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How to grow your freelance business through networking

by Sara Meij

As a freelancer, I often feel like I work in a vacuum. Generally I work alone, which means I don’t have a team around me to celebrate with. It also means I don’t have as many opportunities to network, which makes it challenging to grow my freelance work. 
But I’ve learnt how to overcome that challenge. Here are some of the steps and actions you can take to use networking to grow your freelance business.

 

Set networking goals based on business goals

First things first: if you haven’t set business goals yet, go and do that now - and make sure they’re SMART. Business goals are crucial for finding purpose in your workday. Once you have established your business goals it’s much easier to set networking goals. 

Let’s say one of your business goals is to get more clients. Your networking goal could be to attend x amount of (video) conferences in your field or niche to network with potential new clients. One of my business goals for next year is to increase brand awareness around my own brand. A networking goal I’ll be using to help me achieve this is connecting with other freelancers to share knowledge and resources. Social media is great for this, especially in the current environment we’re all operating in.

As another example, maybe one of your business goals is to increase your own knowledge and skill set. Your networking goal could be to find a mentor to help guide you through the process and to teach you new skills. Mentors with in-depth experience in your industry can provide you with much-needed advice, a sense of community and a healthy dose of encouragement when you most need it. They can also help you more clearly identify your business goals and work through some of your business processes with you. 
 

Think about different networking settings

Once you’ve got your networking goals in place, take a moment to think about the different settings in which you can network, and how each one can help you get closer to reaching your overall business goals. There are the obvious ones, such as conferences, networking events, industry events, and joining your local business network group. But you can basically network anywhere, anytime. Twitter is fantastic for networking, and I’ve had several referrals and other network opportunities happen through the platform.

Instead of viewing networking as this “thing” you do on the side, it might help to take a more integrated approach. Depending on the type of freelancing you do, you could try to see opportunities everywhere, from the coffee shop you get your daily caffeine boost at, to the greengrocer around the corner. If you’re a freelance designer, for instance, you could see if said cafe needs a new logo. Or if you’re a freelance copywriter, you could ask your greengrocer if they need new marketing material. It has really helped me to view any business I interact with as a potential client. 

Another strategy that has helped me a lot personally is to mention that you’re a freelancer, often, and to everyone. Talk about your work, drop it in conversation, find ways to mention it without being obnoxious or annoying. No one is going to know what you do for a living unless either they ask about it, or you mention it. And all little bits of help to raise your brand’s awareness and potentially gain new clients or start collaborations.
 

Come up with strategic collaborations that help spread the word about your business

Let’s stick with the freelance writer example. If you’re viewing every business you interact with as a potential new client, it becomes easier to spot opportunities. For instance, you could find out if your local printer or even a national printer would want to collaborate with you. They could refer you as their recommended copywriter to clients who come in to get material printed, while you can hold up your end of the bargain by referring your clients who have printing needs to the local/national printer. 

Once you’ve increased your brand’s awareness and you’re top of mind in your network for your specific skill set, you’ll be in a better position to be asked to work on paid collaboration projects. Joining forces with other freelancers on projects which encompass different skill sets and talents is a great way to offer clients the best and broadening your network in the process. 

Whatever industry you freelance in, becoming an expert in your field will help to raise your personal brand’s awareness. Reach out to journalists, newsletter writers, and podcast presenters and see if they’re interested in interviewing you on a specific topic. That way you can enjoy the reach of someone else’s audience while providing a service of quality expert information on a particular subject. 
 

Return the favour: referrals

Are you a writer, but do you know a great photographer, builder, accountant, interior designer - you name it? Do them a favour and refer them to others when you have a chance. Word of mouth referrals are great for freelancers, as you’ve probably found yourself. You don’t have to wait until someone has referred you, for you to refer them. Being a matchmaker for your own clients or people in your network will be greatly appreciated by everyone involved! 

One thing is paramount here though; only refer people who you know are great at what they do. It won’t be good for your reputation if you refer someone to a friend, acquaintance or client, and they fall short. Do your own due diligence and back up why you’re referring that person. Make sure you’ve worked with them and that they consistently produce high-quality work. The same goes the other way too, make sure you’re not recommending your fantastic fellow freelancer to a not-so-great client.

In short, be proactive, share the Aroha, and don’t expect anything for referrals in return (other than good karma!). If you’ve worked with a freelancer, and you’ve liked their services, see if you could mention their name to a few of your contacts. You’ll be surprised how such a simple act of kindness can go such a long way. If a new client gets in contact with you, make sure to ask how they found out about your services. Then jump on text, email or phone to say a quick thank you to whoever was kind enough to refer you!
 

Wrapping it up

Networking doesn’t have to be a laborious exercise, it can be as easy as striking up a conversation with a stranger next to you in line or the barista taking your order when you get your daily caffeine hit. Whether you’re thinking of adding networking to your mix of freelance activities to get new clients, or you’d like to expand your community with like-minded people, it’s worth the time investment to build on existing contacts and create new ones. If you start now, you’ll reap the benefits in no time!
 


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