I’ve never been the type to initiate conversation. I’m glad to talk to people if they talk first, but I’ve never been the outgoing, sociable girl who can make friends with anyone and talk about anything. I like to stay home. I hate loud parties. If I ever get dragged to one, you’ll find me tucked away against a wall, wishing I was at home reading, watching a movie, or playing Monster Hunter with my husband.
Networking terrified me. In fact, as I read up on what it takes to run a freelance business, I began to wonder if I could actually do it, solely based on the fact that all my sources encouraged constant networking. When I heard “networking,” I imagined a conference room with people dressed in suits holding cocktails and “talking numbers.” I’ve been freelancing and networking for over a year now, and I’ve never had a single experience like that. Now, going to a writers’ or publishers’ conference is a great idea if you’ve got the time, money, and confidence. I’ll probably buck up and go to one myself in the future, but I want other beginners to know that that isn’t really what basic networking is about, at least not as a freelance writer.
So What Is Networking?
Networking is really just being a decent human being and putting in the effort to really connect with current and potential clients. This blog is networking. Your social media accounts are a great way to network. The beauty of being a freelancer is that most of your business is conducted online. For me, this is key to successful networking. Through online correspondence like email, social media, my website, etc., I have time to think about my responses and fully explain my thoughts, methods, and feelings to a client through the medium I work best in: writing. The reason I feel anxious in other forms of correspondence with important clients is because I worry that I won’t say enough, I’ll say too much, I’ll forget a key piece of my pitch—the list goes on. That fear makes me clam up and do exactly what I was afraid of doing. Online networking allows me to make the exact first impression that I want. After I’ve had some interaction back and forth, I feel more comfortable talking to the client on the phone or in person. Online correspondence is great for reaching and meeting clients, but in some cases the work requires that you actually talk in a faster, more intimate way. Phone calls with clients are always a little scary (I plan to write a post on how to handle them soon), but having some former online contact with the person can take away some of the fear factor.
To start networking effectively, join some LinkedIn groups or other online forums where you will reach an audience of potential clients. Post questions of your own aimed at your client base. For instance, I posted a question in a forum about which form of editing self-publishing writers want most. From those answers, I found a few people who had just finished a book. I got some serious interest from one man who will be finishing up a book very soon and is considering me as the editor for it. Respond to the answers you get. Answer other people’s questions to show your knowledge on the subject. If someone shows interest in your services, follow up. Be personable. Ask them about the project. Make them feel at ease about the process.
Share relevant, intelligent, and practical articles on all your social media. A cute or funny throwaway tweet might be a great way to make followers smile and get their attention, but that can’t be all you post. You need to post real, actionable things. Ideally, things that make the client start thinking about your services. For instance, on my business Twitter, I posted an article about the close, trusting relationship between a ghostwriter and an author. Ghostwriting isn’t fully understood by most people, and the notion of trusting someone with your potentially profitable idea and material makes people nervous. I posted an article that sought to ease those fears and make readers consider hiring a ghostwriter, and since they found the link through me, they already know a ghostwriter they can hire.
Interact with posts by potential clients. Share a tweet about an author’s newly released book and congratulate them on the accomplishment. Make sure if you see a post that interests you or makes you laugh that you tell the poster so.
Provide your own useful content through a blog. Respond promptly to inquisitive emails. Ask your clients how they’re doing. Check up on past projects to see how things turned out. Let your clients know you care about their needs and their work.
This is all networking, and all you’re really doing is being a nice person. It’s not hard at all. Yes, you have to know what you’re talking about and present yourself as an expert in your field, but there are plenty of experts out there. Networking helps you stand out. It helps you put your name out into a pool of potential clients. It lets you display your professionalism and your personality. When faced with a number of professionals, clients will make the final decision of who to hire based on how they connect with and feel about the freelancer. If you display your personality and show that you are actually a human being who cares about what you do, the right client will be more likely to pick you because they will recognize that they can potentially mesh with you quite well. Your services aren’t for everyone. Networking helps you find and reel in clients who will make your job a pleasant and rewarding experience. There’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, networking has helped me boost my social confidence. So get out there and embrace it instead of letting it hold you back.