Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Importance of Networking to Freelancers by Alex Simmonds

People who are thinking about making the change to freelancing, or those who have just started, often see all of the advantages of freelancing and contracting, but forget the work that needs to go into it. All of the advantages, from being their own boss to choosing the jobs they take on, and from flexible working hours to the increased financial rewards; all of these advantages normally come at a price. That price is the possibility of no work at all for long periods. Inevitably there will be times when work is low on the ground and this is where it pays to be proactive, and get yourself into both your community and the wider job market, sniffing out clients and jobs.

Networking then, is crucial to successful freelancing / contracting. And one of the advantages of networking is that unlike marketing or advertising it has very few costs or financial overheads, whilst still being an incredibly important tool to get your business known. More importantly, it is hard to overestimate the importance of personal contact and developing relationships with people.

That is not to say that online networking isn't important, because it is. Joining forums, organizations, work providers, associations and particularly social networking sites from MySpace and Facebook to the more business orientated LinkedIn; all are crucial tools for the freelance worker.

However, networking in the real world is of much more importance to your business and is all about developing relationships with people in your community. How should you go about properly networking then? Firstly look into national organizations such as the Institute of Directors or the PCG (the Professional Contractors Group). The PCG, for example, has over 20,000 members and is useful not only for its support of freelancers on tax and legal issues but also its organization of events for members to network. Tuesday 23rd November is their main event, National Freelancers Day where freelancers get together across the country to celebrate the tremendous impact of freelancers on the UK economy and to allow companies to come and meet freelancers.

Just as important, however, are local organizations such as the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) and hundreds of local regional business enterprises. These are great for organizing brunches, lunches and networking get-togethers.

Finally, once you're at these meetings it is important to remember to play the long game. Don't go into these gatherings and oversell yourself, annoying people or looking desperate. Aim to simply meet people, develop relationships and to meet regularly. This is a marketing slow burner, and the aim is building a network of clients and contacts.

Secondly, show interest in other people's needs and business. Listen, take interest. Cultivate contacts with people even if they are unlikely to be 'of use' to you. Get to know people in similar but not identical fields. For example if you're a copy writer, get to know designers you might be able to work with and vice versa. Also, have business cards ready and collect other peoples. Finally, be rigorous in following up. It is very important to get in touch quickly - if you leave it too long, people forget you. So send that follow up email or make that call, even if it's a brief hello.

Most importantly, sell yourself and your skills. As mentioned above, be low key and subtle, but be bold, speak to strangers and get your contracting skills out there!

The Bedouin Group offers Contractors Umbrella Company alternatives and a place for contractors and freelancers to keep up to date.