The early stages of freelancing can feel lonely. Either you’re working a full-time job and freelancing on the side, which means less social life and more late nights on your own at the computer, or you’re working by yourself every day.
It can be a really insular job that requires you to get along well with… yourself.
But in those early days? It’s important to start building a network or, at least, tap into the network you already have.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “What? I don’t have a network. I’m a new freelancer! How can I possibly have a network?”
Guess what? Nobody goes into freelancing with clients or all the know-how and that’s the beauty of it – we ALL start out in the same place.
You might think that other people have had a head start because they seem to be flying past you in a cloud of dust, but really? They’ve just been strategic with their networking. They’ve created relationships with people that matter and they’ve taken stock of who they have in their network already and taken advantage of that.
Because believe me, you already have a network.
Why Networking for Freelancers is Important
Before we delve into how you can network, let’s take a quick look at why it’s important (apart from the fact that it stops you from being so lonely working by yourself all day).
These days, despite the inter-connected nature of the world and the ability to reach out to anyone, anywhere, with the click of a finger, relationships are still the most valuable thing in business. Any business.
As humans, we crave connections with other humans. We love to interact, and we love to build trust. It gives us a sense of purpose and, well, a sense that we’re liked; that we’re actually a decent kind of person.
Relationships are also the key to landing clients. We’re more likely to recommend someone if we know them, and we’re more likely to buy from someone if we trust them.
So, to put it simply, networking for freelancers is really important because it builds relationships, and relationships build connections, and connections build sales. Simple.
3 Easy Ways You Can Network at the Start of Your Career
Networking is important throughout your career in order to maintain relationships and build new connections in different areas. If you want to expand, you have to expand your network.
But for the purpose of today’s post, we’re going to look at how you can network as a freelancer at the start of your career.
That means when you have no connections (or at least you think you have no connections).
1. Friends, Family, and Colleagues
Those nearest and dearest to us often get overlooked. We think they know all about what we do and would recommend us at the drop of a hat right?
My mum still doesn’t know exactly what I do, so it would be difficult for her to recommend me to someone (despite her definitely trying to in the past).
When we’re starting out, these are the people who have our back. They’re the people who will (hopefully) cheer us on and listen to us talk about our business.
Now, you might be thinking, how is networking with cousin Barbara from across the country going to help me grow my business?
Because, dear freelancer, though you might not know it, cousin Barbara might know someone who needs a writer, or she might work for a business that is constantly adding to their collection of designers.
Before, you thought cousin Barbara was the person you drank mulled wine with at Christmas. Now? Now she’s your key to a wider network.
The great thing about friends, family, and colleagues (if you feel comfortable sharing what you do with them), is they’ll recommend you without having experienced your work.
How to Network with Friends and Family
It’s not enough to simply drop a “hey, by the way, I do this,” in a conversation next time you go for coffee. People aren’t mind readers. If you want to really tap into your friends, family, and colleagues as a network, you need to share with them exactly what you do.
Shoot off a quick email to them outlining what it is you do now and how you can help them, their friends, and their colleagues.
In my latest training, Client Boost, I show you exactly who to email and what exactly to send them for the best results.
You can also post a status on Facebook that asks people to get in touch if they need a writer/designer/marketer/whatever.
They key is in the ask.
These people want to help you. But if they don’t know how to? Well, they’re going to find it very difficult!
2. Local Networking Events
Sounds scary, right? Turning up to an event where you don’t know anyone and you have to talk about all things work?
Yes, it sounds terrifying, but these kinds of networking events are so important in the early stages of your career. Boosting your name in your area can lead to an influx of work when you start – particularly because companies and businesses are more willing to work with someone who has something in common with them, like where they live.
And, while you want to be going to a few freelancing events (Meetup is a GREAT tool for this), you also want to go to events where your ideal clients are hanging out.
That means if you’re a writer for digital marketing companies, you want to be going to marketing events. Or if you’re a copywriter for local lifestyle businesses, you want to be going to hairdresser events, conferences for beauticians, and travel events.
How to Network at Local Events
It’s really not a case of turning up and pitching your services to everyone you see.
Instead, you want to start building relationships like a normal person. Get to know people. Go with the idea that you’re simply meeting some new people who may or may not need your help.
The key here is to ask questions more than anything else. Really get to know these people and, if you do that, they’ll remember you.
I went to a conference a couple of years ago before I even went freelance. I was terrified of talking about my blog and my work (which was with a travel company at the time), so instead of pitching, pitching, pitching, I just chatted over a beer with people like a human.
I got to know them without the ulterior motive of trying to sell. And guess what? Two people from that very conference hooked me up with work when I went freelance.
3. Network on Facebook Groups
I’m not going to delve into this one too much, because I have an entire post on this subject (seriously, read it if you haven’t already!), but Facebook groups have been an absolute winner for my business.
Aside from running my own Facebook group (Creative Freelancers Unite), I’m a part of about 10 other groups dedicated to freelancing and digital marketing.
These are private places where people ask questions, look for help, and essentially seek out freelancers to help them. Not only do they often lead to business, but they’re a great place to meet people who are on a similar wavelength as you.
How to Network in Facebook Groups
There are 2 key ways you can network in Facebook groups:
- Firstly, you can join Facebook groups that are focused on your niche. So, if you’re a lifestyle writer for hairdressers, join groups dedicated to hairdressers. Interact with the people in them, and drop a link to your services when you can help out (but be mindful of the rules, as all FB groups have them).
- Join Facebook groups filled with other freelancers. If you’re a writer, other writers in these groups might get overwhelmed with work and need to pass some off to someone else, or a designer might need a writer to collaborate with them on a website they’re making.
As you can see, networking as a freelancer doesn’t have to mean going to stuffy conferences and pitching your services over and over again. It can actually be fun!
In fact, the best part about these kinds of networking antics is you get to meet and interact with some really awesome people and build relationships.
And from those relationships grow business partnerships, collaborations, and everything in between.
Tell me – which of these three networking techniques do you think would work well for your business?
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