From Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing: Chapter 31: Networking Success. Read all excerpts from the book here
Chapter 31: Networking Success
Allow me to re-introduce you to a concept with which you are probably familiar. If you are like most freelance writers, it’s one you probably ignore or use informally. The concept is called networking, which is a fancy word for talking to people about what you do.
Asking for referrals is a form of networking. You are networking with previous customers. However, what about all the people you know who are not customers? Why wouldn’t you network with family members, friends, other writers, associates, and other people you know? Why wouldn’t you join associations that represent your target sectors and go to events where you can network?
As mentioned, I conduct a workshop called The Six-Figure Freelancer. At the beginning of the workshop, I ask people what they hope to accomplish during the day. One time, in response to the question, a woman said she felt she had not begun to tap into the full potential of the corporate market.
I asked her how many billable hours per week she was working. She said 15 to 25. I asked her if she felt she was earning a fair hourly rate. She said yes. I asked her whether she enjoyed the work she was doing. She said she had a good mix of writing—reports, media releases, and articles for newsletters.
“Hmmm,” I said. “It sounds as though you have what everybody here aspires to. Enlighten me. What exactly is the problem?”
She explained she had mentioned to her brother that she was going to set up shop as a freelance writer. He said his employer was looking for a writer and suggested she call his boss. She made the call and landed a fairly steady gig, working from home for the company. One day, her client asked if she could take on additional work. He had a customer who needed some writing. She said she could. Between the two steady clients, she was earning a decent living.
“And?” I said. “And?”
“It’s been too easy!” she sputtered.
She had achieved what every freelancer aspires to, but was beating herself up because it was too easy—because she had not starved and suffered!
Why do writers do this to themselves? Don’t answer. The question is rhetorical. I’ve been guilty of it in my way too.
Becoming a successful freelancer may not be that easy for you, but if you eschew proven marketing methods—networking, in this instance—that can lead to work, success will be that much more difficult to achieve.
I know freelancers who will not tell friends and relatives what they do. They feel it’s cheating or asking for favours. Poppycock! Networking is a legitimate business practice.
When you network, you are not necessarily asking friends, family members, associates, colleagues, and other contacts for work. Heck, unless they are executives or run their own businesses, most are probably not in a position to hire you. So, what are you doing? You are asking whether they can give your business card (you have a business card, don’t you?) or your contact information to someone who might need a writer.
Mind you, if the people you are networking with can hire you, why not ask them if they are interested in your services?
Three types of networking
There are three basic types of networking:
• Networking with previous clients to ask for referrals, which we covered in the previous chapter
• Networking with people you know: friends, relatives, associates, and so on
• Networking with people you meet at events for writers, industry events (“industry” being the sectors you are targeting), or formal networking events
To become a successful freelance writer, you need to engage actively in all three types of networking. I have dramatically scaled down my networking at industry events. Why? I generate a great deal of repeat business and referrals. However, before you can generate repeat business, you have to generate new business. Networking is an important means of doing that.
As with generating repeat business, referrals, and testimonials, you should schedule your networking opportunities.
People you know
Before you can network with people you know, you have to make a list of all the people that you know: friends, relatives, associates, other writers, and people in or around your social and professional circles. Then you have to write out what you are going to say or e-mail to your various contacts. You can produce a standard message, but you will want to customize it based on your relationship with each of your contacts.
Once you have your list of contacts and your message written out, you have to start networking. And once you have completed your networking, you do it all over again, according to your marketing schedule. I would suggest networking with people you know at least once or twice a year.
Whether you call or e-mail everyone on your networking list is up to you. It depends, in part, on how long your networking list is and how well you know people.
For instance, if you came up with a list of 99 people (you will be amazed at how many people you know once you start thinking about it), you might want to network three times a year, contacting 33 people each time. (At the same time, remember to review and add new contacts to your list on an ongoing basis.)
If you are really looking to kick-start your business, contact everyone on your list in your first round of networking. Contact selected and new networking-list members in subsequent rounds.
Let’s schedule people-you-know networking activities in a calendar:
- Make a list of people I know, with contact information:
Jan. 10 – April 10 – Aug. 10
- Select people to network with and develop networking scripts:
Jan. 15 – April 15 – Aug. 15
Network with selected contacts:
Jan. 17 – April 17 – Aug. 17
Congratulations. Your marketing plan has nine more scheduled tasks!
Schedule these activities using dates that makes sense to you and your business. Pay particular attention to your business vision’s when. For instance, if you want to take July and August off, you should not do any networking in June. Why try to drum up business when you don’t want it?
Alternative scheduling method
While I have used the calendar method to divide networking into three tasks that you conduct three times a year, I want you to know that you can chunk these tasks in any way that makes sense to you.
Let us say you spend the next day or two coming up with a comprehensive list of people you know and you end up with 50 contacts. If you networked with five people per week for 10 weeks, that would equal 50 contacts in just over two months. Not a bad start.
You can do your first wave of networking in January, February, and March, and then do a second wave of five people per week over 10 weeks in the fall. In the second wave, you contact people who were on your networking list as well as new contacts you have added to your networking list.
Scheduling networking activity does not preclude networking at any other time of year. If you think of someone you know in May, contact that person. The important thing here is that you establish a formal networking schedule, the times of the year when you network. Be open to networking at other times that make sense based on how your business unfolds.
Again, if you do not schedule networking, you might talk to a few people on occasion. However, you will not connect with all your contacts on a regular basis. And you will miss opportunities for generating work.
How to network with people you know
When you network with people you know, you simply tell them what you do or what you plan to do and—here is the hard part—ask for their help.
“But these people already know I’m a freelancer!” you protest.
Cool. Your work is half done. You don’t have to tell them; you have to remind them. Why remind them? Why do advertisers run the same ads repeatedly? Consumers have short attention spans and advertisers run ads repeatedly to keep products or services top-of-mind.
Tell your network of contacts what you do, or remind them. Tell them that you are looking to expand your roster of clients. Ask your contacts if they know someone who might be able to use your services. If so, ask your contact to pass your business card or name and contact information to their contacts or to provide you with names and contact information.
When networking, keep your business vision and business plan in mind. In other words, tell your contacts what you do (writing services you offer) and for whom you do it (sectors). Let people know you are open to other opportunities in other sectors, but lead with your business vision!
Here is a sample networking e-mail script:
It has been a while since we last connected. In part, that’s because I’ve been working hard to expand my freelance writing business. In fact, I’m wondering if you might be able to help me with that?
I write media releases, website content, and promotional material for companies in the automotive and automotive-parts manufacturing, furniture manufacturing, and information technology sectors. I am looking to connect with executives and business owners in these sectors, to tell them more about my writing services.
If you have contacts in these areas, or can think of others who might need to hire a freelance writer/editor, feel free to forward names and contact information to me or to pass on my name and contact information to those you know:
If you have any questions about what I do and for whom, e-mail or call me. I’m always happy to demystify the exotic world of freelance writing.
Note: I used a rather informal tone to end this e-mail. The tone you use—and the actual words you use—depend on your relationship with the person you are contacting. For instance, if you were contacting a sibling or good friend, the entire e-mail message above might be too formal. At the same time, remember that e-mail can be easily forwarded. Ask yourself how you would feel if the person you are networking with simply forwarded your message to several other people. With that in mind, you want to use a degree of formality when networking by
If you were networking by phone or in person, you would want to convey the same information: a request for help, what you do and for whom and your contact information.
To summarize the “people you know” networking process:
1. Identify personal contacts—friends, relatives, associates—you can talk to about your business. Your contacts do not have to be business people, but make sure you include any business people you do know. They do not have to be clients or prospective clients to make your list. You just have to know them.
2. E-mail or phone them (or meet in person) and ask for their help in contacting people who might be interested in your services.
3. Be specific about what you do and for whom you do it, and about what you want—the type of contact information (company name, name, title, e-mail address, phone number, or mailing address).
4. Follow up if people provide you with contact information or have them forward your contact information to their contacts.
Outside your personal network
Networking can involve talking to people outside your personal network as well—to others in your profession or others in the sectors you are targeting. In other words, you should talk with people you meet at events for writers, at industry events (“industry” being sectors you are targeting), or at formal business networking events.
Depending on where you live, consider joining the Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade, professional trade associations (in your sector), or writing, editing, small business, and consulting associations. Many associations send out job notices or have job hotlines. In addition, the groups tend to hold regular professional development seminars and socials, and even formal networking events.
Don’t just look for other writers to network with. Look for industry contacts. Almost every sector (and you have a list of three to five sectors) has an association. Pick a sector, add the word “association”, and Google the phrase. See what you can find.
Sometimes you have to be working in the sector to join the association. Other times, you only need some background connection with the sector to join. Most associations hold formal networking events or informal networking opportunities: breakfasts, dinners, professional development events, and so on.
Such events tend to be great opportunities to learn more about your targeted sector and to meet people in the sector. The events might even be opportunities for you to speak on how to develop effective writing, editing, or communications skills. I’ve spoken at a number of professional development events held by associations and often came away with new contacts and new clients.
When you are looking for networking opportunities outside your list of personal contacts, make sure you look at formal networking organizations too. They tend to hold monthly breakfast meetings or evening meetings. You can conduct Google searches to find networking directories and events in specific areas.
What to do at networking events
When you are networking at events, bring your business card. If you do not have a business card, have a designer create one for you and have it properly printed so you look business-like and professional. In other words, no inkjet cards printed on perforated stock. (More on this later in the book.)
When you attend networking events, you should have two goals: to help people and to let people help you. You help people by listening and summing up what you think they need. (“So, you are looking for contacts with two left feet and who require custom-built orthotic devices. Is that correct?”) You also provide people with contacts if you know someone who can help them. To let people help you, you have to clearly state what you do, who you do it for, and the type of contacts you require.
Let’s say you have a financial background. If so, you would be looking for executives in the finance sector or for finance and accounting executives in other sectors with which you are familiar. If you have a manufacturing background, you look for executives in manufacturing and perhaps distribution. If you have a legal background, you look for partners in law firms and executives responsible for areas such as legal affairs and government affairs in other companies.
Do you see how your business vision comes into play when you are networking?
Schedule networking activities outside your personal contact list as part of your marketing plan. Instead of presenting you with a task calendar (you get the picture by now), let me to break down networking into tasks or activities that you can schedule in your marketing plan:
• Source organizations that provide networking opportunities. Include writers’ and editors’ organizations or associations, professional and trade associations (that represent the sectors you are targeting), local chambers of commerce, boards of trade, and formal networking groups.
• Through assessment and investigation (talking to existing members, attending events that are open to non-members), determine which organizations you will join (if membership is a requirement for attending events and meetings).
•Join selected organizations.
• Attend events and functions presented by organizations.
• Look for opportunities to attend other events and functions sponsored by organizations that you do not have to join formally.
In addition to networking face-to-face when and where possible, you should investigate social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. We will discuss social media in more detail in the next chapter.
Congratulations. Your marketing plan now has even more scheduled tasks!
Although this chapter is on networking, I want to take a moment to discuss collaboration. I am a writer, not a graphic designer or website designer. Occasionally, potential clients will ask me if I can write and design a brochure or website. The honest answer is no, I can’t do both. However, I have connected with several designers who can take on the design portions of such projects. I am upfront with the client: I tell them that I can do the writing and partner with a designer to complete the job. The client is often happy to let me bring in my partner. Sometimes the client will want to visit the designer’s website or check references. That is up to the client.
Collaboration raises a minor degree of complexity when it comes to quoting on projects, managing them, and billing. Both parties have to define the scope of their end of the project (see chapter on quoting on jobs) and you have to decide if you are going to issue separate or a combined quote. Most clients want to receive one quote only. If you land the job, work schedules have to be co-ordinated, which can involve some give and take. If you’ve issued one quote, you have to issue one invoice at the end of the job, which means one of the parties gets the cheque and has to pay the other party.
Again, collaboration is more complex than working on your own, but I’d rather deal with the minor complexities than not bid on a potentially lucrative gig.
I also sometimes take on complex writing or editing jobs. I’d like to think that I am a decent writer and editor, but I know I am not a good proofreader. Sometimes I subcontract the final proofreading of a job to a dedicated proofreader. The client does not need to know that I am contracting out the final proofreading, but I have to budget time and money for doing so, and work that information into my quote and my schedule.
So collaboration can help you land gigs you might otherwise have to pass on, and it can help you do a better job on other gigs. With that in mind, you can using networking to find other freelancers, such as designers, editors, or proofreaders, with whom you can collaborate. At minimum, consider joining a formal writers’ organization. If you need to collaborate with someone, you can ask other writers in the organization if they can recommend anyone. But before you start to work with another freelancer, check the person’s website and ask to talk to references.
Finally, with collaboration in mind, you might want to try to network with graphic artists, website developers, and other independent practitioners who might need to collaborate with freelancer writers now and again. Keep your sectors in mind and try to find people who do work in the sectors that you are targeting. That will give you a more natural initial connection with the people you are contacting.
From Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing. Read all excerpts from the book here. Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing is based on The Six-Figure Freelancer: How to Find, Price and Manage Corporate Writing Assignments and Business of Freelance Writing: How to Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines.