Whether the bulk of your freelance work is online or in the real world, there is one thing that unites all freelancers and micro-businesses – the need to get out there and network. Unfortunately when you start out on your own it is tempting to see only the positives of your new career style. Working for yourself means being your own boss, picking what jobs you want to do and when you want to do them, having flexible hours and more time to spend with friends and family. It also potentially means more money. Those are all the positives. But what people sometimes forget is that when you work on your own there are going to be times when there is no work coming in at all and in those times it is important that freelancers get out there and network both online and within their community at large, learning how to hunt down new contracts and clients.
For many people the thought of networking sends them into cold shivers. But if you want to work for yourself it’s got to be done. Suck it up. It is one of those essential jobs if you are going to have a successful freelance career. It has the advantage that it costs almost nothing in comparison with advertising or marketing, yet it achieves much the same aim – getting your business known by all the important people.
If you work purely online then it is easy to network online. Not only are there some well known social networking tools already in place for you to take advantage of (Facebook, Twitter and Linkedln) but there are also numerous job sites such as Elance or Odesk where you can build a reputation for top quality work and get to know more and more clients. There are also, no matter what your industry, endless websites and forums where other people in your field get together and chat, so these are worth joining too.
But whether you work online or offline you will also need to network in the real world too. This is much more important to your business, because a great deal of businesses and people still need that personal touch when hiring someone new. Despite the ubiquity of online jobs and contracts, most companies still prefer to hire after they have met people. So where do you go to network and put yourself in the right places? First off, you need to register with the national freelancer association of your country. In America for example there is the Freelancers Union, in UK the Professional Contractors Group, both of them offer support to their freelancers on legal and tax issues but more importantly offer them a chance to go to networking get-together which promote freelancers to businesses. In addition to this there are numerous local, county or state organizations through which small businesses can register and meet up for regional business enterprises. In your home town on any given week there will be one or other business group organizing a networking brunch or evening drinks for local businesses. Make sure you go to these.
And once you are at these events? The most important thing to do is to network smart. Don’t go there and oversell your business, winding people up the wrong way. Aim at first to just meet some people in similar fields, develop business relationships and for them to go away with a good impression of you. If you are a web designer for example, you only need to spend a few hours on these events talking and listening to people, talk about their business before soon or later one of them will need something donefor their website. Who will they think of first? The charming guy / girl they were chatting with at that event the previous night.
Which leads to the last point. Always carry business cards with you. Don’t oversell yourself, but always be ready to sell yourself a bit. That means when you leave these events, if you’ve been chatting with someone for a while – give them your card. Networking is as easy as that.
Authored by Alex Simmonds
Alex is financial journalist and blogger. He currently writes about the freelance sector where he covers everything from marketing to finance to contractor tax .
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