Key reasons why it is important for freelancers and the self-employed to be active networkers
Networking in business is a practice that is as old as the sun. Traders regularly met in market squares in ancient times to sell their wares and discuss new opportunities with other traders from far flung lands. Whether they were trading in furs, Persian rugs, grains, silks, magic carpets or lucky charms, the beauty of it was that it worked for them. This highlights the very essence of good marketing, connecting with your potential customers and collaborators to do business. Fast-forward 2,000 or so years to the present day and nothing has changed. Business owners and leaders of corporations of all sizes regularly meet to present their products and services to potential customers. Only today it’s called Network Marketing.
Sell more goods and services As a freelancer or self-employed business owner, it is important that you embrace this age-old form of marketing and trading. Not only will it help you sell more of your goods and services, but it will also help you gain a deeper level of insight and understanding of your own business. There are many freelance articles online extolling the virtues of the freedom gained from working for yourself but working for yourself very often means working alone. Working by yourself can be important to concentrate on finishing projects and focusing on specific tasks but working for hours on end, sometimes even days without talking to or meeting anyone can be a real drag. You also need to be careful not to focus solely on your current tasks for danger of taking your eye off winning new work and keeping your sales funnel full. That’s where networking comes in.
Don’t be afraid of networking As soon as the word ‘networking’ is mentioned, it sends shivers down people’s spines. Even the most outgoing of people turn shy at the thought of having to meet and talk to new people. Couple this with the opportunity to stand in front of a crowded room and sell their services and they hide in their shells like turtles. But don’t be afraid, everyone who attends networking events feels the same way.
Remember it is a business meeting A better way of approaching networking and overcoming your fears is to call it referral marketing. This helps to give it a purpose and puts onus on attendees to connect and do business with each other. After all, you are marketing your services via referrals, rather than just meeting up for a coffee and a chat.
Lots of options to choose from There are lots of different networking options open to you as a self-employed professional. Some are completely free to attend, while most will charge a nominal attendance fee which cover room hire and light refreshments. There are also those networking events that market themselves as referral marketing groups. These usually require a greater commitment from you in terms of membership payments and the associated attendance that goes with being a member. Events take place throughout the day. If you’re an early riser a breakfast networking event might be perfect for you. If you’re more of a night owl, then an afternoon or early evening event might be better. Try as many as you can and choose which you prefer but bear in mind you need to win business from whichever event you opt for. Regular attendance at networking events will require you to present yourself and explain your services to a room of like-minded business professionals. The experience will take you way outside of your comfort zone… but that’s where the magic happens!
7 Key benefits of networking for freelancers include:
- You will be able to present your products and services to a room of people who are actively a) looking to refer your services to their contacts, b) in the market to buy services like yours.
- The more you present and explain your work, the better you will understand it and the better you will understand how others perceive you. The feedback you receive can be invaluable.
- You will gain new ideas, insight and advice from others who may have more business experience than you
- You will be able to create collaboration opportunities with other business in a similar field to you. If you’re a copywriter, then a marketer or a web designer would be a great collaborator to work with. If you’re a business consultant, accountants and solicitors usually make good referral partners. Likewise, if you’re a designer then a printer or marketer could be good contacts for you.
- You will be able to use the other professionals in the room as sounding boards for pitches and other projects
- You will rapidly grow in confidence when talking about your business and the services you offer.
- Your marketing will improve as will your presentation skills.
Network with purpose As mentioned earlier, networking is a form of marketing. It can be a very successful way to market your services if you get it right… and to get it right you need to plan. Prior to attending any event, ask yourself what you want to achieve from it and write all the reasons down. Then ask yourself how you’re going to achieve those goals and write those down. This will give you a clear picture of how to approach any networking event. Make sure you have some good quality business cards and other marketing material to give to your fellow delegates. It is also a good idea to ask the event organizer beforehand if they can send you a list of the registered delegates. From this you can identify potential business contacts that you may want to meet on the day and ask the event organizer if they will help by introducing you. Now that you’re armed with this information and have a clear list of your goals you can prepare your elevator pitch.
My what?!? What on earth is an elevator pitch? Your elevator pitch is a succinct and persuasive pitch describing your products, services and benefits to the end-user in a nutshell. It usually follows these points: • Who are you? • What do you do? • What makes you unique? • How do you do it and who benefits from it?
Don’t wing it on the day, make sure you are prepared and know exactly what you want to say. Even if you’re not 100% happy with it, you will come across as being professional and focused. Without this preparation you will struggle to persuade any potential business contacts to recommend you and your services to their contacts. Getting your pitch right takes practice, and you will no doubt amend and rewrite it a number of times as your business develops, but it’s worth the effort.
On the day, just be yourself If you’ve done your preparation you can relax and be yourself on the day of the event. Think of who is attending, who you’d like to meet, and dress accordingly. For some, it’ll be in a suit and tie or smart dress, especially those working in financial services. For others, such as designers and marketers, it’ll be a smart/casual approach. The general rule of thumb is to dress as though you are ready for your working day.
Breaking the ice Now for the difficult bit, talking to someone you have never met before. How do you break the ice? It sounds simple, but simply be yourself and say “Hi, my name is ……….. from ………… Ltd. What do you do?” Or words to that effect. You won’t always meet a chatty person, but in most cases the response will be friendly and you’ll find conversation starts to flow naturally from there as you find common ground.
I hope this article helps and wish you good luck with your venture.