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5 Business Relationship Building Insights To Grow Your Freelance Network

Learn how to develop a network that you need and that needs you. This will ensure you create a positive and nurturing community of freelancers who can assist you on projects.

Elise Spilkin

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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.

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

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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.

 

Related: 5 Rookie Networking Fails and How to Avoid Them

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).

Elise Spilkin is the owner of artisan donut shop - Dope Donuts. Find out more about these delicious doughnuts here.

Networking

Tips For Start-up Owners When Approaching A Networking Event

Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking.

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It’s “easy” to start a business and generate an idea you think will make a difference in the world, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple in reality. Entering the start-up world requires more than just the knowledge you’ve gained through your studies or what you’ve read up about online. Success is about putting your business, and yourself, out there and connecting with influential people at events.

If you don’t have a budget to market your business, you need to speak to the right people in order to help grow your business. For introverts, this might sound the worst idea, but if you want to attract influential people in the industry and increase your client base, you need to be your business’ own marketer.

Here are a few ways in which you can approach networking:

Build your own network of people

When you start networking, think of it as an opportunity to build your own network of influential individuals in the industry who can assist you when you need it most. Networking shouldn’t be as daunting as you make it out to be. If you believe in your idea and your employees, and you genuinely want to find the right tools to propel your business into the right direction, you need to connect and engage with people who can help you.

In the beginning stages of your startup experience, you should try to attend events to meet with other African start-ups. African tech innovation is advancing, and it’s worth your time to explore the technical space to see how you can leverage technology to succeed. If you have an interest in meeting people who could introduce you to others and vice versa, your business will flourish.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

You are your own superhero

For years, it has been said that people buy from people and not adverts which is 100 percent correct. You are your biggest strength in that, if you believe in yourself and your product or service, you will be able to boost sales drastically. People are convinced by people, which is a huge part of your networking abilities and how people remember your products or services in an impressive way.

If people can see that you believe in your own business, are confident in your abilities and are trying to convince people otherwise, people will take a chance on you and put more effort into supporting you.

Always be strategic about your approach

The more you network, the more you will realise that you need to have a plan in place before you approach anyone or attend any event. A plan is crucial if you want to achieve a particular goal out of a face-to-face interaction. Before you attend an event, meet up with someone outside of the event or even speak with someone over the phone, make a list of the topics you what you want to talk about.

Events are usually jam-packed with people, and if you don’t have a purpose for your interaction, it will turn into a lost opportunity. You cannot leave without speaking to people you were interested in or without the information you need. If people are leaving in a rush, ask them for their contact details and make another plan.

Network both online and offline

If you’re putting yourself out there and attending a marketing or tech conference, also consider the online elements, for instance, LinkedIn, which you could explore. Many people believe in one or the other, but a combined approach is extremely powerful. Once you have met someone, make an effort to look them up online and follow up with a meeting request if you are interested in creating a further relationship. Your networking circle will not be complete if you aren’t making use of both offline and online networking in your community and the industry at large.

Related: Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Provide more than you take

Don’t be a taker. People try and stay away from these types of people once they know who you are and feel sceptical about the interest you’re showing in them. While you might genuinely be interested in seeking advice on an innocent level, it can quickly give you a bad name if people spread their feelings about your motives. So, in order to avoid this, be willing to give. Of course, you need to limit your “free” offerings once you’ve met with someone new, but keep that opportunity open in the beginning. Show people that you’re willing to offer them information or free trials for their time. When people see that you’re not just taking what you can get your hands on, they will start to give you their attention.

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Networking

The 12 x 12 x 12 Rule For Successful Networking

If you follow the three parts of this rule carefully, you can learn to network successfully.

Brian Hilliard

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The following excerpt is from Ivan Misner, Ph.D. and Brian Hilliard’s book Networking Like a Pro. Buy it now from Amazon.

Perception is reality. How many times have you heard that saying? Probably enough to know that the way you’re perceived really does affect the business you conduct (or don’t conduct) with other people. This is especially true when it comes to networking and meeting someone for the first time, and this is where the 12 x 12 x 12 rule becomes so important.

Basically, this rule involves three questions:

  1. How do you look from 12 feet away? Do you look the part?
  2. How do you come across from 12 inches away? Does your attitude and body language reflect what they first saw?
  3. What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?

What we’re talking about is how important it is to create the right perception of yourself and your business.

Let’s face it: As a businessperson, you’ve got a lot going on. But, most prospects don’t care how much you’ve got going on or how many balls you have in the air. They just want to know if you’re a potential solution to a problem they have, and their initial perception of you goes a long way in making that determination.

The same is true for potential referral partners.

They want to know if they can trust you with their referrals – people (and sometimes clients) with whom they have a good relationship. Do you have your act together so you won’t jeopardise their good name when they refer business to you? Right or wrong, their initial perception of you is going to play a large part in answering that question.

This is precisely what the 12 x 12 x 12 rule is all about. It looks at you from the perspective of other people (prospects or referral partners) and shows you how to optimise their perception. This doesn’t mean manipulating or deceiving them; experienced people can see through that. Nor is it about checking your personality at the door. What it does mean is fine-tuning your networking practices to avoid shooting yourself in the foot.

Related: Great Places To Take Your Clients When Networking

Let’s go over the specifics of the 12 x 12 x 12 rule and how you can manage the perception others have of you.

Look the part before going to the event (How do you look from 12 feet away?)

professional-appearanceYou’d be surprised how many people fall short in the fundamental area of appearance. If it’s a chamber of commerce networking breakfast, don’t go casual. Instead, consider wearing a good suit or nice outfit. You need to be well rested and clearheaded when attending a morning networking session; make a conscious effort to get plenty of sleep the night before. If you’re not a morning person, hit the sack earlier than usual so you don’t look like the walking dead. Regardless of how many cups of coffee you’ve had, people can tell if you’re not all there.

Make sure your body language sends the right message (How do you come across from 12 inches away?)

When it comes to forming networking relationships, most of the important information – trustworthiness, friendliness, sincerity, openness — is communicated through nonverbal cues such as posture, facial expression and hand gestures. When engaging in conversation, look the other person directly in the eye and stay focused on what he’s saying. Lean a bit into the conversation rather than away from it; don’t stand rigid with your arms crossed.

When meeting someone for the first time, a lot can be said about how much your attitude can impact her first impression. Make sure that when you’re talking to others, you have a positive, upbeat attitude.

Another part of the “12 inches” away rule is making sure you know which pocket your business cards are in and having plenty on hand. Nothing screams, “One of these days I’ve got to get organised!” louder than handing a potential referral partner someone else’s card. So make sure you have some type of system for keeping your cards separate from the cards you receive at the event.

One more thing: Remember to smile when meeting someone for the first time. Studies have shown that if you smile when you talk, you seem more open and forthright. Obviously, you don’t want to go overboard with this and start grinning and shaking hands like a hyperactive clown; just show that you’re having a good time, and that will send the right message.

Related: The Top 10 Behaviours To Avoid When Networking

Make sure you’re ready to speak (What are the first 12 words out of your mouth?)

When someone asks you what you do, make sure you’re ready with a response, or unique selling proposition (USP), that’s succinct but memorable. A good USP is the offline equivalent of a good post on social media… something that promotes curiosity and engagement. The attention span of the average adult is 20 seconds; a long, drawn-out answer to the question isn’t going to work. Whatever words you choose, make sure your answer is quick and informative without sounding over-rehearsed or contrived.

Perception is reality when it comes to meeting people for the first time. If people perceive you as not being right for them, they simply won’t be inclined to refer business to you, regardless of the work you can actually do. However, by keeping the 12 x 12 x 12 rule in mind, you’ll go a long way toward creating the right impression in the blink of an eye.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Networking

Why I Never Meet Someone For Coffee

The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.

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First off, I need to make clear that I am not against meeting people for coffee or even drinking coffee. My issue is that I’ve learned that the offer to go get coffee usually means that somebody wants something from me. Whether it is time, money or to help them make a connection, an offer to grab a drink almost always has some ulterior motive behind it.

You might think that I flat out don’t want to help others, but the real issue is the other opportunities that I have in front of me. I have a lot on my plate, so dedicating the time to a “quick” coffee meeting does not make much sense.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Say no to getting coffee

Hours spent in the office doing business are not the time to sit back, relax or socialise. I try to be as efficient, effective and statistically successful as possible during work hours (and beyond). The conventional offer of “getting coffee” is, in my opinion, one of the most frustrating offers that can be made.

I rarely take anyone up on the offer to “do lunch” during work hours. Just consider the amount of time that it takes to get to and from a coffee or lunch meeting, and how much business could be done in that same time.

Then, think about the inefficiencies of utilising that time for things such as small talk, even before you get to the critical business issue.

Have an objective in mind

I have the objective to try and keep every phone call to a maximum of five minutes. When it comes to in-person meetings, I prefer them to take place at my office or overlapping other meetings I have outside the office, which I call “holding court.”

Even then, I try to keep those meetings to 20 minutes long. This allows me to fit in as many meetings or calls as possible. So many people make the excuse that they are “doing business” and then leave the office to do unimportant things, or overlap their meetings around errands.

Make no mistake, I’m not advising against meeting people in person. I’m saying take control of the business opportunity and have them come to you, or meet them somewhere convenient when you are outside of the office.

Related: 5 Ways That Coffee Affects Productivity

No coffee, just grind

The majority of lunch and coffee meetings that take place are nothing but an inefficient use of time. I would suggest not only rejecting such meetings during work hours, but to also stop asking for coffee meetings unless they’re absolutely necessary.

How do you determine whether or not a meeting is necessary? Take a look at the reasons and impacts the meeting can have. If these outweigh the potential drawbacks of an in-person meeting, then it is acceptable to ask. Make sure that you focus on making efficiency a key principle when chasing your objectives.

Stay focused in on critical business issues and you will find that focus will provide you with everything you desire in business and life.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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