The word ‘networking’ can be scary. When you hear it, you may immediately think of corporate events with stand-up cocktails and business card exchanges. This is sometimes the case, but not always. Networking is far more than standing around, exchanging contact details and hoping for the best. If this is how you have been treating them, it’s time to stop.
When done right, networking events have huge advantages for you, freelance business owner. Networking leads you to meet potential clients and partners, discover new projects, and grow professionally and socially.
Unlike in the corporate world, networking events are different for freelancers and business owners as you have to find and connect with relevant industry people and potential clients all by yourself. There is no company to back you, and you have only yourself and your business to lean on. This may make you nervous, but fear no more! Here are our top networking tips for freelancer and business owners.
You must have heard the saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” The rule applies to networking. Always prepare for events before you attend them.
Not all events allow you to know the list of people attending. However, you can use social media in such instances. For example, if you plan to attend a meetup for creatives, you can use Twitter to check out the meetup hashtag to find others who will be attending. Once you find a few, ‘stalk’ their social pages. Note recent accomplishments, likes, issues they talk about often, and even interesting people they follow. This would give you an idea of the type of person(s) you are going to meet and make your conversation with them flow better.
Make sure to ready yourself before attending any event. Prepare for unexpected questions, and give yourself permission to relax. Ensure your portfolio is up to date and mobile-responsive so you can easily show it on your phone, and have a short, authentic-sounding elevator pitch ready for all the prospective clients you meet.
The way you present yourself reflects what you can offer to your clients.
Learn the art of listening, but don’t overdo it
When you are new to attending events, it may be tempting to talk about yourself and your business at every opportunity. However, you should approach events with the mentality that you are there to get to know people too. Remember that the best way to expand your network is by listening to people, and then offering value to them. But you would never get to know what value you can offer them if you don’t listen.
Encourage people to talk to you about themselves. It helps. Ask leading questions to advance the conversations. Ask about their business, history, specialisations and challenges. These questions provide concrete answers to inform the value you offer to them. In conversations, ask who, where, what, why, when, and how questions.
Listening is great but you must not overdo it. Nobody likes someone who says nothing and only nods while looking around for another person to ‘listen to’. That signals boredom and disinterest. If a conversation is getting boring, do not feel stuck and stay. Leave instead. You can say, “It was nice meeting and talking with you tonight. Here is my card, let’s stay in touch.”
You don’t want to be known as the complainer on your first meeting with a prospective client or partner. Don’t complain about the terrible situation in your country in the first meeting. Don’t gossip about others. Focus on good things. You can talk about past, present or even future good events. Examples include talking about a recent milestones or asking about the other person.
Polish your freelance elevator pitch
Your freelance elevator pitch is a 10-30 second explanation of your business and the services you offer. It serves as a great medium for you to convey to someone what you do and how you help without using too many words.
Don’t have just one version of your pitch. Vary it in little ways and get comfortable saying it. You should have a concise one and a detailed one for special, unexpected occasions. Your elevator speech should convey value!
Remember people’s names
There is nothing more embarrassing than forgetting someone’s name at a networking event. To avoid such embarrassment, try associating the stranger’s face with someone that you know. If you are not good at committing names to memory, you can also imagine the person’s name written on his/her forehead. You can also take selfies with people you meet and save the pictures with their names. Find ways to enhance your memory.
And when you get home, add to your list of people you met recently. Frequently review this list to connect dots in your network.
Follow up immediately
If you are like me, following up with new contacts might seem tiring. Remembering what you discussed with the person can be another headache. However, you can jot down on the back of their business cards or a notebook, key points from your conversations. These key points will help you create a personal bond whenever you reach out to them.
If you need to provide someone with more information about your business or render gratitude, do so immediately. Be enthusiastic and brief. These follow-ups need not be formal, you can apply creativity and work with each unique scenario.
While it is good to network effectively, never forget that the goal should be to expand your connections, not win clients on the spot. You may even make friends and make acquaintances that send in referrals.
Whether you are an experienced freelancer or a newbie, these tips above will help you network better.
To enjoy the most benefits from these tips, don’t try ALL at once. Pick one and practise that adequately. Learn on the field.
How well do you network? Have any other tips that help freelancers and business owners at networking events? Share in the comments.