Freelancing 101: Professional Networking Made Easy
August 19, 2015
Imagine waking up one morning, checking your email and finding several new leads from interested prospects. Now, imagine experiencing that every morning.
How can this happen? Through the power of professional networking.
When you take the time to build a strong network, that investment will bring results. People start seeing you as an expert and will come to you for services, whether you’re a writer, designer or massage therapist.
But this only happens through successful networking. A strong strategy is a must for keeping you and your business top-of-mind when new opportunities arise.
In the article below, you’ll find a few no-hassle, professional networking tips for freelancers. Use them to build your network, acquire new business and establish yourself as the go-to authority. Let’s dive in…
Identify Networking Opportunities
For the sake of this article, I’m going to discuss in-person networking opportunities. Generally speaking, this is where most freelancers struggle. My personal experience has taught that many (if not most) of my freelancing peers are introverts.
That makes in-person networking a bit of a struggle. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are a couple different methods I use to identify local networking events:
Spending hours working alone in a home office can make it difficult to get outside and forge profitable business connections. That’s why places like Meetup.com often become an integral part of freelancers’ networking strategies.
Meetup’s website outlines their basic mission within the community, saying:
“Meetup’s mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize. Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.”
As a freelance professional, you’ll quickly learn (if you haven’t already) that profitable things come from strong networks. Meetup can help you build the connections that will ultimately support your business’s growth.
I’ve used these steps to find the perfect meetup groups:
- Look through the top level categories. Sign in and click the search bar on the home screen. It’ll pull in several basic categories (e.g. Career & Business, Fitness, Music, etc.). Choose the one relevant to your industry.
- Narrow down your meetups through industry-related keywords. For example, let’s say I’m looking to offer my freelance services to marketers. I’d go to the “Career & Business” category and try the following search phrases.
- Marketing / Marketer (i.e. my target market)
- SEO / Content Marketing / Adwords (i.e. services my market offers)
- Small Business Owner / Entrepreneur (i.e. my target market’s target market)
Those two steps should give you plenty of options for relevant meetups.
If Meetup doesn’t feature many events in your area, there’s another option: Google your way into your next local networking group or event. A few simple search queries can bring up great results, especially around larger cities.
Get started with these basic searches:
- “yourcity business networking”
- “yourcity networking events”
- “yourcity networking groups”
Some of these events will have their own web pages or use a platform other than Meetup.com. Another quick Google search should reveal which of these events are most relevant for you to attend.
Create a Schedule at the Beginning of the Month
Once you’ve identified ideal opportunities in your area, it’s time to set priorities. After all, you can’t spend all month networking and no time actually doing the work your clients are paying for.
At the beginning of each month, look at all the possible events you’d like to attend and create a schedule based on your expected workload.
Write it Down
Grab a pencil, open your calendar and start writing in events. Ultimately, this action requires you to make a small commitment to attend. But remember – the less hassle, the better.
Don’t try to remember all the dates or rely on weekly digests from Meetup.com. Either something will come up or the event won’t seem that important in the moment (or, worse, you’ll forget about it altogether).
As a freelancer, we have dozens of responsibilities. I can’t use up all my brain’s bandwidth trying to remember these events. So, I write it down. And I always end up feeling thankful that I did.
Go Ahead and Pay for It
If there’s a fee to attend the events you’re sure you want to participate in, go ahead and pay it. What better way is there to ensure you’ll go than to financially invest in the event? Putting money down on something creates a loss if you decide not to show up. And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy losing – especially when it comes to money.
Even if the event doesn’t ask for a fee, find other ways to commit financially. If you’re afraid you’ll back out, give $20 to a friend and tell them that they can only give it back after you attend the event. Get creative with it. Remember, the goal here is to make going to networking events a no-brainer.
Don’t Overbook Yourself
Don’t get too overzealous – you’ll get overwhelmed by all the events and stall out. Instead, start with no more than 1 event each week. This amount keeps it reasonable without feeling stressful or getting too expensive.
And make sure not to overbook yourself. I’ve been too overzealous about networking in the past and it can become detrimental to business. You never want to neglect your current workload or clients for new business. That kinda defeats the purpose.
Craft a Comprehensive Marketing Toolkit
This toolkit will serve as your go-to resource when you land new leads during networking events. It’s essentially a pre-packaged form of sales collateral. Keep some copies in the car or carry some on-hand to make sure you never find yourself without your toolkit when the moment to exchange information strikes.
Ok, so what goes in this pre-packaged marketing toolkit?
Good question. You’ll find an array of choices for printed marketing materials. Some of these include:
- Business cards
- Post cards
- Greeting Cards
As a freelancer, you can use one or all of these items to creatively promote your business. But for the purpose of this package, try to keep things simple.
This is a no-brainer. Every professional at a networking event will carry a handful of business cards. In fact, you should too, above and beyond the ones you include in your networking toolkit. Then, when someone needs your number, just hand over your business card and set up a time to chat.
But what if a prospect wants to learn more about what you offer? When this happens, it’s time to hand over a bit more information. Your business card is your foundation, but let’s add to it a bit…
In addition to the business card, include a brochure that highlights your services, capabilities and accomplishments. If you want, you can even take things a step further by offering a simple discount within the brochure.
When creating your brochure, keep these tips in mind:
- Write to your target audience.
- Share benefits, not just features.
- Get a professional design.
Remember, you want to pass out this toolkit and let it do the selling for you. Do everything possible to create good, high-quality marketing materials.
One Miscellaneous Item
Round out your marketing toolkit with one of the materials left on the list above. This is a miscellaneous item by default, because different materials will work better or worse, depending on your industry.
For example, here are a few different ways you could use this third part of the package:
- Music Teacher: Include a flyer that features an introductory discount for new students.
- Writer: Use a newsletter to show off your writing skills.
- Designer: Print a cool sticker that showcases your best design capabilities.
Once you have the package completed, it’s time to get out there and start building your professional network. Don’t be afraid – everybody gets nervous about networking, but preparation is the key. When you use this system, you’ll make the entire process as “no-hassle” as possible.
How do you build your freelance business through professional networking? Share your stories or tips in the comments below.