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15 tips for professional networkingStijn Schutyser
As a freelancer, networking is pretty much inevitable. But it isn’t easy, and with corporate Christmas and New Year’s parties coming up, you’re bound to feel inclined to do some networking for some projects in the new year. Introverted people or people who think they’re no good at networking might have some difficulties, but conversely, super-social folks can get so excited by all the great people to meet and things to do that their marketing can lose focus.
This blog post contains tips for both types of people. We’ve jam-packed it with the 5 keys to natural networking, 5 tips for people who dislike networking and 5 tips for people who just love to network.
5 keys to natural networking
1. Vary your pitch
Not everyone will understand everything you have to say about what you do, while others might be more interested in a specific skill of yours. Therefore, it’s smart to have a different pitch depending on your audience. Have a technical pitch for professionals; a super-short, laid-back one for the backyard barbecue; and a medium-size, understandable-to-the-masses one. When the inevitable “So, what do you do?” question comes, these different pitches will help you relax and answer naturally.
2. Cultivate your connections
Cultivating your connections is much easier now: we’ve got the whole internet at our disposal. Let’s look at a few examples of how the internet facilitates maintaining and cultivating connections. Suppose Joe’s company has just launched a new product. Bob has an amazing, opinionated industry blog. Heather has been posting about the trade show. So what can you do? There are a couple possibilities:
- you can congratulate Joe on the new product launch (which could lead to a conversation about how Joe’s company markets its products, and eventually maybe about how you can help).
- you can tell Bob his blog posts are top quality and ask him how he comes up with his topics. Bob will love talking with you about that. When you comment on his posts, he’ll recognize you.
- To Heather, you can say, “Your posts are so good that I’ve been sharing them in my social network. I’m thinking about exhibiting at the show next year. Do you think it’s worth the expense?”
With these little tricks, you can build the basis for connecting around mutual interests and reciprocity.
3. Let others get to know you
Have ways people can learn about you. It starts with the info on your business card, which you should almost always hand out. (If the other person is barely holding up their end of the conversation, then consider them not worthy of one of your beautiful cards!) People might also learn about you through your “Thanks for our talk” email: “I’ve attached the video clip I mentioned. If you’d like to receive my newsletter, just click on the link below.” And then there’s your website, social media, portfolio, video or audio clips, press packet, bio, or anything else that helps people know what you do.
4. Don’t buy into status marketing
You’d be surprised what you can do with just a handful of business cards and a professional profile posted online, or a basic website. Maybe others have achieved self-marketing world domination with things like a blog, newsletter, social media plan, lectures, workshops and conventions. All that can come later if you want. Don’t let anything stop you from getting out there now.
5. Keep in touch
Like friendships, contacts fade with disuse. This leaves you at risk of having to scramble for work, so don’t wait until you need something. Do a little something daily/weekly/monthly to stay in touch. Eventually, you’ll have a lot of active connections to mine for info and work.
5 tips for people who dislike networking
1. Think of it as listening and helping instead of networking
The best networkers are master listeners, able to draw people out. Think of your elevator pitch as explaining how you help people. Or envision your quintessential client and describe that person to your audience.
2. Find the right-sized group
Make smaller events your specialty. During these types of events, it’s easier to get to know other people better. Plus: they’re way less intimidating to attend. If you go to larger events later on, you’ll definitely come across one if your contacts from a smaller event. This’ll make it much easier to connect with other people.
3. Do things that put you at ease
There are a couple of things you can do to help you relax more. There are personal preferences, of course, but here are a few that might help you:
- before you sit down at a table (e.g. at a dinner), wait for your tablemates to show up and introduce yourself. Introducing yourself and going from there will avoid awkward silences at the table, or conversations that you don’t participate in.
- keep expectations low at first. You don’t even have to talk to people. Just stroll the space and scope things out. It can be tough to walk into a roomful of people so arrive before it gets crowded. Then you can start conversations as others arrive.
- Remember other people are looking to talk to you about what they’re doing. Ask questions, show your natural interest, let the conversation develop. When it’s your turn to talk, you’ll be relaxed and ready.
4. Let someone else do it
If you’re willing to pay for the service or share the profits, partnering with a great networker can work. For some freelancers, the best years they’ve had were when other people marketed their skills, such as agents representing them. Or hire someone to help you hone your own networking skills, like a career or marketing coach specializing in solopreneurs.
5. Organize your own event
Organizing your own event has a few benefits. Instead of approaching contacts yourself, people now have a reason to approach you first. Plus, as the organizer, you have the ability to choose the invitees. Additionally, you can organize the event at a place you feel comfortable or familiar with. All this should help you feel more in charge and at ease at the same time.
5 tips for people who love networking
1. Be selective to be effective
There are only so many people with whom you can develop the kind of relationship that builds real trust, referrals, and work. Consider what will really propel your career, learning, or enjoyment, and focus on those relationships.
2. Depth beats breadth
Choose some subjects you want to get really knowledgeable about and go to those events. You’ll get more out of groups personally and professionally if you get involved. Think about how many you can realistically join, because people will notice if you’re doing more flitting than fitting in.
3. Talk less, listen more
Listen to yourself network. Are you sucking up all the oxygen in the room? If you notice you’re always talking about yourself, it’s time to take a break. Here’s a simple rule to prevent you from making that same mistake: ask at least two questions of every person you meet and let other people talk about themselves for a while.
4. Assess yourself
As you sort through the business cards you picked up at an event, ask yourself what you learned from each person. It’s a good test of whether you talked less and listened more. If you find that you haven’t learned all that much, that may be because you’ve been talking too much, or perhaps you’ve met people that aren’t that interesting to you.
5. Set a quota
Normally, this tip is given to people who don’t like networking, but it works just as well for people who love it. In this case, don’t set a quota for the minimum amount of (interesting) people you should talk to, but a maximum. This way, you can focus more on the individual conversations and really go in-depth.
Networking is vital to a healthy freelance career. Here’s our combined 15 tips for networking as a freelancer:
- Have different pitches for different audiences.
- Connect with people around mutual interests and build a basis for reciprocity.
- Have ways people can learn about you, such as a newsletter, blog, or website.
- Don’t be afraid to jump into networking now, even though you might not have the fanciest of websites.
- Contacts fade with disuse, so keep your connections alive!
- Think of networking as listening and helping.
- Make smaller events your specialty.
- Do things that put you at ease and help you relax.
- Consider partnering up with a great networker.
- Be the boss: organize your own event!
- Focus on the connections that help you reach your goal.
- Focus on just a few topics that you want to explore in-depth.
- Ask at least two questions of every person you meet and let them do the talking.
- Assess whether you talked less and listened more.
- Set a minimum/maximum amount of people you should talk to.
I hope these tips help you navigate the world of networking and networking events a bit better. Happy holidays!