Networking for introverted freelancers
Freelancing has a wide variety of benefits. From making your own hours and being your own boss to having the ability to work from nearly anywhere and choose your clients as well as the types of projects you’d like to work on. However, in order to acquire and maintain a good book of business, you’ll need to be adept at networking- and without an office environment to rely on, that can get a bit tricky. Add in a more introverted personality and the challenges can seem fairly daunting. Many freelancers are themselves introverted- after all, a solitary workspace centered around flexibility is an ideal work environment for a person who needs quiet and solace to recharge.
So how do introverted freelancers successfully network? When seeking out networking guides, the suggestions may come across as nearly impossible for a person whose ideal social environment isn’t a large gathering of professionals competing to dazzle one another and gather the most business cards. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that being introverted doesn’t mean being bad at social interactions, disliking being with others, or avoiding social situations. Introversion simply means that extended periods of social interaction can be daunting, and that those who are introverted need opportunities to recharge in quiet, less busy spaces. Keeping in mind that there are many more flexible, and perhaps preferable methods to network currently- even the most introverted freelancer can successfully network when they take advantage of the options that best suit them. Building a web of connections that will lead to a healthy and consistent stream of clients is simple when the ideal options are leveraged.
Tap Into the Professional Networks You Already Have Access To
There are three different types of professional networks. Operational networks are contacts like current or former colleagues, members of trade groups or fellow freelancers that work within your same field, or people you may have met or know who have current or direct knowledge regarding your field. Strategic networks include contacts that might not be in your field or work in your industry but provide advice you may find useful, or be particularly good at networking themselves. Personal networks include your family, friends, school contacts, professional meet-up groups, and social media friends. When you take a look at anyone who falls into one of these three categories, you’ll likely find that there are several people who can offer potential networking opportunities, and that you already know and feel comfortable reaching out to.
Spread the Word
Once you’ve taken a look at who you know that will help expand your professional network, make sure that those in your various circles know exactly what it is you do, what kinds of work you’re capable of doing, and what kinds of clients you’d like to take on. You’ll be surprised how much business could be potentially available to you once you’ve done this. Many of your friends, former colleagues, and family may have a general idea of what it is you do, but may not realize your skills are a perfect match for their business or the business of someone they know. Encouraging everyone you already have a relationship with to spread the word amongst their networks about you and your skillset is a simple step for expanding your network of available business as an introverted freelancer.
Utilize Social Media Platforms
One of the most obvious methods for networking for freelancers is utilizing social media platforms. Virtual networking is an ideal method for expanding your network as both a freelancer and an introvert. Social media platforms allow for a measured response and a controlled message- and the range of people you can tap into is broad. There are a variety of social media platforms that are built specifically for businesses, freelancers, and networking- but be sure to take advantage of classic social media platforms as well. As mentioned above, you’d be surprised at how many people currently in your social circles aren’t sure what you do, or don’t know that you can help them or their business. Seek out groups of other freelancers, stay active in those communities, and share content about your field, your recent jobs or successes, and types of clients you’d like to connect with. Seek out forums or pages that cater to your field of expertise or industry, and seek out pages and groups that include your ideal clients, introducing yourself and your services virtually.
Know Your Ideal Environment
Some introverts are best able to make personal connections in smaller groups, while some are more than capable of “turning it on” for a large in-person event so long as they get a break to recharge after. A key ingredient in building a successful network is knowing what will work best for you and planning ahead. Seek out the kinds of networking events that fit your style. Smaller group? Plan ahead with thoughtful questions, and listen carefully and attentively to answers. People have a generally more positive impression of those who they feel actively listen to them, and you’ll gain valuable insights into the people you’re attempting to build a professional relationship with. Larger social event? Take time prior to attending to build up your social energy, so you’re more likely to perform at your best. Reach out prior to the event, and ask organizers to make introductions specific to your skills. When you’ve prepared yourself, you’ll make the most of your time and your social capital.
Ask for Referrals
Don’t be shy about reaching out to previous clients with whom you’ve had a successful working relationship and asking for them to refer you to those within their network. You can also ask them directly for recommendations of other potential clients. Do they know anyone who could benefit from your services? You can also touch base with previous clients to see if they have any new projects they’d like you to work on, or present them with ideas for future projects that you’d like to work with them on. Maintaining positive communication with your existing network will undoubtedly lead to network expansion if you leverage your contacts.
Manage Your Expectations
If you are attending an in-person event, or a virtual event with cameras on, it can be a bit intimidating- awkward, even. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Quality connections are more valuable than a quantity of connections, so be patient with yourself and expect a few stops and starts. Going into an event with the expectation that you’ll gather dozens of contacts can set you up for disappointment or frustration when you haven’t managed to achieve that- or cause you to skip out on potentially valuable connections when you’re busy trying to gather too many contacts to successfully build rapport with. Coming away from a networking event having made one or two quality contacts can prove much more valuable than gathering a pile of names that you barely remember speaking with.
After leveraging your personal networks, attending a social event, or reaching out to a potential client via email, a follow up is often the key to making a real connection. You don’t need to follow up with every connection immediately- but within a few days of initial contact, send out a personalized message that references the conversations you had, and express an interest in continuing connection. Offer to help with a project they mentioned, mention an upcoming event you think they may find useful- or ask a question about their business or industry. Even if they don’t have business to offer you now, you’ll be establishing a contact that can prove fruitful in the future, gaining a better understanding of their niche, and adding to your knowledge base.