We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but whom you know.”
Granted, it helps if you do have the “what” covered. But, if you have talent, drive, and expertise, the best way to grow your business, expand your reach and find out about opportunities is to network.
I started freelancing ten years ago. Every few months, I’d write a press release, edit a training manual, or offer some branding ideas. Nothing heavy, just “side work.” Things I could do at night, after a full day of work, once my children were in bed. But once I decided to make a go of it full-time, I realized I needed to step up my game.
I’ve been offered a great deal of advice over the past few months. Advice on billing, taxes, budgeting… and most of all networking. If you’re considering making the move to work for yourself, or even freelancing on the side, here are my top six ways to start networking. They’ve worked for me, and I hope they do the same for you.
- Speak Up. When someone asks what you do for a living, be ready to answer! Craft your response so that in 30 seconds, you can tell someone exactly what you do. Mine might sound something like this: “I’m a writer and marketing consultant. Companies hire me to craft their brand message, manage their social media presence and create and manage marketing initiatives.”
- Get Involved. There are dozens of small business, entrepreneur and leadership groups in your area – find them! Ask how your expertise can benefit the organization and then join the appropriate board or volunteer your time.
- Be Social. Be active on social sites that make sense for your industry (don’t spend all your time on facebook if your customer base is on instagram or twitter). I spent more time on LinkedIn (and still do) those first two months then I did the entire year before. And beyond virtual social, get truly social – which brings me to #4…
- Drink (more) coffee. When I made the jump to full time freelance, someone gave me a great piece of advice. She said I should be having coffee at least 3-4 times. Since then, I have made sure to invite not only those in my industry, but potential vendors, entrepreneurs, former colleagues… anyone who will spend 30 minutes talking business. I have learned more from these short, informal meetings than I could have imagined.
- Say Yes, to a limit. Push your boundaries, volunteer and offer to share your expertise. Last year, I was asked to give a presentation to a class of college students at Wash U. It was definitely something out of my comfort zone, but I did it anyway. And not only was it a success, it was extremely rewarding. That said, don’t say “yes” so often that you have no time for your business. You can only spend so many hours volunteering your time. Decide how many projects you will take on in a given year, and do your best to stick to that.
- Be a Resource. I am lucky enough to have met some very talented people over the past few months; people who have been kind enough to recommended and/or introduced me to others who have become clients. I have never forgotten those people who were kind enough to share their connections with me. And I’m more than happy to not only return the favor, but to pass it on. Recommend others, introduce people, and be willing to share your expertise. It will come back to you ten fold.
One of my greatest lessons in this process has been that people love to help each other. Really. One cup of coffee led to meetings with three potential clients, which led to two long-term projects. Happy hour with friends led to meeting a small business owner, led to coffee with said business owner, led to a project for me, and led me to introduce him to one of my clients – whom he now calls one of his own. I’ve met PR folks, creatives, IT professionals.. all people who work in my industry, whose expertise is complimentary to what I do. It’s a win-win, because together, we have created a “dream team” of experts who can recommend, assist and introduce each other to potential clients and projects we otherwise may never have learned about.
So that’s my top six. What do you think of my list? Anything you’d change here – or add? Please do share!