Working in a remote freelance capacity significantly reduces the amount of face-time you spend with others. For some this is a perk, for others a hindrance. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of freelancing is how much harder networking is. When you work in an office, networking can almost work like osmosis: you see your coworkers every day, you have a mentor or supervisor, you interact with clients regularly. As a freelancer, networking takes a bit more initiative. So what are some best practices for networking events?
What Sort of Business Connections Do You Want?
Ask yourself: what sort of business connections am I hoping to make? Not all network relationships are built the same. Do you want someone who can serve as your mentor? Are you looking for someone to collaborate with on projects? Perhaps you’re seeking a potential client? Knowing what you’re looking for before you enter a social situation will help guide you to speak with the right people and use your time most effectively. Not having some sort of plan could lead to you having directionless conversations with people who won’t help you meet your goals. While there’s no guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for, you’ll be better positioned for achieving your goals.
Choose Your Networking Event
The classic assumption of a networking event is that you'll attend some sort of banquet hall, dressed in slacks, wearing a name tag - oftentimes, that is how things will go. However, for freelancers, there are plenty of ways to network. Before selecting the right networking event, you’ll want to make sure you’ve done your research. Is this event going to have the highest return on your investment? Does it cater to your industry? Will it have the right format and setting for your goals? If you’re able to view the guest list, is there anyone you’re eager to meet? Take a few minutes to consider; networking is about quality, not quantity.
Come Prepared With a Business Card
Business cards are a must. There's nothing less professional than writing your number on a cocktail napkin, or scrolling through social media and asking, “Is this you? Did I spell it correctly?” Having a business card will help you smoothly close out a conversation and leave a lasting impression once the event is over. It should be attractive and legible, and feature current details like: what sort of freelance work you do, your contact details like phone, e-mail, LinkedIn, and website URL. Bring more than you think you’ll need and translate them onto your computer or phone when you get home.
Have an Elevator Pitch
Please don't drone on and on about the nuances of your work. The goal of a networking event is to meet people, not just hold others hostage as you talk about yourself, endlessly. The best way to introduce yourself is via an elevator pitch. You’ll want it to highlight what you do, how you do it well, and why it matters. Avoid using lots of buzzwords or jargon, the goal is being understood. A great way to go about developing an elevator pitch is to put in the work to cultivate your personal brand. You can read more about what makes a good personal brand here.
Finding the connections is one thing, nurturing them is another. After your networking event, you’ll want to make sure to store the information of new contacts, alongside relevant details, in a database. You’ll want some sort of CRM platform to stay organized, just like you would with your clients. This will open up setting them on email lists, or setting relevant reminders.
Be sure to send your connections an email right away, while the memory of you is still fresh. Thank them for their time and reiterate some points which you discussed, to recall their memory. The best tactic is asking for a follow-up meeting, try to get something in the calendar. You’ll want to strike when the iron is hot; nothing withers a connection on the vine quicker than “let’s stay in touch.”
As long as you’re able to come prepared with these 5 practices in mind, the rest is flexible. There are countless ways to network, and it’s simply about finding the flow that works best for you. Networking is a practice: the more you work at it, the more it will serve your business in the long-run.