Being a freelancer in a digital age, it’s easy to confine your networking efforts to social media. And while you can accomplish a lot through online networking, it’s important to meet people in real life. There’s no comparison to a face-to-face meeting. All those non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, etc. can’t be replicated online. Networking builds up trust and helps you establish a community. It also creates opportunities.
Even if your business is predominantly online, such as blogging or etail, it’s important to come out from behind the screen. But where do you start? How do you find a good networking event that will work for you? And how do you face those initial nerves?
Searching For Networks
When searching for networking events, don’t confine yourself to industry events only. It’s good to network with other business in your own industry. You can build up a contact list and help each other with referrals etc. But also consider your customer base. This is particularly important for B2B companies. Find out where they network and arrange to go along to an event.
If you intend to network on a regular basis, search for groups in your area. You can get a feel for successful groups through reviews and the venues they are associated with. For example, business events at Clevedon Hall and other notable venues are likely to be professional and well-organised. Bear this in mind if you ever create your own events.
Working The Room
When you arrive at your first event, you’ll be confronted with a room full of people all engaged in talking and networking. This can be extremely daunting. But don’t be deterred. Everyone feels like this at first. Look for anyone who is standing alone and looks uncomfortable. Go over to them and introduce yourself. It’s likely that they will also be relieved to have someone to talk to.
If everyone is in a group, look for open configurations. Closed groups are where people are standing close together and facing inwards. Open groups are little more spread out, and some people are facing slightly outwards. These groups are easier to approach. Take a deep breath and walk over there.
What To Say
It’s good to have an idea of what to say at these events, or an elevator pitch. Think about how to explain what you do. Be clear and concise. Think in terms of benefits and what you have to offer other people. If you’re feeling a little nervous, start by asking about the other person. This puts the focus on them and buys you some time to feel more comfortable.
We go to networking events with the ultimate purpose of creating opportunities. But you should never go there to sell. The purpose of a networking event is to connect and make valuable contacts. The business often occurs outside of the event. A contact will pass your details onto someone else who needs your services, etc. You may obtain business during a networking event, but this should not be your primary motive.
Always follow up after an event. A quick email letting your contacts know that it was good to meet them is all it takes. Make sure that all your contact details are included, together with links to your website and social media channels. If relevant, remind them of what you do. It can also be beneficial to connect with them online.
Don’t confine your networking efforts to the online world. Make sure you venture out into the real world and make some connections. If you don’t, your competitors will.