Building a network of contacts, whether clients, other professionals in your industry or advisers, is a vital element of your life as a successful creative freelancer. The larger your network of useful people, who can provide new jobs, advice and support, the more opportunities will come your way.
Finding contacts on the Internet is a good way of building a network, and having a large and relevant online network is very useful. Taking this a step further and actually meeting some of these people is really valuable because it will cement relationships and trust with others even further.
Particularly for independent professionals like many of you, meeting new people and expanding your physical social network can be hard to do if you don’t know where to look. Here are ten ways of finding, connecting with and arranging a meet up with people who can take your career to higher levels:
LinkedIn is one of the major online networking tools for industry professionals, and used correctly, it can work in a very helpful way for you. LinkedIn allows you to maintain a very decent level of privacy and emphasises the value of connecting with working professionals.
Using the site’s search tools can bring up a whole host of people to add to your network, who can turn out to be future clients, friends and colleagues. The messaging function on LinkedIn will enable you to talk to and build rapport with people that you could eventually meet further down the line. LinkedIn features job search options, tells you how many shared connections you have with people in different organizations and does all this while maintaining a very professional style.
MeetUp.com is a great online tool for any kind of social event planning, be it a business network or a friendly game of local tennis. The site allows you to search by type of event and location. A quick search tonight allowed me to find a plethora of activities from a “Free Networking Breakfast” in Chicago to a “Learning digital photography” social in London.
Pretty much anything you could be interested in, most anywhere in the world; you will find a group or event that fits the bill for you.
Facebook is a great social tool, but many of us are only using it to keep in touch with our friends and not taking advantage of its many networking tools. The Facebook search function is actually far more capable than you may realize, allowing you to search events and groups (the best networking tools on the site) by keywords.
Say, for example, you are a WordPress genius and you want to find online groups or physical events where you can meet other, likeminded WordPress-ites, a group search for “WordPress” leads you to a 4,000-strong group that discusses new plug-ins and themes while also promoting their services to other members.
A WordPress event search, on the other hand, helps me discover that there is a “Create a Free WordPress Site for Your Business” in Minneapolis, MN, that is totally free. Perhaps offering a free course is the best way for you to promote your business and get new customers.
4. Trade Shows
Trade shows are happening all the time and they are a great opportunity for not only meeting people, but also for developing new ideas and finding new tools that will help you improve your business. A trade show is your open invitation to introduce yourself to people who may well be in need of your services.
However, remember that trade show exhibitors are mainly looking to sell their services at trade shows, not to buy yours, so make sure you don’t take up too much of their valuable time: Simply walk up, introduce yourself, hand over a business card, explain your services and be on your way.
Twitter is another brilliant networking tool if you are aware of the best methods to make full use of it, which is explained closely in my book on online self-promotion. While you can set everything to post on your Twitter account automatically, I find that it’s the personal attention to Twitter that will see your Follower count skyrocket. Find people with similar interests to you and start following them – they will often follow you back – and then start sharing news about your various activities with them and share useful links.
Then, here’s the most important part of Twitter, take advantage of the re-tweet options and create lists that include all your favorite friends or most relevant business connections – lists help you reach out to large groups without going public.
6. Stock Sites
For creative professionals especially, stock sites like iStockPhoto.com contain a wealth of creatives like photographers, illustrators and web designers that you could network with through the site’s message capability and forums. If you are a contributor, say of vector illustrations, you can find many other people who you share a commonality with. I know iStockphoto.com organise regular get-togethers for it’s photographer and artist contributors.
7. Gallery Openings, Launches and Exhibitions
A Google search will reveal plenty of gallery openings, exhibitions and other social events attended by creatives. There are sites that exist like Artslant.com which provide information on various events like gallery openings that you could pencil into your diary and go to.
Facebook provides a particularly good source of exhibitions that are happening all over the world, and these can be searched for within the site. Exhibitions which showcase similar work to your own could attract the kinds of people you’ll want to meet, so go along with a friend, a business card or two and start up conversations with people.
8. Company Social Events
As an independent contractor or freelancer, you will not necessarily be invited to any of your own company socials, but if you can, try and get on a social level with the companies for whom you freelance, if they are local.
Do this by developing a strong relationship with them so they almost think of you as an associate. You will also find good networking opportunities at company events of your friends and family, so if they’re looking for someone to accompany them to their social events, consider this a good opportunity.
9. Online Forums
Find a discussion board or forum online, such as DesignersTalk.com, and begin to engage in some of the discussions going on and make friends through there. You can nurture relationships here over time with other regular users of the forum and eventually arrange a meetup or social gathering. You can also use a forum to ask about events happening near you that others in your industry visit.
10. Business Networking Groups
A quick internet search will reveal plenty of networking groups in your area. Some will be industry- specific, like the many real estate networking events, while others will be more general. The great thing about networking events is that you know everyone is there for the same reason, so there’s no way you can be a nuisance, but you might find that there are too many freelancers like you and not enough clients to go around.
I know there are plenty of other resources that bring people together, so share those with us in the comments!