Updated January 13, 2020
Having been steadily freelancing for almost three years now, it’s becoming apparent to me how important it is to maintain your professional network. From frequent direct contact with individuals when it makes sense, to simply staying visible in ways your network can easily see, you should never feel so comfortable in the work you do have that you neglect your network. You never know when you’ll need them again, especially if, like me, you call yourself a freelancer. Work is never consistent or guaranteed. You never want to find yourself in a position where losing a client will negatively impact your income potential.
Nurturing your network doesn’t necessarily require a hefty time commitment, but it’s something that should always be in the back of your mind. A freelancer never really has time off, so always search for opportunities to build and maintain your professional network.
There are two important ways you can continually connect to your network. The first one may seem rather obvious, but it’s to follow up on all leads. Even if they’re not totally in your wheelhouse, or don’t align with your previous experience, you never know what a new professional relationship can lead to next. Talk to everyone about what you’re doing, what you like to do, and what opportunities you’re looking to find. Even if the lead doesn’t end up panning out, you never know what they’ll need you for down the road.
An example of how this method has worked for me took over a year to play out. When I lost my job, I shared with as many people as I could that I was going freelance as a content creator. I missed writing, as it hadn’t been a main component of my corporate job at the time, and I wanted to get back to my roots. I shared this with former co-workers, but also with friends. More than a year later, a friend, who also writes, referred me to a friend of hers who owns a freelance design business. She was in need of a writer for various projects. We clicked over the phone, tried to get a project off the ground that didn’t work out, and I thought that might be the end of this lead. A few weeks later, I found myself working with her again on two more projects with talk of consistent work.
Another example is a friend of a friend who I simply got to know. She, like me, is a writer. While it may feel like we should compete for work, our expertise is in two very different areas. We'd meet from time to time, over coffee, and lamet the life of a copywriter. This year, she's decided to take a step back from her freelancing, and guess who's being sent her clients...me. Connections with contemporaries and just as important as those with people looking to hire you.
The second way to continually connect to your network is to utilize areas where your network already exists as a single unit. Social media can be ideal for this scenario. I focus on LinkedIn since it’s the one app where I have the most professional connections. Joining professional Facebook groups has also proved fruitful for networking. I'm a member of both a local marketing and communications group and a copywriters group. In order to increase my visibility I even took over some admin duties for the copywriter group. It's a great way to learn about jobs in the area and make connections. I don't use Twitter for networking. It just doesn’t seem like the right venue for professional interaction (don’t get me started on Instagram).
So, the question then becomes, how do I keep myself relevant, on a site like LinkedIn, to my professional network? This blog was my answer. Posting at a regular pace, which was more frequent right after I lost my job, I began building a blog focusing on the skills and traits necessary for both a marketing and freelance writing career. I talk about myself as I relate to these skills and I only share relevant experiences. Each time I post a blog, I share it on social media, and my professional network sees it.
First impressions count
The saying goes, “You never have a second chance to make a first impression,” and this is true for your level of professionalism as much as your personality. You help maintain your network by being someone people want to work with again and again. Even if there are big gaps between jobs, you want past clients to keep coming back to you because you’ve made the right first impression. To do this you need to be on your toes for that first project with a new client. Make a lasting impression by getting your work done ahead of schedule, by being accommodating to tight turnaround times, by never telling a client you can’t do something. Be a good listener and a consistent communicator.
I’ve utilized all of these tips with a rather large client I started working with pretty consistently at the start of my freelance career. We began working on monthly projects, but after a while the work slowed down. Six months later, the client reached out because there was another project similar to the ones I had done in the past, and they wanted me to work with them. I had made enough of a lasting impression for them to come back to me for repeat business even after a long break of not needing my services. It was very rewarding.
Be thankful and supportive
A surprising side effect to my robust network is the support passed around when someone finds themselves unemployed. Leads that weren’t right for one of us got passed on to another. We leaned on each other for referrals and references, and the sense of community this small segment of my network built paid off in the long run. More than one of my current clients came to me through this supportive group within my network.
As you get helped along the way, don’t forget to thank the people who are looking out for you, even if their referral doesn't pan out to actionable work. Be gracious and try to return the favor when it’s possible. I had my chance when a previous co-worker ended up interviewing for a job where I was close with the hiring manager. I made sure to provide my truthful and positive referral of the candidate when asked.
All freelancers should network
Working as a freelancer is an up-and-down career that’s wholly dependent on the people you meet and the work you do. How people feel about you, whether or not they’re aware you’re on the lookout for opportunities, and how you're viewed as a worker are all essential components which require that you continually nurture your professional network.