Crappy freelance advice: Live networking is the best way to market

More than a decade ago, my work life was in a sad state. I was a single mother, newly unemployed and desperate for income. It didn’t matter if it was freelance writing or a full-time job. Plus I was distraught over jobs from which I had been terminated, no reason provided.

A friend told me how she had been going to networking events every single day to get a job. (Eventually she did get a job, but it was a civil service job acquired through an online federal job board.)

Still, I knew I needed radical action and to commit to some daily activity. So I vowed to the job gods that I would attend a live networking event every weekday. Five events per week!

I toiled online to find networking events with which to fill my calendar. Some were groups that were new to me, others were repeats. This was especially true on Fridays since no professionally oriented groups that I knew of met that evening.

It was a truly abysmal period of my life.

As an introvert, I find socializing with mostly strangers to be demanding, but the stringent rules of networking made it even more challenging: Don’t monopolize the conversation talking about yourself. Offer help to others. Follow through on what you offer to provide.

Follow up on all suggestions, no matter how irrelevant or stupid, because you look like a whiner when you pass on untested advice.

Most important, act positive! (!!!)

Not that I would have enjoyed networking more as an extrovert. Just because someone is outgoing does not mean she enjoys trying to sell herself to strangers without it looking sales-y.

I sabotaged myself to a certain degree.

I’d check my schedule first thing in the morning, but I always ran late. I’d circle a filled parking lot, searching the fringes for the last space and racing in to the last seat as the event started. My brain recognized the importance of spending as much time as possible at the event, but my heart wanted to cut it short.

Networking lessons for freelancers

Reasons networking can fail freelancers:

People don’t know you. It’s not that you aren’t outgoing enough, it’s that relationships can take weeks, months or even years to develop. The collective “they” say you’ll get assignments from people who “know, like and trust” you. However, just as you don’t know fellow networkers well enough to recommend them for a freelance assignment or a job, they don’t know you well enough either.

Therefore, network with people you know. Religious congregations, political and social organizations, and any other activity you have already been engaging with are more likely to provide useful leads.

You are networking with the wrong people. If you are seeking corporate assignments that typically pay better, you need to network with people in the organization who have the position and budget to hire you. Those people are typically too busy at the office to make it to professional programs / networking events. Since they already have good jobs as well as lots of work sitting on their desk, they tend not to attend such events. Furthermore, in the past, when they have made it to meetings, they have been deluged with requests for assignments and jobs. (This isn’t true, of course, for all professional organizations, but it is true for many.)

The groups are not specialized enough. Geographically focused groups—chambers of commerce, city LinkedIn meetups, and even professional / industry groups serving your city—are often too broad in their focus. As a writer specializing in the insurance industry, I found that insurance marketing organizations in the Chicago area tend to attract more sales personnel than marcom directors.

Relevant organizations don’t meet locally. Internet research has revealed some marketing organizations (as opposed to agent organizations) in my specialties, but these groups often hold only national events. They are quite enticing to corporate personnel who have all expenses paid, but quite expensive if you are paying out of your own pocket and don’t have much of a practice built up so far. You’ll want to do some serious research, including phoning officers and other contacts, before pulling out the credit card.

Bottom line for freelancers

Face-to-face networking can help. But you have to be ruthless in evaluating each event you attend to assess if continued participation is worth the cost and the time.

It’s difficult.

It can require long-term attendance to build useful relationships. However, some groups will never provide enough value to merit involvement.

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Filed under: freelancing, networking

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