In the world of freelancing, your skills and portfolio are vital. However, they are just one part of the equation. The other part, often overlooked but equally important, is networking. Building strong, meaningful relationships can catapult your freelance journey to new heights. Here's how you can master the art of networking to unleash your confidence and thrive in your freelance career.
Recognising the Value of Networking
Building a reputation is one of networking’s main advantages. In the realm of freelancing, your reputation comes before you. You have the opportunity to introduce yourself, your ideas, and your work to people in your profession. Your reputation will expand the more people are aware of you and what you do. Increased recommendations, referrals, and confidence in your skills may result from this visibility.
Collaboration is also made possible via networking. The capacity to work well with others is a highly desired talent in a society that is becoming more linked. Through this, you may connect with other professionals whose expertise complements your own. This might result in collaborative projects, business collaborations, or even just an idea exchange that can be beneficial.
Through networking, you have access to a plethora of information and experiences in addition to job and cooperation prospects. It links you up with people who have already travelled the same journey as you are, people who have encountered and overcome similar difficulties. Their guidance, encouragement, and success stories may all serve as a source of inspiration for you.
Start with a Solid Foundation
As you venture into the world of professional networking, lay out a solid foundation before reaching out to potential connections. This foundation primarily consists of two pillars: a well-curated portfolio and a professional online presence.
Building a Strong Portfolio: Your portfolio serves as a visual CV. It’s not just a collection of your work; it’s a testament to your skills, creativity, and experience. Therefore, investing time and effort into curating an effective portfolio is paramount.
Start by selecting pieces that best represent your abilities and versatility. These should be projects that you’re proud of, ones that have challenged you and pushed your creative boundaries. However, ensure there’s a balance. Include both comprehensive projects that demonstrate your ability to handle complex tasks, and smaller ones that exhibit your attention to detail and capability to execute concise, targeted work.
Establishing a Professional Online Presence: Alongside your portfolio, a professional online presence is the other pillar of your foundation. In this digital age, your online persona often makes the first impression, so it’s important to get it right. It provides a dedicated space to showcase your portfolio, share your professional journey, list your services, and provide contact information. The design and content of your website should reflect your personal brand and professionalism.
Social media platforms can also be leveraged to showcase your work, share industry-related content, and engage with your audience.
Participate in Industry Events
Industry gatherings like conferences, seminars, and meetings provide a wealth of networking opportunities. They bring together professionals from various backgrounds who share interests, giving them an ideal setting for establishing new relationships and fostering those that already exist.
Make the effort to introduce yourself and start a discussion with others rather than waiting for them to approach you. Ask probing questions, express your own viewpoints, and demonstrate genuine interest in their work and experiences. This makes a lasting impact while also assisting in ice-breaking.
Top Tip: Remember to also participate in casual conversations, it can make the atmosphere more relaxed and conducive for open discussions.
Networking events are far greater than simple get-togethers, whether they are hosted physically or online. They provide chances to learn, give insights into the most recent trends and advancements in your industry, and encourage debates on a range of subjects.
Don’t shy away from asking questions or contributing to the discussion. This not only enriches your understanding but also demonstrates your engagement and enthusiasm. It can also make you more noticeable and memorable to other attendees.
Top Tip – To overcome shyness when asking questions, it’s important to prepare ahead of time, start with open-ended questions, practise active listening, use breathing techniques. It’s okay not to know everything. The more you practise asking questions, the more comfortable and confident you’ll become.
Practise Active Listening
Networking is a two-way street. While it’s important to articulate your ideas and experiences, it’s also fundamental to have the ability to listen actively to others. This skill can enhance your networking efforts by fostering understanding, building trust, and creating meaningful relationships.
Practising active listening involves several steps:
- Pay Full Attention: Focus entirely on the speaker. Avoid distractions and resist the urge to think about your response while they’re still speaking.
- Show That You’re Listening: Use non-verbal cues like nodding, maintaining eye contact, and using expressions that show engagement and understanding.
Top Tip: Some people may find it hard to maintain eye contact for various reasons. This can be a result of social anxiety, cultural differences, or some types of neurodivergence. For those with social anxiety, prolonged eye contact can be uncomfortable and even intimidating, leading them to avoid it as a coping mechanism. Cultural norms can also play a significant role, as some cultures may view direct eye contact as disrespectful or intrusive, meaning that individuals from these backgrounds may avert their gaze out of respect, or as a sign of listening intently.
- Provide Feedback: Paraphrase or summarise what the speaker said to ensure you understood correctly. This also shows the speaker that you’re fully engaged in the conversation.
- Respond Appropriately: Offer insights, ask follow-up questions, or provide support based on what the speaker said. Avoid rushing into advice or solutions unless they’re asked for.
- Remember the Conversation: Refer back to previous discussions in future conversations. This shows the speaker that you value their words and take them seriously.
Overcoming Networking Anxiety
Networking anxiety often stems from fear – fear of rejection, fear of saying the wrong thing, or even fear of not being interesting enough. Recognising this is the first step towards overcoming it. Remember, it’s completely normal to feel anxious about networking, especially when you’re just starting out.
Start Small: You don’t have to jump straight into a large conference or networking event. Instead, begin with more manageable situations like online discussions, webinars, or small local meetups. These low-pressure environments can help you practise your networking skills, build your confidence, and prepare for larger events.
Prepare Ahead: Knowing what to say can significantly reduce your anxiety. Before attending a networking event, prepare a brief introduction about who you are, what you do, and what you’re looking to gain from the event. Also, think of some general topics or questions that you can use to start a conversation.
Embrace Rejection: Not every interaction will lead to a fruitful relationship, and that’s okay. Rejection is a part of the networking process. Instead of fearing it, see it as a learning opportunity. Reflect on the interaction, consider what you could improve, and move on.
Networking isn’t just about self-promotion but also about active listening and collaboration. While it may seem daunting at first, with preparation and practice, it can become second nature. Remember, every interaction is a learning opportunity, and every successful freelancer started somewhere. So, take that first step on your freelance journey today.
This is a guest blog post, written by Rosie Buckley