The life of a freelancer can sometimes feel isolating—especially if you work remotely or from home. And, while the last thing you may want to do after 12 hours in front of a computer screen is go out and "mingle," networking is an important priority every freelancer should embrace.
Not only is it critical for drumming up new business, but it's also important for your wellbeing – research shows that social isolation can increase your chances of heart attack and stroke. Yikes! But while it may seem like one more thing on an endless to-do list, networking doesn't have to be a chore.
It doesn't have to be a challenge, either – even if your only IRL co-workers are plants or an aquarium full of fish. In fact, working from home is a great ice-breaker in networking situations.
Here are five simple tips to expand your professional (and social) circles.
As a freelancer, you're often bound to others' schedules and priorities. It's easy to say, "I'm going to skip that party because I've got a project due in the morning," or "There will always be another event I can go to, but I've gotta get revisions to this client right now," but the reality is that networking is worth the time.
People like to hire people they know and trust. Choose a networking event, RSVP, put it in your calendar, and protect the commitment just as you would any other meeting or appointment. You wouldn't bail on a lunch date with a client at the last minute, so don't bail on yourself by downplaying the importance of a networking event.
Does your college have a local alumni chapter in your city? How about your church or chamber of commerce? The chances are high that there are already professional meet-ups happening in your immediate orbit. If you don't find anything posted online, send a note to the group's leader and asked to be added to the email list for future events.
Not finding any pre-existing events in your immediate network? No problem! Now is the perfect time to expand your circle by joining a professional club or organization. Google the name of your city and your trade, or ask friends in your field to make suggestions. Hanging out with professionals who share your skills is a great way to get tips and recommendations about things that will make your job easier.
One of the easiest ways to hear about great events in your city is by following people on social media. Is there a thought leader whose work you admire? Follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Better still, strike up a conversation when they share content you like. I can not only lead to great digital networking opportunities (after all, you can network online 24/7) but, more importantly, it will give you a heads up when those people will be at conferences, expos, and events you can attend.
Getting out the door and to the event is the hard part, but the work doesn't stop there. Meeting people is only the first half of the networking game. When you get home, be sure to enter details about the people you've met into your CRM (even if your CRM is just a spreadsheet) so you don't forget to follow up. Did someone go above and beyond during your conversation? Send a handwritten thank-you note.
Did someone mention they're looking for great Thai food? Send an email with your recommendation. Did someone casually mention they might be interested in your services soon? Shoot over an email with additional information. Admittedly, networking takes time. But smart, deliberate networking will pay for itself tenfold over the course of your freelancing career. Make a commitment to yourself to put in the time and the results will follow.
What's your best tip for connecting with new people at networking events? Leave it as a comment below!