As a newbie freelancer, you’re told all the time: network, network, network.
Building relationships makes good business sense and can lead to referrals and other opportunities down the road. But how exactly are you supposed to do it?
It’s not like you can schmooze at an office happy hour. Conferences are wonderful, but they can cost quite a bit of money, which you may not have when you’re just starting out. Heck–maybe you chose freelance writing because you wanted to leave the world of conferences and happy hours behind.
So what does networking look like in such a solitary profession?
Here are five non-awkward networking tips for the newbie freelancer.
1. Seek out role models
When I first started out, I was hungry for success stories. I’d taken the Writeto1K course and sought out writers who had taken the same course and were “making” it.
If you’re part of a particular online community, try connecting with someone a few paces ahead of you whose work and successes you admire. If you’re starting totally from scratch, look for someone in your chosen niche. Whether it’s digital marketing, health, computer gaming, boutique pet food–you name it, someone’s making a killing writing about it.
Find your heroes. Stalk them (Ahem: Read their posts and learn).
2. Comment on blogs
Whatever business-related question you have in mind, there’s a good chance the person you want to connect with has already written about it — a lot. What are their best tips?
When you see something you find helpful, comment and say thanks. This can serve as your introduction point if you want to make a more personal connection later. Plus, it’s just good manners. And who doesn’t love seeing that their work helped someone else?
That string of appreciative comments after a post can do a freelancer’s heart a world of good.
3. Email with specific questions
Connecting with people you admire is key, but be careful. You want to be respectful of a potential mentor’s time and expertise.
That means “let me pick your brain” requests won’t help you build goodwill and gain the tools you need to succeed. What will help? Specific questions.
Here’s a few to consider: “What are your best tips for managing writing time vs. mom time?” Or “What’s your most consistent method of getting clients?” Or “You’re one of the few people I’ve found that writes in my niche — can you give me ballpark figures of what I should be charging?”
Once I did this and something amazing happened. I heard back from an established freelancer I’d sent a friendly email to: She was creating a program to help newbies land their very first client and wanted to know if I’d like to test drive it — for free. Yes please!
That was the ticket for me. This mentor helped me customize my pitch, designed an awesome logo for my business, and scoured job boards looking for opportunities that fit my experience. In no time at all I started hearing back from jobs where before there’d been only crickets. I had my first $1,000 sooner than I’d thought possible.
More importantly, though, I had confidence. I had clients and ongoing work. I was a real freelance writer–all it took was a boost from a friendly stranger.
4. Stay in touch
Any successful freelance writer is all over the web. For home-based workers, social media is our water cooler. If you’ve found someone you think you can learn from, connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter and subscribe to her blog.
Every time your chosen mentor sends out a tweet or update, you get to learn some new trick of the trade. And as any new freelancer knows, there’s so much to learn at the beginning. Why not hear it from the best?
No one is an island. You need peers (otherwise known as a squad) in this gig — even if you don’t see them face to face. Also, staying in touch is simply good business: keep yourself in the loop with professionals who know their stuff so that you’re ready for any opportunities they may want to pass your way.
5. Be friendly
Finally, don’t be a jerk. (Duh).
We writers don’t get enough social interaction as it is; no one wants to deal with a forceful email or bummer tweet. Be open, be friendly, say thanks. Who you are online is who you are in life; communicate online like someone you’d want to hang out with in person.
For me, networking paid off financially really quickly and helped me build confidence. But if networking is so beneficial, why do writers have to be told, over and over again, to do it?
Maybe because people who choose writing tend to be introverted, and that shyness can put a stopper on our gumption. But really–what’s the worst that can happen? As writers, rejection is just part of the game. If you reach out to a freelancer and ask for advice the worst you can hear is a polite “no.”
But in my experience, that doesn’t often happen. The freelancers I’ve met since I’ve started are open, generous, and happy to make a connection. They know that we’re all in this together; if one of us does well, it’s good for everyone. They’re happy to spread the love.
So if you’re just starting out and wanting to make connections, you can be a little afraid. But then you should do it anyway.
You may just meet a friend.
Do you have any networking tips for freelance writers? Share them in the comments below!