I’ll be honest with you, when I started as a freelance, I was clueless on what it meant to network. On how important it could be. I was confident that I could do everything on my own, without the help of anyone. Mostly because I felt like no one would help me anyway.
But I read a lot before creating my company, did a lot of research, and thanks to this I realized quickly that, even though I had just been through a rough patch in my life and didn’t really feel like socializing anytime soon… I would have to.
Networking is a wonderful maze where miracles happen. Just by reaching out to someone, or by interacting with them on their content, you could lend a project, a collaboration, and on top of that a new friend, or at least the kind of person that if you were still an employee, you would call a colleague. How powerful is that ?
To be honest, it’s not that complicated.
As long as you invest time in interacting with people, as long as you’re kind, open-minded and respectful, it will eventually work out. I know it is hard to get out of your comfort zone to reach out to strangers, but there’s no better way to get over your own insecurities by practicing networking. I promise you, most people are nice.
So, what can I do to network ?
First, set some goals. Why do you want to network ? What kind of people would you like to talk to ? What can you learn from them ? Think carefully about this. It doesn’t have to be (only) people who could eventually become a client of yours, oh no. There’s so much more to learn ! It can be people who are working in your field, but they’ve been doing so for a much longer time than you – there’s so much you can learn from them, and if you get along well they could even become a sort of mentor ! Make a long list of the kind of people you’d like to talk to, and why.
Second, you have to choose where you’re going to do this. When you’re just starting, it’s easier to focus on a single platform, whether it’s Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, or any other place where you can get in touch with these people.
Third, go on the platform you’ve chosen, and make a list of people who meet your criterias. I would recommend to make small lists of maybe 5 people, so that you can contact people on a regular basis, not all at the same time. Doing everything all at once on let’s say, a single day, can easily backfire. What if they all reply at the same time ? It will be difficult to keep up and there’s nothing worse than talking to someone and mixing up their name or background with someone else. Be careful about this, keep track with an Excel sheet if need be.
And then, there are two kinds of approach.
- Interact with their content. This is the easiest way to approach someone. Just become a regular, like and comment on their posts, and over time they will get used to see you around, used to answer your comments, and so the connection will come in a more organic way. Personally, this is what I prefer.
- Send them a message. Each platform has its own form of sending a private message to another user, and on the paper, it is a great way to reach out to people you don’t know. But it can easily be seen as rude and brutal, especially if you’ve never interacted with this person before. I’m not a big fan of this method (called “cold messaging”) but I know that sometimes, it’s worth it. My tips ? Write a short message, say why you’re contacting them, make a link between them and you (between their content and you for example, show that you like what they post), be respectful, and no spelling mistake please.
Depending on your goals, one approach or another might be more effective, but most of the time, you will have to use both. The first one is a long-term strategy, based on consistency and slowly building a strong link with others. The second one is more straightforward, which usually results in straightforward answers as well. Silence is an answer.
To give you an example, when I was thinking about creating my company to start working as a freelance, I contacted a few people through a private message on Linkedin. People who already had the kind of professional life I wanted, people I wanted to talk to so that they could tell me a bit more about how it was to be a freelance in their sector. I had no one among my family and friends who had launched their own business to work as a freelance, so I was feeling quite insecure, I needed to know more about the freelance life, and as soon as possible. And it was worth it. A few ignored me, yes. But a few other ones replied and replied in great details to my questions, happy to help.
As goes the saying, ‘if you don’t ask, the answer is always no’.
Networking is as easy as that. As long as you stay polite, you have nothing to lose. You try, they answer or not, they interact or not, that’s life. Worst case scenario, you get ignored. Best case scenario, you lend new opportunities, find new partnerships/collaborations, new friends/supporters, your community.
So go on and try ! Don’t shy away from this challenge, I can assure you it will pay if you try hard enough.
I hope you all have a lovely day. See you next Wednesday !