When it comes to being a (successful) freelancer, you need to find work.
Or, work needs to find you.
When you think about finding freelance work, what comes to mind?
Maybe you picture yourself sitting in front of a computer, checking sites like Contena, applying to jobs, and sending cold pitches.
Yes, that’s part of it, and definitely important.
But, have you considered the power of networking when it comes to building your freelance career?
Does it make you shudder?
Sometimes networking gets a bad rap.
It often brings to mind images of standing awkwardly in a room of people, having strained conversations, trying to hand your business card out, and wondering when you can leave.
That kind of networking is not fun, and is also not likely going to help you build your freelance writing business.
A brief intro to networking
What is networking?
Career networking, or “professional” networking, involves using personal, professional, academic or familial contacts to assist with a job search, achieve career goals, or learn more about your field, or another field you’d like to work in. Source
That’s useful, but this definition misses the part where you actually build your network. Networking is not handing your card to random strangers. Networking may begin with random strangers, but it’s actually about building relationships with people.
Those people then become a part of your network.
Keep in mind that your network will include both personal friends and family as well as professional contacts. How you build relationships with each type of person will be different, but the idea is that you want to have a relationship before you start asking for assistance.
Hopefully, you already know how to build a relationship with your friends and family.
If you don’t, this post isn’t your answer.
If you want help on building relationships professionally, here are a few tips:
- Remember this isn’t just about you; relationships are reciprocal. Ask questions (about them and their company or project), share ideas (that are helpful for them), and, remember to give back.
- Consider who you have in your existing network, or resources you know about that you can share with those you want to build the relationship with.
- For example, if someone is looking for a better way to get organized, you might share that you love Trello or direct them to an article that talks about a few options.
- If a connection on LinkedIn mentions they’re looking to hire and you know a great potential candidate, set up an introduction.
- Provide positive feedback: If you follow a company’s blog, for example, and you really enjoyed a post, add a comment, or send your contact a quick email. Don’t be obnoxious about these things, but genuine positivity and interest can go a long way.
- Thank people. If someone in your network does something for you or is helpful, thank them. An email is fine. A phone call is okay too. A handwritten note gets noticed.
Remember, with actions and steps like these, you’re not asking for help, you’re building the relationship. Business Insider has more great tips for building professional relationships.
Essentially, provide value to those in your network. Don’t just look at what they can give you; that often remains to be seen.
At this point, focus on the relationship.
How do you find people to network with?
Your existing network
When starting off as a freelancer, you may not realize that you already have an existing network that should remain in your network.
Even if you’re making a career change, the people you already know professionally are useful to maintain relationships with. You never know when one of them will need to hire a writer or when someone in their network is looking for a freelancer.
If you’ve lost touch, they might not think of you for the recommendation.
Professional conferences are a great way to learn, be inspired, and to meet people.
Conferences for writers will help you with your craft, but if you’re looking to write in a certain niche, also research conferences in that specialty. For example, if you’re a tech writer, are there any technology conferences you can go to?
Not only will you likely learn and be inspired for ideas to write about, you’ll probably make some great contacts.
Chances are, there won’t be a lot of freelance writers at conferences for professional fields or industries. You’ll probably stand out.
Remember that you’re not there to immediately find work (though you might, and that would be awesome).
You’re there to learn, to share ideas with others, and of course, you can also introduce yourself, explain what you do, and hand out business cards.
Even that first introduction can lead to something great.
Opportunities are all around you to give back.
Not only is volunteering personally fulfilling, but there may be opportunities to expand your network, which can lead to work.
And I’m not just talking about volunteering in professional settings, like the conferences mentioned above.
Help at your child’s school- you never know the parents you’ll meet who will probably ask what you do for a living.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen. They may need help with a newsletter (unpaid), but your contact might recommend you to someone in their network for paid work. And you’ll be able to still use the pro bono work in your professional portfolio!
Assist with a local charity or event. If you’re brave enough to take a leadership role, you’ll likely have opportunities to put your writing skills to use. Again, this might be pro bono (read, free), but you’re establishing relationships.
Within Facebook Groups
When I began blogging and writing, I ended up in A LOT of Facebook groups.
But what ultimately came from being a member of those groups?
- Connections with others in my field
- Knowledge about areas I needed help with
- Referral sources (both for me to refer them, and for them to refer me)
- And, work. I was hired for freelance writing and editing from being involved in Facebook groups. Sometimes I pitched based on a call, and other times, people in my network referred me.
Through Social Media
You can waste a lot of time on social media, but if you use it appropriately and strategically, it can be to your advantage when you’re networking.
- Use social media platforms to stay in touch with those in your network, as well as to share resources that people in your network would find helpful.
- Update your profile (especially LinkedIn) with information about what you’re doing; make sure it’s clear you’re a freelance writer.
- Share your latest posts, again making it clear that you wrote it, and also by being subtly obvious that this is your career. For example, share the post and say: “So excited that [this really awesome business] hired me to write this post on [this super interesting topic]” or “My latest freelance post on [very important topic] is live on [this amazing company’s website].” These sorts of posts also show the company that you’re excited about the work you did because you’re helping to promote (this builds the relationship!).
Notice how none of these 5 ideas are about specifically asking for work?
Because it really is all about building the relationship.
However, once you’ve done that, you can definitely be more direct with the people within your network.
- Post on your personal social media profiles something like “I just wrapped up some client work; if anyone’s looking for a freelance writer who specializes in [your niche], let me know.”
- With the next email you send that includes a resource or information that’s beneficial to the recipient, say something like “I’ve loved learning more about the company, and have some ideas that I thought would be a good fit for your blog. Are you currently hiring freelancers?”
- Send a thank you to the person who invited you to join the volunteer committee and mention that if they’re looking to revamp their website content as you discussed, you’d love to talk more about the scope of that project and see if you’d be a good fit.
So yes, you can ask those in your network for work, for an introduction, or for a reference, but not until you’ve established a relationship.
If you haven’t taken the time to build the relationships, save this link for later and come back.
If you use these ideas when you don’t have existing relationships, not only are you unlikely to bring in results such as leads, ideas, or work, but you’re probably doing more harm than good with creating a network that works with you and for you.
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