Knowing more people in your field of work has never been a bad thing. Yet when you’re a freelance web designer, meeting new people can be frustrating, especially when you’re accustomed to the lone wolf MO. But it doesn’t have to be. When you can deliver value, people love to have you around. You can start by telling them about the great proposal software you discovered. In return, they may share tricks of the trade and let you tap into new pools of potential clients.
Define your goal
Before you start, it’s good to know what you hope to achieve through networking. Your goal will help you target different breeds of professionals. Otherwise, you will waste a lot of time getting to know random people.
For example, you may want to:
- Onboard new clients: If you’re looking for long-term clients, you should target heads of HR or executives in companies you’re interested in. You can also join freelancing platforms like goLance so you appear in clients’ search results.
- Get referrals: In case you’re looking to promote your business, you should try to generate word-of-mouth referrals by connecting with bloggers and top Instagram influencers.
- Find mentors: Social media groups and networking events are the best places to find advice and mentorship from more experienced professionals.
Of course, this is not a finite list, so don’t feel limited to these goals. It’s simply to show that your networking efforts are best placed if you have a goal ahead of you.
Start with small circles
Approaching total strangers can be intimidating, so you best try a few pitches with people you know. You probably know more people than you think. Start networking with those you know, as people are more likely to trust those with whom they have some kind of existing relationship.
And I’m not talking about just your friends or family. Once you get more comfortable with the whole networking idea, move on to your network of alumni, former coworkers, bosses, and contacts from voluntary activities, sports, and hobbies. The idea is to cast a wide net so you get in touch with people who need your services or know someone who does.
You need to put yourself out there without being pushy. Just let people know what you do and ask them to keep you in mind if they or anyone they know needs the service you provide.
Join social media groups
In this day and age, businesses that need freelance web designers just post job ads online. Social media groups have been a treasure trove for new project opportunities for some time now. Apart from this, social media groups are where you can offer support and value to new connections and potential clients.
If you find a post asking for content writing or UX strategies, you can refer it to one of your connections, and they’ll likely do the same for you.
Just try not to get overboard with posting. If you try to run channels on all major platforms and add new connections on LinkedIn every day, you risk wasting large amounts of time and not doing anything.
For starters, join global or local Facebook groups in your country and you’ll stumble upon posts looking for a freelancer web designer. Follow up by offering expert advice and including a link to your website or portfolio…
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Attend a networking event
I admit I used to resist visiting networking events for a long time, but at the same time, they were the biggest game-changer in my case. Most cities have local business groups with a mission to help local self-employed entrepreneurs find each other. Your local chamber of commerce might also host events for freelancers. Look out for trade shows, career fairs, and other social events.
Some events charge a fee, while others let you attend for the first time as a guest for free to see if it’s the right place to be. Keep in mind that more expensive events are not necessarily better. The other people think the same way as you do.
Now, the key is to stay sober and still talk to as many people as you can. Don’t just stalk people who you think might hire you. You never know who someone might recommend you to.
Whether it’s small talk or a heated discussion, you never know if it will lead you to something big.
The most important part is not to sell yourself all the time. At places like those, your goal is to expand your network by leaving a positive impression on as many people as possible. Listen to what others have to say and think of how you can solve their problems.
I always carry a small notepad myself and take notes of interesting encounters so I can follow up later – see the final section.
Move to a coworking space
Remote professionals like freelance web designers and startup entrepreneurs love to hang out in coworking spaces. A study shows that by 2024 more than 5 million professionals will be working in coworker spaces. If you want to expand your network and build genuine relationships, consider spending a few workdays in a coworking space.
Whatever your design specialty, there’s a lot you can offer to startups and fellow professionals. There are also activities such as lunch-and-learns and happy hours that motivate you to connect with people and share connections.
Still, there are few unwritten rules of coworking:
- Don’t engage in conversation with people who are engrossed in work. This is more likely to be bothersome than productive.
- Your best chances are with people who are taking a break from work to blow off steam. Head out to the shared kitchen or cafeteria.
- Ask questions and show genuine interest in other people’s work.
- Again, as with networking events, don’t try to sell. Coworking spaces are all about building relationships.
- When you’re about to finish a conversation with someone, ask if it’s ok if you send them a connection request on LinkedIn. Always have a business card to spare.
Still, coworking is not free. Using a space can cost from $20 – $30 per visit to hundreds of dollars per month, depending on the location, facilities, and membership option. If you can afford it it’s a great personal way of making connections. After all, you can always write off coworking fees as a business expense on your tax sheet.
Help other freelance web designers
This one applies to both online and offline networking efforts – help other freelancers out. I call this lateral networking. You may think that reaching out to companies and potential big clients has more juice to it, but moving into freelancer circles may prove just as lucrative.
Having a network of fellow freelancers is like having reliable colleagues. If they hit too much workload or a project they can’t handle themselves, freelancers need professionals they can count on. You should be that person. Help someone once, and you can count on them for help down the road.
If having a large network of virtual colleagues is not your thing, you can just get in touch with a few freelancers whose skills complement your own or who work in parallel industries.
This way they can refer clients to you and you’ll refer clients to them. If it comes to it, you can discuss referral fees, but it doesn’t change the scheme – you may need someone’s skills for your project, and someone may need yours.
So who are those people?
IT companies executives
You may be freelancing in between full-time jobs or you prefer being your own boss, there’s much to gain by sticking around IT firms. They might outsource overflowing work or a project that doesn’t fit their niche. Let me assure you that everyone prefers doing business with someone they already know.
There’s a visual component in front of every technical project. Developers, programmers, and UX specialists are natural partners to graphic and web designers. Get in thick with some freelance graphics experts and see how you can help each other. Having a freelance web designer you can recommend every time you start a new project is a big bonus.
Designers with the same skills as you
But why would I do that?! They’ll take my jobs! It might seem like a stupid idea, but there are benefits to partnering with the competition.
- If they can’t take any more work, they can redirect it to you.
- If you’re busy taking on new work, you can refer it to them.
- The project at hand might not be a good fit for them.
- You could start collaborating on bigger projects.
- Refer a client to the competitor to show your integrity.
Exchange knowledge for publicity
You can also get yourself featured in popular publications to generate extra buzz for your services. For example, you can register as a source for a Help a Reporter Out (HARO) to share knowledge in exchange for media opportunities from established journalists or bloggers.
When you find a journalist covering topics such as “freelancing” or “starting a business as a designer”, your experience can be of great value. The published answers to HARO queries are a nice add-on to your portfolio or a great conversation starter.
Mind your body language
Whether you’re talking to someone in a coworking space or making connections during a live networking event, keep in mind that non-verbal actions can make or break your introduction.
Most of us who operate in the online environment tend to focus only on words, i.e. what’s being said or written. But the fact is that non-verbal communication can make your approaches much less awkward.
Here are a few tips:
- Let your first impression be – a smile: The first impression is the most important so make sure you deliver yours with a genuine smile. No creepy stuff here. A warm smile makes you more likable and if we can trust psychology, we tend to remember people who smile at us.
- Face the people: When we feel out of place, we subconsciously point our feet towards the exit or position ourselves in a way that makes it easy to get away easily. The problem is that not facing a person you’re talking to is not just a sign of lack of respect but also makes the other person less engaged and interested in continuing the conversation.
- Where to approach people: Don’t engage with people who are near the toilets, close to the exit, or getting food. These people typically have other things on their minds than talking to someone they’ve just met. Your approach will hold them up and prevent them from listening to what you have to say. The best place to approach people is near the bar after they’ve got a drink. In this situation, their guard will be down, and they’ll be more eager to socialize.
Follow up on the connections
Finally, don’t forget to follow up on your connections. Building connections is just one-half of it. The other half is maintaining your network. Always find a reason to keep the relationship alive.
After all, it would be silly not to set time aside to follow up with new contacts after all the effort you’ve put into meeting new people. This doesn’t have to be something big. For starters, just add them to your LinkedIn network.
You can then proceed by sharing interesting articles, sending emails about big things happening in your industry, asking questions, or even inviting them to events.
In all cases, focus on quality and relevance above else, or they might file you as a spammer.
Networking as a freelancer can be stressful but if done right, it can help you open many doors that would otherwise remain closed.
It takes time, yes. The time that you could probably invest in finishing up those projects.
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