Diane Hall - The Frazzled Freelancer

Freelancer, Entrepreneur and mother of two...

Freelancers: Putting yourself out there – do you quiver at the thought of networking?

One of the major skills to learn when freelancing is how to network effectively – whether online, by phone or face-to-face.

There’s plenty of debate as to which method of networking is the most effective; personally, I think it’s too hard to compare as each industry differs so much.  For example, freelance marketers, web designers and writers may find social media networking a great way to connect with clients – simply because they have to keep abreast of technology to for their work and may therefore be more ‘au fait’ with the concept.

However, when you think of such trades as a freelance hairdresser, getting out and about within their local community would perhaps generate them far more work.

There is a fundamental message with all networking, though – you have to be prepared to get off your backside, even in a virtual environment.

Put simply, you have to join in – you have to be prepared to give as much as you want to get out.  I don’t mean you should approach every networking meeting like a bull in a china shop, shouting over everyone else, but neither will you get far hiding in the toilets all night.

The same goes with networking online.  You may have a fabulous website – one that would win design awards or cause your telephone to melt through the flurry of orders – but if no one knows it’s there, it’s as much use as a chocolate fireguard.  There’s so many online forums and sites that let you actively contribute to forums and discussions – such as Linkedin and Twitter – that you can quite easily get across what you do and where you are to a sitting audience.

All about me? No thanks!

That said, there is etiquette to be followed when networking if you want to increase your contact or client base – and again, this applies to any type of networking.  Try not to make it all about you.  Successful marketing campaigns manage to see things from the customer’s side of the fence, addressing their needs and offering solutions.  Networking, to be successful, should use the same formula.

Try circulating at a networking event and saying to each person, “I’m Joe Bloggs and I’m a freelance photographer.  I am the best photographer around and you don’t need to look for anyone else.  When should I come over to take your picture?”.  In fact, don’t bother, because I can tell you what will happen.  You may get a nice smile as a response (because we British are ever so polite in the face of arrogance) but they’ll move faster than a hunted deer.

Now imagine the same occasion.  Joe Bloggs wanders up to his ‘prey’, smiling, saying, “How are you?”.  He then asks various ‘soft’ questions about the hunted deer throughout an amicable, pleasant conversation; what industry they work in and what common obstacles they face day to day. 

Now, he may find that somewhere, in the midst of this conversation, they admit their obstacle is finding a good photographer.  Then it is okay to say, “I’m Joe Bloggs, and I’m a freelance photographer,” (but make sure you stop there).  Let them direct the conversation and give them the room to put two and two together.  They will actually think that it’s their idea to employ your services, plus, your working relationship will have got off to a trusting, genial start.

If, throughout the conversation, they make no reference to needing a photographer, this doesn’t mean they never will. 

Ask how you can help them with their obstacles – perhaps you know someone who could be of help?  Pass your contact’s details on – and your own.  Not only will you be remembered as an incredibly nice guy, but the person before you will have a sense of obligation to return the favour at some point in the future. 

Contrast the two outcomes

At Joe Bloggs’ first networking event he managed to annoy and repel everyone in the room.  At his second, he may have picked up a small amount of work and he has a room full of people thinking he’s a great contact to have for the future.  It may have cost him a few emails to pass information on, or even some free advice but the long-term effect of his altruism will pay off one day.

This goes for online networking too.  If you’re constantly jumping on every forum and discussion talking about nothing but yourself, you’ll build up the same impression virtually, as one would have for a double-glazing salesman.

Don’t practise your patter*, perfect your people skills!
(* Patter is an old middle english word – and in today’s common usage would mean pitch, as in ‘my pitch’)

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Here is your perfect chance – a controlled environment in which people expect you to pitch your skills and businesses are looking to engage or hire freelancers – Manchester 9th November or Daresbury, Cheshire 19th November.
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Written by Editor on October 15, 2010 and filed in Featured, Frazzled Freelancer, Opinion , , ,


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