If you Google the word “networking” the results you find say things like “it is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognise, create, or act upon business opportunities share information and seek potential partners for ventures.”
The concept sounds complicated and business networking is so much more than showing up at networking functions, shaking a lot of hands and collecting a bunch of cards. As with any other business acts, this process involves building and nurturing relationships, and can be a deceptively complex process.
Networking is a low-cost and effective method to market your business as your clients want to get to know the real you.
Although face-to-face meetings will always be the most trustworthy way to win someone over, (just be sure to switch on the charm when doing so) when trying to get in touch with someone who isn’t available, you should try the social media route.
Related: Are You Networking Effectively?
The most reputable website for this is LinkedIn as this offers a brief look into one’s professional life whilst holding back on what was on the lunch menu that day. Here, you can add previous clients, get them to write reviews on any work you have done for them and exchange ideas with fellow freelancers. With so many users worldwide, it really is the best way to share your online CV with the rest of the world.
Likeability is vital in order to close a deal, so if you aren’t comfortable with the idea of ‘schmoozing’, then it’s completely fine to use social media as a networking tool. The great thing about online networking, is that is allows the inner, undaunted self to shine.
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Growing your network is a very rewarding process as not only will it allow you to build up your own repertoire of professionals to call on, but will also give you the chance to get out of your 20 square meter hot desk at your local coffee shop to meet and socialise with other like minded freelancers and of course, potential clients.
One thing to bear in mind is that networking is a positive activity.
It’s all about building relationships and standing out of the crowd! See it as a chat more than interview; although it’s quite clear that everyone present wants to ‘talk business’, you definitely don’t want to come off as insincere. Set your intentions for the day, and aim to achieve them.
Don’t have enough time to spend on a particular project, yet your client needs the work done now? Have you ever considered your friends and family as part of your professional network? Chances are that these people in your social circle have a variety of skills that you can utilise and benefit from.
You can even offer a trade exchange in lieu of money. But, always keep it professional, as you don’t want to taint any relationship this way.
Related: Top Ten Networking Resources
Here are five tips to growing your network:
1. Sell yourself, your unique self
It takes a lot of guts to become a freelancer. You’re already ahead of the pack, making your own decisions and finding your own clients! Well done!
You’ve already spotted something in yourself that differentiates yourself from everyone else… all that has to be done now is to convince paying clients that you can offer them skills and a service that others can’t. Present your truest self – a phony can be spotted a mile away, from the way you conduct a meeting to the quality of your work. Plagiarism doesn’t only refer to the theft of someone else’s work, but also to the theft of someone else’s character. You wouldn’t want a client to walk away from you thinking WTF!
2. Help others along the way
Remember when you relied on others for ‘a good word’ when starting out on your freelancing journey? Well now is your chance to pay it forward.
Life is all about giving. Some of the most successful business owners are the nicest guys around; Richard Branson for example has signed Bill Gate’s and Warren Buffet’s pledge to give half of his earnings to charity. Being a generous and fair person is a sure way to win clients over before you have even been introduced.
“It is not true that nice guys finish last. Nice guys are winners before the game ever starts.” – Addison Walker
3. Have big goals
Think big! Sometimes the word realistic can really hinder our success. If everyone was realistic about what they wanted out of life, there wouldn’t be anyone making a difference in the world! We would just ‘get by’ and not much would drive us to do better and bigger things with our lives.
Test yourself, and don’t let anyone put a negative spin on your goals, so surround yourself with positive and supportive people. It will be a far more fun journey to the top.
4. Stay humble
It takes a team to build a business. Whether you’re running a one-man show, or have a team of people to call on, you need your network. And your network needs you.
You may land a great paying job this month, which will give you a much-needed boost of confidence (and cash flow), but there’s always next month, which may not go according to plan.
Never get ahead of yourself and stay down to earth, remembering how you started off. Acknowledge your limitations and stay true to who you are and what you’re good at. No one is ever good at everything.
5. Get social (media) savvy
Social media is a very public way to voice your opinion. Good or bad, it’s easily accessible to almost everyone online. It also gives your clients a chance to rate your work, offers exposure to your company thus making it more reputable and allows you to interact with your network.
It also ensures that you put out good work as there’s nowhere to hide a bad review! (But why would you ever put out anything but that).