It took me a while to accept networking as a critical element of my business marketing. I can’t deny it- one of the key benefits of freelance life is showing up to work in my activewear (Activewear, Activewear), so the thought of strapping on the heels and a shiny smile to sell myself to a room full of other people selling themselves initially took considerable mental effort.
Over the years, however, I’ve experienced first hand the value of networking events, especially for freelance businesses:
- You get to interact and connect with people, real live people, who also run businesses.
- It’s a ridiculously cheap form of marketing which is personal and targeted.
- It removes the professional isolation that can be experienced when your walk colleague has four legs, a tail, and really doesn’t give a flying hoot about anything other than walkies.
At a basic level, networking is about relationships. Yes, I’m gagging at using this word, but it’s true. It’s about meeting and connecting with people, and creating an impression about yourself and about your business that makes it easy for them to think of you when they or someone they know need your specific services.
It’s having a mutually beneficial conversation with another person who may never ever become a client, but may know your ideal client and hook you up, and can give you the opportunity to hook up people you know with businesses that solve their dilemmas. Mutual, you read?
You’ve been invited to a breakfast, a biz expo, a lunch or a ‘workshop with networking opportunities.’ It’s local to you, affordable, the speaker sounds amazing, the date suits, there’s food not cooked by you. Go for it!
Your number one priority when you sign up? Manage your expectations.
Don’t attend with the assumption that you’re going to completely fill your booking list for the next twelve months, or make sales. You may not even make any firm leads. Rather, use it as an opportunity to:
- Polish your pitch
- Cement your service offerings
- Clarify and test your key messages
- Interact with a specific type of client you haven’t had access to prior
Personally, I make a silent goal to have a good, fun, informative conversation with three people I haven’t met before.
You’re at the event, clutching a champagne flute, feeling nervous and nauseous facing a room of people who seem to already know each other, and are in earnest, intense conversation.
Take a deep breath, my pretty. It’s all good.
You already have all you need- and that is kindness and manners. Put a smile on your dial, and amp up the positivity and enthusiasm. Be energetic and someone others want to be around. I was at an event recently, and I overheard a business owner I had just spoken with talking about me to a mutual connection- she said ‘Holly’s passion for her work is infectious!’ I still have the warm and fuzzies from that one!
Talk about your business, and yourself, but in the context of helping others- ask for their business pressure points, likes, loves and frustrations. Be generous with your information and responses- refer to colleagues and connections that could provide support, or share the productivity apps and hacks you love.
Here’s a bonus tip- if you’re talking to a copywriter, don’t tell them that Fiverr is the best; that they get all their copywriting done through Fiverr. True story, and so not cool.
Actually, there is one other thing you need- business cards. Lots of ‘em. These shall be thrust upon you, and likewise, you shall do some fairly heavy thrusting yourself. All you need is some big hair, cheap champagne and you’ll be back in the 90s at a hens party. But thrust appropriately- and never until you’ve had more than a precursory greeting with someone.
What to do with all those business cards and fabulous engaged conversations? Nurture those budding relationships with a strategic follow up process:
- Send a LinkedIn connection request that is personalised and reminds the person where and when you met, and references what you spoke about.
- Send an email suggesting you continue the conversations you started at the event virtually, pointing people to your social media channels and your mailing list sign up page.
- If you made any references during your conversation of colleagues or connections that may suit them, or promised any resources, articles or social media handles, forward all relevant information, and make relevant introductions.
Networking doesn’t have to be bleugh, and done well, can absolutely be boo yeah! If you’d like some support with a massaging your communications messages so you’re pitch perfect please get in touch– I’d love to help out.
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This is a post in my blog series about freelance life. Each month I share information, hacks and ideas about running a freelance business. If there’s something specific you’d like to know, please shoot me an email or give me a buzz, and I’ll do my best to help, or address it in an upcoming blog post or on my social media platforms- follow the links!