Overcoming Fear: A Step-By-Step Guide to Networking

No matter how talented you are or how many years experience you have as a freelancer, networking can be scary. The act of approaching a stranger and striking up a conversation is enough to make even the most seasoned professional a little anxious. But with a few simple tricks, you can network like a pro and leave the nerves behind.

1. Start with family & friends

If you’re nervous about approaching strangers, begin your networking journey with people you already know. Get the word out to friends and family that you have a freelance business and are actively looking for new clients. Something as simple as posting about your business on Facebook could lead to friends or family contacting you for work. You never know who has a need for your skills until you put yourself out there. In fact, a survey conducted by the Edelman Intelligence research firm found that family, friends and professional contacts combined to make up 81% of leads for freelancers. So it pays to use your personal network.

2. Network everywhere you go

Don’t limit your networking opportunities to official “networking events,” where conversations can feel forced or awkward. You can run into potential business contacts  anytime you leave the house—when you’re out with friends, at a club or class, or even at social events like weddings or birthday parties. This is another time to use your existing relationships to help your business. If someone asks you what you do, don’t be afraid to include the fact that you’re looking for new clients.

3. Be yourself

If you don’t like networking because it feels like “schmoozing” or like you’re just talking to someone for your own benefit, flip the networking script on its head. Instead of going into a conversation with the end goal of making a new business contact, think of networking like you’re having a nice conversation with someone you find interesting. Ask questions, listen to their answers and talk about your passions. Oftentimes if you’re at an event or conference, other attendees share your passions. You might find that you actually enjoy talking to them!

4. Team up with a wingman

Everything feels easier when you have a friend by your side. The same goes for networking! So the next time you’re contemplating hitting up a networking event or conference, ask some of your colleagues or friends if they’d be interested in joining you. Having a friend along will help give you the confidence you need to approach others and start chatting. Plus, having friends with you generally makes everything more fun. Now that’s what we call work-life balance.

5. Be prepared

If you know that you’ll be at an event with a lot of networking opportunities, prepare in advance for potential conversations. Think up a list of possible questions you can ask people, based on the event you’re attending. This will help you ease into conversations and make for less awkward silences. Another thing to prepare is your business cards—make sure you have them printed and ready so you can leave a reminder about yourself and your business with everyone you meet. By preparing for networking encounters, you put yourself in a higher position to succeed.

6. Use coworking spaces to network

If you’re a member of a coworking space, they can be a huge resource for networking. First of all, many other people at these spaces are freelancers or entrepreneurs, so they should be interested in connecting as well. Plus, coworking spaces often have events or mixers for members to learn and connect. These are the perfect opportunity to approach like-minded freelancers and grow your network. Since you share a workspace, you’ll have the added bonus of seeing the same people often. This will foster community and help your relationships grow.

7. Network online

If you’re a naturally shy person, it can be harder to approach people in face-to-face settings. Luckily, with the rise of social media, you can make meaningful connections and foster relationships right from the comfort of your home. Use LinkedIn to connect with people, share or comment on articles or congratulate colleagues on business milestones. Follow other creatives on Instagram, comment on their images, or send direct messages to talk about your craft. These days, you can build a relationship online that can be just as powerful as an in-person chat. Use technology to your advantage and get networking on social media.

8. Try a power pose

Research by Amy Cuddy suggests that taking just a few minutes to stand in a powerful pose (think Wonder Woman) can help boost your feelings of power and self confidence.  If you’d like to get more information on how it’s done, watch Amy’s popular TED Talk. There has been some controversy over whether this method actually works on a scientific level, but if you’re looking for ways to help build confidence, it won’t hurt to try it.

9. Be a good listener

A huge part of networking is simply listening to whoever you’re talking to. If you’re nervous about chatting with someone, remember that people generally enjoy talking about themselves. So ask a lot of questions, then just sit back and listen. Even if you don’t say much, the person you’re talking to will remember that they had a nice conversation with you. And in networking, that’s a win.

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