As a freelancer, networking should come natural. But, let’s face it: sometimes networking is difficult or uncomfortable to do. I’ve been in business nearly 10 years and have gradually learned how to network and make improvements as needed. My networking skills have taken some time to develop, but I’m reasonably confident that it is paying off. The proof must be in my busy workload!
Read on for some tips on how you can network at events large and small:
1. Bring business cards — Even in this digital age, business cards are essential. Your cards should list the important details about who you are, what you do, how and where you can be reached, and what you have to offer. List your name, a contact phone number, your email address, your website and your list of services. Make hundreds of these up and hand them out like candy at your next event. Update your cards as often as needed.
2. Dress for success — Your event wardrobe should be comfortable and professional. Inspect your clothes to ensure that dresses and suits are suitable for the occasion, are clean, look new and have the accessories to match. The way you look will leave an impression on people you meet. Make that impression one that you won’t regret later on!
3. Meet people — Often, I head to events not knowing a soul. Or, the few contacts I have are in a sea of people and will only take up a few minutes of my time. This is where you want to mingle, by approaching displays, talking with people who are working each station and handing out business cards and receiving not a few yourself. Not every person you meet has a product you may want to use personally, but each person represents a point of contact, an individual you may need to contact later about a gig or a job.
4. Your 30-second pitch — You should be able to explain to people in 30 seconds or less who you are, what you do and why you do it. These chats are sometimes called “elevator pitches” or statements that allow you to quickly connect with someone and quite possibly give you a chance to land a longer, second meeting. You won’t get a second meeting if you don’t plan a pitch, rehearse it and put it into practice.
5. Understand non-verbal cues — As important as it is to understand verbal cues, you need to familiarize yourself with body language. When you meet someone, establish eye contact. Listen carefully and reply to questions thoughtfully. Avoid looking bored or distracted, as you’ll send out cues that you’re not interested in the conversation. When you’re with someone, give that person your undivided attention. You’ll want to receive the same from that person too.
6. Get to your point — Small talk such as discussing the weather, talking sports and giving someone an overview of your city are good ice-breakers. They also can be a huge distraction if you don’t use small talk as a launching point for your message. Thus, once the pleasantries are over, get right to your point. If you meet someone you would like to do business with, then say so. At busy events, where people come and go, getting to your point will ensure that your message has been said.
7. Follow up — Once the event has ended, you’ll want to follow up with people as soon as you can. This may mean sending an email thanking them for their time or calling directly. Even if the person you meet doesn’t have work for you, you can leave the door open for further communication. Every person you meet is a contact and good contacts help each other find work, solve problems or lend support.
Networking isn’t just for big events. You can hand out business cards at your favorite cafe, while you are on line at the grocery store, at your child’s sporting event or anywhere else that is appropriate. Just do it, for networking’s sake!