For whatever reason, some people I talk to about self-employment think that when they start freelancing they’ll instantly revert their career back to square one. As if branching out on your own means you have to reestablish your credibility by acquiring business that’s completely new to you. This (I hope obviously) couldn’t be further from the truth. Your existing network is the most valuable resource you have for kickstarting your freelance journey.
Here are four tips for networking within your existing network.
Practice talking about yourself
You weren’t expecting that to be priority number one, were you? The reason it’s so important to practice talking about yourself is because when you’re self-employed, you are your business. And chances are, talking about yourself as a business is going to be entirely new to you. You wouldn’t fumble over your words or doubt yourself if you were talking about what you did in your last full-time position. You knew exactly what your role and goals were and the same should be the case when it comes to your self-employed business. If you can’t communicate yourself clearly and effectively, you will not make it in this freelance game.
So take an hour out of your day, sit in front of the mirror and practice talking about yourself out loud. Pretend that you’re on a phone call with someone you’re eager to share your news with and anticipate how you’d like the conversation to go. Do it one, two, three… as many times at it takes to feel comfortable and confident with your messaging.
Reconnect with people you like working with
We can all think of people throughout our careers we really enjoyed working with. Maybe it’s a former manager who moved on to another company, someone you connected with at a conference or even a friend from college who ended up getting a job in another state. Freelancing gives you unlimited capability to work with anyone, anywhere. So give those people a call or send an email to let them know what you’re up to. These should be your greatest allies in your self-employment journey because these are the people you also want to see succeed. Freelancing is a collaboration over competition business and that leads us to our next topic of conversation.
Give without expecting anything in return
This may come off confusing but networking is a give and give and sometimes receive kind of cycle. So think of your network as a community and find ways to help them – whether it’s with something you can provide directly, an introduction you can make or a resourceful tool you can share.
Establishing community is the true art of networking. Think of it as giving your neighbor a cup of milk when they need it for baking or picking up their newspaper when they’re out of town. You don’t do those things thinking they now owe you something. You do it because it’s the right thing to do and the same is true when it comes to business. People want to work with helpful and friendly people, so don’t go into these phone calls expecting to instantly come out with a new client. The goal should be to reconnect authentically with people you respect, share what you’re both up to, offer up anything you can to help to reach their goals and have confidence in knowing that good things happen to good people.
Keep the conversation consistent
The most important and often most neglected part of networking is keeping the conversation going. How to keep in touch with people you want to work with when you don’t always have something new to share. Let’s start by eliminating the pressure of having something “new” in order to justify a conversation. Here are a few thought starters:
- Send a text following up on something you talked about on your initial call (i.e. – How did that meeting with your boss go? Fingers crossed for that promotion!)
- Share relevant news articles you read that connect back to a conversation you had
- Invite them out for a coffee before work
- Let them know any work-related events you’re going to and ask if they’d be interested in attending with you
What do you think about these tips? What’s your best advice for networking within your existing network?