Networking 101 (Plus 15 Great Freelance Networking Strategies)

Networking is essential to freelancers. Through networking, we build relationships with individuals and companies that may eventually become our clients.

Many freelancers have the wrong idea about networking, though. They want instant results.

In this post, we’ll define networking, correct any misperceptions that you may have about networking, and list 15 networking strategies that you might not be aware of.

What Is Networking?

Simply put, networking is building relationships with others. In the context of freelancing, networking is building relationships with those who might possibly be connected with your business–either as a potential client, a potential vendor, or a colleague.

Many freelancers get frustrated with networking because it can take months, or even years, before you see results. While wanting instant results is certainly understandable, freelancers should realize that networking is a long-term strategy.

There are actually two ways that you can network: face-to-face and online. Most of you are already familiar with social networking sites such as Facebook, Linked-In and Twitter. There are also many opportunities for you to network face-to-face such as at professional organizations, conventions, or just among the acquaintances you already have.

While opinions vary as to which form of networking is most effective, most freelancers will want to employ a combination of both ways to get the most from their networking efforts.

15 Networking Strategies to Implement This Month

So, now that you know what networking is how do you make sure that you’re networking effectively?

Here are 15 networking strategies that you may not have thought of before:

  1. Create a networking contact list. Do you have a customer list? Try creating a contact list as well. Without a contact list, it’s easy to forget to contact a prospective client that you recently met or communicated with. By creating a contact list, you can check in with client prospects on a regular basis.
  2. Join groups. Professional groups are good for networking, but really you could encounter a potential client at any group where you participate regularly–even at a hobby group, school group, or some other organization.
  3. Make sure that you have the right tools for face-to-face networking. When you attend events where you are likely to have networking opportunities be sure to take your business cards, an updated copy of your resume, and a brochure describing the freelancing services that you provide.
  4. Do pay attention to your appearance. While you don’t have to show up in a suit and tie every time you attend a business meeting, your appearance is important. First impressions are often lasting impressions, so you want to make your first impression positive. Dress appropriately for the occasion, but avoid being too casual or too formal. Remember, you want to convey a professional image even before anyone actually speaks with you.
  5. Practice what to say. While I don’t advocate giving a rote speech each time you meet someone, if you get nervous when speaking to others it’s a good idea to practice in advance what you will say if someone asks about your business. At a minimum, you should have your elevator speech ready (even if you don’t use it). There’s nothing worse than getting tongue-tied.
  6. Don’t be too shy. If you are in a social setting and no one is talking to you, reach out and make that first contact. Introduce yourself and ask your new contact a few things about themselves. Before you attend the meeting, give some thought to what types of individuals you are likely to meet and which types are likely to be prospects for your business. When you get there, try to seek these individuals out.
  7. Don’t forget to listen. You won’t learn anything about the person you just met if you don’t listen to what they are saying. Be sure to listen actively and learn as much as you can about them. Ask questions and provide feedback to the conversation.
  8. Volunteer to give the presentation. A quick way to position yourself as an expert in your field is to volunteer to give a presentation on your specialty at a professional organization or to teach a class. Your presentation will likely be attended by some who might be interested in your services. Be sure to get a list (with contact information) of attendees from the organization where you speak. Include your contact information on all handouts.
  9. Connect your online and offline contacts. If you meet someone at a professional society, in a class, or at an organization you can offer to connect with them online by asking if they have a social media account such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter that you can use to stay in touch (but remain respectful if they say no). Be sure to provide them with your social media information as well.
  10. Make sure your social media accounts are professional. I’ve said this before, but I can’t say it too often. If you are going to use your social media accounts to network for your freelancing business clean up your social media act. It’s okay to be a real person, but remove anything that others might consider risqué or offensive.
  11. Make sure your social media accounts are complete. If you are using your social media accounts to network with potential clients, make sure that your profile information is complete. At a minimum, it should have a brief overview of what you do and also include another way for prospective clients to communicate with you.
  12. Don’t be a hit-and-run social communicator. If you’re going to use a social media tool, make a commitment to use that tool regularly. You may only be on it for fifteen minutes a day, but at least your contacts can see that you are updating your information and staying active. Sharing an inactive profile may leave the impression that you are no longer in business.
  13. Don’t have private conversations in public. This applies to both face-to-face networking and social media sites. If you are going to be sharing sensitive information, arrange to meet privately to do it or use a website’s direct messaging feature to contact your prospect privately. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than going to someone’s website and seeing a whole bunch of private conversations posted publicly.
  14. Consider a paid networking group. There are many groups, offline and online, that form specifically for the purpose of networking. Some of these groups are little more than scams, but others represent a genuine opportunity to make some high quality business connections. Investigate such groups thoroughly, but do not rule them out of your networking plan.
  15. Last, but not least–it’s not all about you. People are attracted to those who are genuinely nice and helpful. Don’t just go on and on about yourself. If you know of something that would be of interest to your new contact, share it. If you can introduce them to someone who can help them out in their business in a way that you cannot, do it. Good deeds build goodwill.

What About You?

What are your best networking strategies?

Share them in the comments below.