Networking 101: Getting more freelance work through connections

The phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is one that all freelancers should become intimately familiar with. In fact, as a freelancer, your network is one of your most valuable marketing tools. The people you meet, whether they are other freelancers or potential clients, all hold the power to help you get more freelance work. With the right tools (and the right intentions), you can easily turn every networking event into an opportunity to build relationships and advance your career. Not sure how to kill it at networking?

Read on for 9 tips to help you rock every networking event and walk away with connections that will benefit you for years to come.

Before you go

1. Prepare an elevator pitch

While you (hopefully) aren’t going to a networking event just to sell your services, it’s important to be prepared when someone inevitably asks “so what do you do?” To avoid stumbling through an awkward, rambling explanation, practice your “elevator pitch” beforehand. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; a concise but thorough explanation of what you do and who you serve is perfect.

2. Research speakers, panelists, and sponsors

Before you head to the event, spend some time looking at the Twitter and LinkedIn accounts of key attendees. This will give you the information you need to strike up a natural conversation with them. Bonus: they’ll be flattered that you know who they are and will be excited to talk to you.

3. Get professional business cards

Nothing screams “I’m not a professional” like scribbling your number down on a piece of paper when someone asks to connect outside of the event. Arm yourself with professional business cards (you can get well-designed cards at a good price here) that tell people who you are, what you do, and how they can get in touch.

During the networking event

4. Introduce yourself

Feeling confident — or pretending that you feel confident — is necessary to reach for opportunities. It’s a cliché, but opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized.
— Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In, says “feeling confident — or pretending that you feel confident — is necessary to reach for opportunities. It’s a cliche, but opportunities are rarely offered; they’re seized.” When you’re at the event, go up and introduce yourself to anyone you want to connect with — you’ll both be glad that you did. After all, that’s what networking is all about.

5. Practice active listening

Most people are often so concerned with how they’ll respond to what someone is saying that they don’t fully listen. Instead of doing this, practice active listening by giving the person speaking your undivided attention. You can convey this by having open body language (uncrossed arms, relaxed posture, eye contact) and asking questions. When people feel heard, they feel valued. In turn, they’ll be more inclined to help you.

6. Focus on giving, not getting

Sure, you want to get more freelance work through the connections you make. That’s fine. But in order to build those valuable connections, you need to focus more on how you can help than on what you can get. No one likes to feel used, but everyone likes to feel supported. Use networking events as an opportunity to provide value to other people — these efforts will pay dividends in return.

7. Be a connector

Say you’re a freelance writer and you meet a CEO who is looking for a stellar graphic designer. Offer to connect them to someone you know that might be able to help them. This serves double duty; that CEO will see you as someone who can help her succeed and your graphic designer friend will appreciate the lead. Both of them will be more likely to turn to you when the need for a freelance writer arises.

When the event is over

8. Follow up (soon!)

Don’t let that stack of business cards burn a hole in your pocket. You got them for a reason — to connect. Follow up over email after the event and be sure to tie in something that you talked about with them. This shows that you were paying attention. Not sure when to follow up? Between 48 and 72 hours is a good rule of thumb. Too soon and you may come off as desperate, too late and you may seem disinterested.

9. Create a plan for relationship growth

The connections don’t have to stop after the event or the follow-up email. Follow them on social media, subscribe to their blogs, and share their posts with your audience. Oh, and don’t be afraid to invite them to connect again over coffee. These steps will go a long way in solidifying your connection and you’ll soon become a key person on their radar.