Networking, anyone?

Let us switch gears and think about how to refresh our freelance networking skills. By Sheridan Stancliff.

When most of us embarked on our freelance career, one of the common pieces of advice is: build your network. That’s all well and good, but how? And then once I build this network, how on earth do I utilize it to help with my business? Will the time I spend creating this spider web of contacts be worth the time and effort I put into it? The answer is yes – however, it may not be in ways you immediately see or in a way you can easily quantify.

Let me give an example:

A number of years ago, I attended an informal breakfast club with a friend of mine that worked in television. I had met her through participating in Team in Training for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In that group, I met a number of other women from various industries – including many in TV/film. Some of us kept in touch over Facebook through the years, offering congratulations on engagements, condolences during tragedies, bonding over delicious sounding cocktail posts, that sort of thing. Out of the blue this year, I received a message from one of them who was working on a major network show and she inquired as to the website for the stock agency I co-founded. I sent her the link and she informed me that the design team needed an image for a romance cover that was being used in an upcoming episode and, when they were unable to find what they needed in general agencies, this woman remembered me and my collection. The next thing I knew, one of our images was being used in a hit TV show.

This is the power of networking.

So how does one build a network? An easy answer: go out and talk to people. I don’t mean go out and tell everyone you know you are Jane Doe and you take pictures of dancers or design ads for restaurants. No one wants to talk to the person who is always pitching or talking about themselves. So then, how do you do it?

First, get involved. While I realize not everyone has the personality to join every social group they find on MeetUp, you must break out of your bubble in order to expand your circle. Good news: this can be done virtually as well as face-to-face. Make a list of things that interest you both relating to your profession and also things that don’t have anything to do with it.

Say you are a designer that has worked in the fitness industry for years. Sure, find a design group on LinkedIn or online where you can share stories and find others who are in the design world (we all need compatriots to vent to or ask specific advice of) and become active in that group. Then become involved with things outside your industry that interests you. Love to cook? Find a supper club. Love to ride bikes? Hit up your local bike shop and join some group rides. Addicted to Pokemon Go? Search for a group that puts together hunts.

While at first, you may see this as frivolous time, it is building a network of people outside your direct industry. You may not even discuss professions for the first few meetings, but as you get to know these people through a common interest, that information eventually comes out and you can file what they do in your memory (you may also have a lot of fun in the process!)

Next, spend much of your time helping others rather than asking what they can do for you. Not only will you be earning respect, but you will also gain credibility as an expert and knowledgeable about what you do. You’ll move from a random name on the screen or hiding out on the sidelines to someone people remember. In the short term, you may not see any perceived benefit from this, but in the long term, it may pay off in ways you may not imagine.

You’re network is growing, now what?

Now you maintain it, this is where many fall short. If the only time you reach out to people you know is when you need something, you don’t present a very genuine connection, but rather one that is based on what they can do for you. What do I recommend? Make it a little personal. As you ask more about the people you come in contact with, make mental notes about their interests or hobbies, families, funny stories, etc. Make notes in your contact file if you need to. Place reminders in your calendar about special dates or just to drop someone a line. Then every so often, send a quick email, share a link, or make some other form of contact that has nothing to do what you can do for them. I can’t tell you how many freelance gigs I’ve landed by chance just by reaching out to people to ask about them and touch base.

Know a client who loves wines and you heard about a wonderful new vineyard? Share an article about it.

Have a friend who is a Francophile and there’s a website that just ranked the top patisseries in Paris? Send them the link.

Someone you’ve met has just started a running program and you read an inspiring piece about someone who just took up the sport and did great? Share it.

This not only lets your contacts know you keep them in mind, but that you listen to what they have to say. It also puts a reminder in their mind about you without your calling them asking if they know of any jobs or others you might call to ask for gigs.

Most of all, be genuine.

A network is much like a garden: you plant seeds, you tend it, pull out a few weeds from time to time, and then watch it flourish to provide you with big benefits.

© Chip Latshaw
© Chip Latshaw

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