Networking is a pretty essential part of starting a freelance business but for those it doesn’t come naturally to, i.e. introverts like myself, it can be a significant barrier to overcome. In my experience while my business and technical skills may have been ok the thing that’s held me back has been a lack of social mobility because I lacked the social skills and confidence to network effectively.
I’ve also come to realise that sometimes (and frustratingly for introverts) networking skills can outweigh actual skills in the hunt for work, but there’s no substitute for the feeling of having mastered your craft after putting in the hard work.
Network on the Net
Thanks to social media there are now multiple ways to network without even leaving the house. And because these networks allow you to showcase your talents it’s easy to impress a potential prospect without the need for awkward introductions.
In my experience the best networks for attracting and approaching clients are LinkedIn and Twitter. LinkedIn is great if you want to be spotted (so make sure you have a highly polished profile) and Twitter is good for casually approaching businesses you’d like to work for.
My top tips for LinkedIn are fill out every box of your profile that you can, customise your profile url so that people can easily find you (it looks great on a business card), and add the best bits of your portfolio to relevant positions using the platform’s media upload features.
Exploring connections of connections and connecting with them is also a good way of creating new contacts and relatively easy. You don’t need to confirm you know the person for many 2nd level connections, and some 3rd ones, so no email required. Send a friendly message once your request has been accepted, you never know where the conversation might lead.
Although Twitter is a more casual platform it can be a great place for networking as it makes it easy to connect with people and businesses who share similar interests, and to show off your work whether it’s a blog post you can link to or an image you can share. If you think you’ve spotted a potential client follow them and engage with their posts, if they follow you back DM them as soon as possible and start a conversation.
The most successful method I’ve found of finding freelance work is simply by cold emailing businesses I think I’d like to work with, and who might like to work with me. A short friendly email, about 250 words, outlining who you are, what you’ve done, how you can help, and how much you cost is a great way to find business. Always link to what you’ve done and if you’re feeling adventurous follow up with a phone call if you haven’t heard anything for a week. Don’t send attachments, and try to avoid keywords (like SEO) in your subject line, which increase the chances of getting caught in a spam filter
Just Talk to People
This one’s going to sound kind of dumb but just by talking to people, literally anyone you come across in your day to day life who you feel comfortable talking to, is a great way of networking and finding jobs. You never know who’s in need of help – I landed a job at a company producing 3D chocolate printers as a result of meeting the person who runs the company at an activity I was helping with while volunteering at my local museum.
After three years of freelance copywriting I expanded my skills while volunteering at a local museum. I was thinking of giving the whole freelancing thing up when I found new enthusiasm for it by honing some raw skills in my volunteer capacity working with the museum’s marketing and design team.
My experience as a volunteer started me on the path to being able to confidently sell my design and photography skills, and more importantly the work I did with the public there helped me get over the introverted bump that prevented me from networking more effectively.
Thanks to the internet there are now plenty of ways to find work if networking doesn’t come naturally to you. There are also plenty of so obvious it’s easy to miss them ways of networking which don’t involve painful small talk, mingling, bull-plop or bragging.