Deciding you want to start freelancing is great, but the only way to find success as a freelancer is to get clients, and the easiest way to do that is through networking. Just like in any other job or industry, having a professional network will allow you to expand your reach and get your name out to more people than you could do on your own.
Unlike traditional jobs, freelance gigs often aren’t posted on job boards because many business leaders have their own networks, which include freelancers, that they can rely on to fill these kinds of roles. For instance, editors usually know various freelance writers, so any time they move into a new editing role, they will likely try to recruit from their network before seeking out writers outside of it. Having a network of freelancers allows business leaders to quickly get a job done by someone they know they can depend on to deliver quality work.
This is why networking as a freelancer is so essential. So, if you’re starting to build your freelancing network, here are some tips to help you out.
Who To Reach Out To
Getting started with your network as a freelancer is very much the same as it is if you’re looking for a traditional job because you’ll want to start with your inner circle first and then branch out from there. However, there are some specific people you’ll want to be mindful about putting effort into connecting with.
Start with whoever you know personally. This can be your friends, family, past or current coworkers, and any managers you’ve worked with throughout your career. Reach out to anyone you feel comfortable talking to about your new venture because you never know who can help.
Prioritize people in leadership or decision-making positions. Whether it's someone you know personally or you’re doing old reach-outs, aim to connect with as many people in leadership positions as possible. Managers, directors, and HR professionals are often the people who know about freelance roles first and who are tasked with filling them. The more decision-makers you have in your corner the more likely it is that you’ll land a job.
Think about whom to collaborate with. Let’s say you’re trying to do graphic design. Do you have a friend who works in marketing that could team up with you? Not only do collaborations like this help you build up your portfolio of work and develop a client list (sometimes with big-name businesses), but they also introduce you to new people and potential repeat clients.
Where To Find New Contacts
After you’ve reconnected with already-established contacts, you’ll still need to find some new people to add to your network. This can be done in a few ways.
Start with the classic strategy, LinkedIn. The easiest way to connect with a professional, no matter their seniority level, is through LinkedIn. You’ll probably have to do some cold reach-outs here, so make sure you’re following proper etiquette by focusing on making the actual connection, not on landing a job.
Attend networking events. This is another tactic that is beneficial to anyone looking for a job, no matter the industry or type. Attend either in-person or online networking events and make sure you have some way for the people you meet to easily get in touch with you (like a business card or through your online portfolio).
Reach out to your immediate community. Is there a coffee shop you frequent a lot or another local business where you’ve become a regular? Talk to the owners and let them know you’re a freelancer. They may have projects they need help with or know another local business owner who does.
Ask for referrals from clients and/or fellow freelancers. This is a big way to grow your network and your business. Ask existing clients and peers to refer their friends, family, and colleagues to you when they need a freelancer in your industry. Word of mouth spreads really quickly, and the more referrals you get, the wider your network and further your reach as a freelancer.
Take Advantage Of Technology
While you can certainly grow your network by knocking on some business doors, it’s more efficient to use technology to your advantage. There are so many great platforms that provide opportunities to connect and socialize with people with similar interests or needs.
Look for groups that you may be able to advertise your services in (be sure to always check community rules/guidelines though because a lot of them don’t allow self-promotion). Maybe there’s a small business-owners group or even a community where jobs in your industry are frequently posted.
Don’t limit yourself to these kinds of groups, though, because there are a lot of advantages to joining communities with freelance peers. You’ll often find people who are just getting started as well as veterans. These communities are great for sharing ideas, asking questions, and possibly even getting client referrals or learning about new opportunities (Reddit is a great place to find these kinds of groups).
Making Strong Connections
Creating connections is just the start because they need to be strong for them to be beneficial. To develop these kinds of relationships, you’ll need to prove your worth a little bit (especially if you’re hoping for referrals). With clients, you want to be sure you over-deliver to them. Not only will this encourage your client to hire you again, but it could also make them feel confident in referring one of their friends to you. Also, by over-delivering, you’re making the person who referred you (whether it’s a peer or a past client) look good, so they will be more likely to refer to you again in the future.
Another good way to build a strong connection is to continuously (but reasonably) check in and stay in touch. If it’s been a few months since you connected, you can send them a quick email to ask them how things are going, or let them know about a job they referred you for. Try to make sure you’re not only reaching out when you’re looking for work, that way when you are looking for something, but they’ll also be more likely to want to help you out.
Networking For Success
Networking isn’t easy for everyone, especially if it’s outside of your comfort zone. Remember, though, it is essential for you to find success as a freelancer. Start small by reaching out to the people you know to get more comfortable with it, and slowly branch out as you go along. Before you know it, you’ll have an extensive network that lends plenty of opportunities for freelance work.
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