Networking, contrary to popular belief is like walking into a room (virtual or real) and asking yourself “how can I help every single person in here?” Networking is helping others as much as you can without any thought for personal gain. It’s about thinking ‘who would find this piece of data useful or beneficial’.
Building and maintaining an effective network need not be burdensome or time-consuming; it can be as simple as dropping your contacts a regular email – asking after their news on family, personal and business matters, before letting them know what you’re currently doing. Not only does this keep you in touch with colleagues, friends and future clients – it also makes that phone call to ask a favour easier if you’ve made contact previously without making a request for help.
A freelancer’s network can be readily divided into:
- Associates or colleagues;
- Those who can influence your business now;
- Those who may be able to influence your business in the future.
They’re all equally as important – but how you interact and keep contact with them will be subtly different; you’ll be asking your friends/associates about their family and for ‘a bit of gossip’ perhaps – whereas you’ll be asking more business-oriented questions of those who may influence your business.
Effective networking is the sharing of the right information (or the provision of assistance) to the right people at the right time without a thought for personal gain.
Networking is putting yourself out there – shaking hands with new people; both virtually and in the flesh – and helping them to meet their goals as much as you can. Be free with your time and energy – and here’s the game-changer… reciprocity and selfish altruism.
This selfless art of networking; when practiced honestly and whole-heartedly will furnish your contacts with the knowledge and assistance they need whilst boosting your reputation as a guru in your field of expertise. Moreover – those you assist will never tire of telling others who ‘pointed them in the right direction’; it’s a human thing – we can’t help ourselves.
So here are our top 7 tips to help Freelancers network effectively:
- Create a network database and log. Although this task can be time-consuming, it only needs to be done once a year. Divide your database/spreadsheet into the categories above; use a column for their email address, one for date sent, and one for their response (or lack of – see below). Copy and paste contacts’ emails into your chosen calendar app as individual ‘events’ (with a reminder set) for a time when you should be able to send an email without distraction. When your reminder appears, just click on the email hyperlink and send them a message! You should aim to contact your entire network at least 3-times a year, so you should set the number of daily ‘events’ accordingly; deciding whether you are going to write these emails on weekdays, weekends, or a combination of both. Remember to be flexible, however – it’s of no use sending someone an email asking after their news if you only spoke last week!
- Filter your network. If you haven’t heard back from a contact (be they friends or potential clients) after 3 attempts, remove them from your database. Be bold – you’re wasting your time sending them regular correspondence. They’ll still see your updates on Social Media sites.
- Do not attend every ‘Networking Event’.Be selective when choosing what networking events to attend. This will save you a lot of time to focus on other aspects of your goals as a Freelancer. From experience, you will find yourself meeting a certain kind of people who would not be fit for your business at certain events, boycott such and attend the events where your clients and colleagues are most likely to be found.
- Avoid all forms of ‘Speed Networking’.This is just as it says on the tin!
- Share interesting articles, news and opportunities. If you found it interesting and relevant, then share it with others. This can be as straightforward as posting a link to the article or opportunity on Social Media; but often you’ll discover a nugget that a certain person in your network will really value. By all means share this on Social Media as well – but take the time to send it to that certain person with an accompanying and personal note.
- Contribute to and engage with forum discussions. LinkedIn is perfect for submitting articles and contributing to discussions in Groups pertinent to your specialisation. This is a very effective way to grow your network, as you’ll quickly connect with fellow contributors.
- Be a Listener. What is the ratio of your ears to your mouth? Apply same ratio to listening and talking when networking. With the exception of lectures and seminars, you’re highly unlikely to find yourself in a room with 50 other like-minded and skilled professionals. How dull would that be? Listen to others – be interested in what they do; and how.
Never pass up the opportunity to hear how people outside of your genre ‘do what they do’ – you may just discover your Eureka moment.
Always remember, your network is a ‘living entity’ that needs stimulation and nurturing – leave it to fester and it will simply curl up and die.