Networking tips for freelancers

I used to have a pathological fear of networking events. As a new business manager for a small marketing agency, I attended at least one monthly event to collect leads.

Is there a way to make networking events more successful, or even, dare I say it, enjoyable?

The first thing I noticed was that most other people were as uncomfortable as I was when I first started attending such events. Obviously it isn’t everyone else’s cup of tea either. It’s therefore a good idea not to make snap judgements about other people in the limited time and often slightly forced atmosphere. It’s always worth checking out such prospects after the event. In addition, those people will also have contacts, colleagues or even friends that may need your services.

If it’s your first networking event, get there early and gain confidence by talking to a smaller group of people who also arrive early, before the numbers build.

Breaking down what you’re there to achieve is a useful way of making your time spent networking more enjoyable. The event itself is usually not the place to try and secure business, mostly you are there to just talk to people and make your company known.

You will usually have limited time, so ask to be sent a list of attendees in advance so you can do some research and spend time effectively with those contacts more likely to put business your way.

Be yourself and interact with people in your own way. If you’ve enjoyed a relaxed conversation, your prospect is more likely to remember you and make time for you when you call.

Always be very clear about what you do in conversation – if you’re a designer, do you specialise in any particular industry? Web, design for print or both? Do you specialise in corporate identity? Have this introduction rehearsed so you can concisely introduce yourself and your services. It sounds obvious, but the people you talk to need to have a clear picture of what you’re offering if they need to bear you mind for future business.

On the flip side, spend as much time listening as talking, to alert you as to when you need to politely move on to someone else if the conversation doesn’t look promising (perhaps introduce them to someone else as a gentle ‘break away tactic’), but also to pick up on opportunities not immediately obvious. There is a saying that you have one mouth but two ears, so use them in proportion!

Obviously always take a good stack of business cards with you, better still something a little more substantial such as double printed postcard (which are still relatively cheap to print) with more information on your services, your website address and contact details. When you receive someone else’s card, make some notes on the reverse side to refresh your memory later as to who they are and what you talked about.

The only way to really gain business from these events though is to follow up within a few days of meeting prospects. Once you can see that the effort resulted in new business, then ultimately you will probably find such future events more enjoyable too.

Sarah Wilcox


25th January 2006

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