” doesn’t mean making a sales pitch to as many people as possible. True networking is about forming genuine, mutually beneficial connections with people. Think of them as friendships but with a more professional twist.
That means not only do you need to be authentic and personable with your new connections, but you need to continuously nurture those relationships too. Simple exchanges go a long way, like a quick message online every several months to see how they’re doing or to chat about the latest news in your industry. But above all else, just be genuine and have a good time connecting.