You might be surprised to know that most successful Freelancers are not necessarily the ones with the most expertise or experience; instead they are the people who know how to connect with others and engage in relevant and comfortable communication without over-doing it. They are natural networkers with great instincts for seizing the right time and place to pitch their ideas.
Simply put, networking is any interaction that you have with people who hold similar interests. Everyone has the potential to be a great networker, but those who are successful at it are especially tuned into the dynamics of good conversation, know how to target their pursuits and are not afraid to step out of their comfort zone when necessary.
The reality of networking is that much of it is about building new relationships with potential clients, or people that will lead you to those clients, and this takes time. Eventually, this journey produces not only a great reputation for you within your field, but also instills confidence in others regarding your capabilities. The result, to put it simply, is a long list of people needing you for their projects.
Listening to the needs of others, offering smart solutions and even facilitating connections to others in your network is of more value than straightforward selling yourself. You may be a freelancer, but remember, you are not flying solo in your industry so it’s better to assume that everyone is on your team. In fact, you can become an authority in your field just by facilitating connections between other people. In effect by keeping the network itself going, you are ensuring your status as a valuable member of that network and you won’t get overlooked for referrals.
Who, Where, How
Since networking is based on the value of who you know as much as what you know, it is beneficial to connect with people from diverse levels of your professional sphere, not just those at the top. Many times it’s your past coworkers who will connect you with a project or recommend you for outsourcing, not just ex-bosses.
As far as finding the right setting for networking, almost anywhere is fair game. Whether it be at a work conference, meeting with previous office mates or business partners, or even an informal social setting, knowing how to steer the conversation without being too overbearing or weird is a skill that will benefit you only if it is done authentically and at the right moment.
When it comes to networking online, you can easily establish yourself as an expert by participating in discussions and forums around your niche. Blogging is a proven way to set up a sphere where you can post your ideas, opinions and research articles about your industry and become the “go to” person for your profession. Joining in social media networks and having a LinkedIn profile are the very basic essentials for any freelancer looking for biz.
Maintaining professional follow-up etiquette is just as important as knowing how to approach people. Do follow-up with an email, note or a friendly thank you phone call. Do not hound, annoy or pester in any way. Some connections may not lead to an immediate deal but have long-lasting impacts, so it’s important to keep the communication as friendly as possible.
And most importantly: Networking is a gradual process of bringing the right people and ideas together, selflessly. You will encounter ego-maniacs on the way, that’s unavoidable, but don’t lose sight of your authenticity which is certainly far more valuable in the long run.