8 Ways to Build Your Network and Achieve Freelance Success
If you’re like most freelancers, then networking is stressful—even scary. Many of us are shy. We like to work alone and usually dread leaving the safe cocoon of our offices to go out and network. Even virtual networking can feel uncomfortable.
But who you know—a.k.a. your network—can be more important than anything else in getting steady, high-paying clients and achieving freelance success. And having a trusting, strategic network will help you get more referrals, which is the easiest way to build a freelance business.
Why Freelancers Need to Network
Clients want to work with freelancers they can trust. And they use networking to find those freelancers. If you’re not in their network or the network of someone they know, they can’t find you.
Along with getting more referrals and meeting more clients, building a trusting, strategic network will help you get practical advice on running your business and support from other freelancers.
8 Ways to Make Networking Less Stressful
With the right networking attitude and some knowledge about what works best, networking will be easier and less stressful for you. It can even be fun.
When I started out, I hated networking. But I knew that it was important. So I forced myself to do it. And as I did more networking, learned how to do it better, and saw the benefits to my freelance business, networking became easier. And now it’s fun for me.
Here are 8 sure-fire ways to build your network:
- Develop the Right Networking Attitude
- Give More than You Take
- Make Friends with Other Freelancers
- Join and Volunteer for Professional Associations
- Master Virtual Networking
- Build Your LinkedIn Network
- Meet People in Person
- Be Strategic.
1. Develop the Right Networking Attitude
Most freelancers, including me when I was starting out, don’t understand networking. So we have a bad attitude about it. And this makes networking harder for us. Once you understand networking, you’ll become more comfortable doing it. And you’ll get better at it.
Here’s the truth. Networking isn’t about “selling yourself.” It’s about getting to know people. Trying to sell your services—what we think we’re supposed to do—doesn’t work. And it’s very stressful.
But when you focus on getting to know people, networking is so much easier! You’re listening to the other person/people and asking questions. The pressure is off.
The Little-Known Personality Type that Makes Networking Easier
Also, are you really an introvert?
Being an introvert makes networking harder. But most freelancers who think they’re introverts are actually ambiverts. Ambiverts are part introvert and part extrovert. It’s easier for us to network than it is for introverts or extroverts because we know when to talk and when to listen. Introverts are too quiet and extroverts talk too much. But ambiverts are just right.
Find out what you are by taking The Quiet Revolution Personality Test. Even if you find out you are an introvert, a little attitude adjustment can make networking easier for you.
2. Give More than You Take
Giving more than you take is my golden rule of networking for freelancers. When you focus on getting to know other people and helping them without expecting anything in return, networking is so much easier.
And there’s proof that this works. In his best-selling book Give and Take, Wharton Management Professor Adam Grant reported that people who give their time, knowledge, ideas, and connections to others without expecting anything in return (“givers”) are more successful than people who think it’s a dog-eat-dog world and focus only on self-promotion (“takers”). Grant’s research shows that nice guys (and gals) can finish first, not last.
By giving, we build trust and establish our credibility. The result, over time, is more referrals and more new clients. Ways to give include sending links to useful content, connecting colleagues to other people who can help them, and referring other freelancers to clients.
Learn More About Building Your Network by Giving More Than You Take
3. Make Friends with Other Freelancers
Make other freelancers a key part of your strategic network. They’re a great source of advice and support, along with referrals.
Other freelancers can help you learn what to do—and what not to do—in running your freelance business. They can help you handle difficult clients and decide whether a freelance opportunity is right for you. And they can provide support when things aren’t going well and celebrate successes with you.
And once you’ve built trusting relationships with other freelancers, they’ll be a great source of referrals. Give them referrals too when you hear about freelance work that’s not right for you or that you’re too busy to take. There’s plenty of freelance work for all of us, and collaboration with freelance friends always beats competition.
Learn About 5 Freelancers and their Freelance Friends
4. Join and Volunteer for Professional Associations
Professional associations are the easiest way to get referrals because they’re full of people who are working in your specialty(ies). You’ll meet colleagues and other freelancers who can refer work to you—and prospective clients too. When clients need freelancers they can trust, they often ask colleagues in their professional associations for recommendations.
Volunteering for your professional associations is the quickest way to build the trusting relationships that lead to referrals, and to impress the prospective clients you meet. And if you’re like most freelancers, volunteering is much easier than other types of networking.
Look for information about volunteering on the websites of your professional associations. If you don’t find it, just email one of the officers and say that you’d like to volunteer.
Also, by joining and being active in professional associations, you’ll learn more about your industry(ies) and your ideal clients. And you’ll find ideal clients to reach out to with your marketing.
Find the Right Professional Associations
Ask your freelance friends and your clients which professional associations they belong to and would recommend. Use the Directory of Associations to search for professional associations.
Before joining a professional association, check out the website and available resources, and try to go to a meeting or conference. Sometimes though, you just have to join a professional association for a year and see what you think.
Learn More About How Professional Associations Can Help You
5. Master Virtual Networking
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to start networking virtually—something that still seems strange and uncomfortable after more than a year of doing it (as of April 2021 when I wrote this post).
While I doubt that virtual networking will ever be as helpful as in-person networking, it is here to stay. Even when we can get together in person at meetings and conferences, virtual networking will be a productive way to do some networking.
And there are some real benefits to virtual networking, which:
- Takes a lot less time than attending live networking events
- Costs less
- Enables us to attend more networking events.
Great ways for freelancers to network virtually include LinkedIn, conferences and other events of professional associations, social networks of professional associations, and forums for freelancers. Like in-person networking, focus on giving more than you take in virtual networking.
Differences Between Virtual and In-Person Networking
But there are some differences between virtual and in-person networking, and some new things for us to learn. The biggest difference is the use of technology and the need to have the right technology, especially the right lighting, for effective networking virtually. Other differences include how to appear professional and approachable on-camera and the need to have a clean, uncluttered background.
Learn More About Virtual Networking for Freelancers
6. Build Your LinkedIn Network
LinkedIn is becoming a more popular way for freelancers to network—and more clients are using the #1 social network for business to find freelancers.
Having a big, relevant network (500+ connections) and being active on LinkedIn help you:
- Rank higher in search results when clients are looking for freelancers
- Showcase your expertise to clients and colleagues
- Build your network of freelance friends
- Learn how to better manage your business.
Of the top five criteria LinkedIn uses in providing search results, common connections with the person who is doing the search is #2 and activity is #4. So having at least 500 relevant connections really helps you rank high in search results when clients are looking for freelancers. Being active means sharing content and engaging with other people on your content and their content.
Relevant connections are:
- Other freelancers you know
- Freelancers and other colleagues from your professional associations you haven’t met yet
- Other people working in your industry(ies) or target markets (groups of clients).
If you don’t know a lot of people yet, don’t worry. By being active, you’ll meet relevant people you can invite to connect with you.
Always Send Personal Invitations
Always add a personal note when you invite someone to connect with you. Mention what you have in common or why you want to connect. LinkedIn’s mobile app doesn’t prompt you to add a personal note to connection invites. But there’s an easy way to do this. Search for the person you want to invite. Click More. Click Personalize invite.
Once you get used to sharing and engaging, it takes less than 20 minutes a day (Monday through Friday) to get results. Review your LinkedIn feed 2-3 times a day. Comment on relevant posts by relevant people.
Once you’re comfortable on LinkedIn, once or twice a week share relevant content such as:
- News and updates about your industry or specialty(ies)
- Tips on being more productive
- Other useful free content like blog posts, podcasts, and webinars.
In your post include a brief description of the content, usually with a link to the content (news, blog post, etc.). Use an image to increase views and engagement.
Other Social Networks
The basic principles of building a relevant network and sharing useful content are the same for LinkedIn, social networks of professional associations, and forums for freelancers. But these social networks and forums have more rules and guidelines than LinkedIn. On LinkedIn, more than modest self-promotion and asking for business is bad. On other social networks and forums, it’s not allowed.
7. Meet People in Person
Nothing beats in-person networking at conferences, meetings, and other events for building the trusting relationships that lead to getting referrals from colleagues and being hired by new clients.
Meeting people in person at networking events is the best way to begin to build relationships. And people won’t hire you or refer work to you unless they trust you. Networking events are especially important for meeting other freelancers.
Conferences let you make lots of key contacts in a few days and deepen relationships with current key contacts. And, of course, the conference content helps you stay updated with your industry or field and learn things to better manage your freelance business.
Networking events don’t have to be scary. If you prepare before the event, and do the right things during the event, it will be much easier—and more effective.
Also, you also need to do the right things after the event.
Before the Networking Event
Prepare for the networking event by knowing how you’ll introduce yourself, bringing business cards, and dressing to impress clients and colleagues. Your elevator speech is what you say so that people understand—in 30 seconds or less—what you do and how you help your clients.
During the Networking Event
Go to the networking event with a positive attitude. Focus on giving more than you take.
Smile. This will relax you and make it easier for other people to talk to you. Pay attention to how you look and sound when you meet people. This matters much more than what you say.
Most people will be happy if you talk to them. Many, especially other freelancers, are shy. So be brave, and do this yourself.
After the Networking Event
Follow up and stay in touch regularly with the people you’re meeting. That’s where the real results of networking will come from.
Learn More About Networking Events
8. Be Strategic
Be nice to everyone you meet, but be strategic about how—and where—you spend most of your networking time. Focus on the people and places that will be most useful to you. But remember to give more to them than you take from them.
Spend most of your networking time and effort building relationships with the people who you think can become part of your strategic network, not meeting lots of new people briefly.
Now you know how to network in a way that will be easier and more comfortable for you. The more you network, the easier it will be.
Learn More About How to Build Your Network
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