Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Networking Part One: It's Who You Know

Even though I'm only in the third official week of my freelancing career, I've already learned some important lessons. One of the most important is that there are many, many people out there competing with me for the same jobs. This means I need something to differentiate myself from others. As I've already mentioned, promoting myself doesn't come naturally for me, but it's essential to survival in the freelance world. And though I've spent a lot of time looking for projects on the Internet, I'm also trying to focus on the business community in my area.

My greatest asset in marketing myself to local businesses is undoubtedly the people I know. Granted, I only have one client so far, but that client came to me because a mutual friend was having a conversation with the client about his needs and thought about me.

I didn't think I knew a lot of people, but when I started looking more closely, I realized I knew many more people than I thought I did. As I began my freelance writing career, I started reaching out to those people more and more. No one is off limits. I'm slowly working through a big list of people I have worked with, worked for, used as vendors, etc. Here are some examples:
  • I gave a stack of my cards to the salesperson for a printing company I worked with a lot in the past. When he's out on sales calls or visiting clients, he can pass my name along to anyone who expresses interest in having copy written for brochures, newsletters or other publications they're going to be printing.
  • I gave my Web address and other contact information to a guy I know who recently started his own Web consulting company. His clients occasionally have trouble writing copy for their sites and he told me he never had anyone to refer them to for that service. Now he does!
  • I sent my Web address and other information to a former coworker who deals with a lot of area businesses. He's constantly meeting with business owners as a function of his work, so he can pass that information along pretty easily.

As I said, I'm working through a list of people I know from all aspects of my life, even friends and family. I recently plugged my services to a friend I met through mountain biking, which is one of my hobbies. For a long time, I saw her at races and events sponsored by our local mountain biking group without even realizing she's a significant player in the public relations/strategic planning/corporate communications world here in town.

My secret when asking friends, family and colleagues for their assistance is to be very low key about it. I just pass information along to them, either in person or by e-mail, with the request that they keep me in mind if they need any communications work done or encounter someone who does. I try not to be pushy about it, and I don't ask them to actively promote me, just to keep their eyes and ears open for the need and keep my contact information handy. I haven't seen a lot of results yet, but I'm convinced that one of these days it will pay off.

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