Does the idea of networking bring you out in a cold sweat? Keep shying away from those local events that you know could be beneficial to your business?
Fear no longer, with this essential guide on how to make the most of networking if you freelance. Because meeting people face-to-face is one of the best ways you can build helpful contacts and win business.
Make sure you attend every networking event with an open mind. Go along with no expectations whatsoever because you certainly don't want to appear desperate. Just go along with the purpose to 'meet people' and see what naturally happens.
Don't be too pushy
Avoid the hard sell and try and get to know people. Only bring up the subject of your business if others ask the question. Only provide a business card if the right moment presents itself. Don't over-sell yourself or continuously talk about your services. It will be most off-putting, and people will remember you for all the wrong reasons.
Give people breathing space
I spoke to the MD of an agency recently who told me he's not attending a particular networking event anymore because he gets sick of so many freelancers coming up to him, trying to win work. With this in mind, don't hassle people at networking events. Give them room to breathe and only introduce yourself if the opportunity presents itself.
Know how to charm
People like to feel important and people love to talk about themselves. Make people feel important by asking lots of questions and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Remember – the most magical sound to any person is the mere mention of their name, so say it whenever you can. Learn how to charm people and let them talk more than you. Keep the conversation light-hearted and friendly.
Be friendly to everyone
Everyone you meet at a networking event is important. Treat everyone equally and be open and approachable. Don't make assumptions about people and dismiss them if you don't think they're relevant to speak with. You never know who that person might know.
Keep your cards close to your chest
When I went freelance, I was quite naive. I trusted everyone. I thought – how could anyone possibly have any bad intentions? Oh, how sweet. Many years later, and it can be a struggle to trust anyone these days. But I do. I trust people on merit, and so should you. It goes without saying, at networking events – be careful about how much you reveal about yourself and your business. You never know what people's real intentions are behind their overly-sweet smiles.
Understand the dynamics
If you're attending a regular event, there will be politics amongst the regular attendees. And there'll certainly be a food chain of more established freelancers along with newcomers. Stand back and try to understand the dynamics at play. Listen more than you talk. You can learn a lot about the group if you observe.
Ignore the 'cool crowd'
Every regular networking event has its collection of, what I like to call, the 'cool kids'. These characters won't be interested in you unless they think you're 'cool', i.e. a top creative who's published several books. That's fine. Don't take it personally that you're a minor bug on their windscreen. You should still be friendly, warm and welcoming but don't worry if they don't want to talk to you.
Take some notes
During or after each networking event, take some notes about the people you met. Write notes on the back of their business cards if you can. Then follow-up your meeting with a friendly email, picking up on something you discussed. People will be flattered that you remembered.
Offer solutions for free
When you get chatting to some people, you might hear they're struggling with a problem. If you can help, do so! Your kindness and generosity will be remembered, and karma can be a beautiful thing.
Don't dismiss other freelancers
So other freelancers might well be your competition, but that doesn't mean you should ignore them or not speak to them. Not every competitor will be competitive if you know what I mean. Some might want to work collaboratively with you or might become good allies. Be courteous and welcoming to everyone because, at the end of the day, we're all in the same boat and isn't it better to stick together?