New to freelancing? Nervous about the need to get out there and network? Worry not. Cut yourself some slack. There are other ways to find clients, as I’ve written many times before, and list later on in this article.
“I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’ll go again.”
Freelancing is not for the faint-hearted. It’s tough out there. Finding clients, at the beginning at least, is the number one challenge. I am a copywriter. It’s a crowded, fiercely competitive market.
So, it was with some relief that I officially gave up networking events some time ago. Officially in the sense that, when I returned from my last one, I told my wife – as I told my mum after my first session at cubs many years ago – “I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’ll go again. Can I go to my room now?”
Although this blog may throw the cat among the pigeons, or ruffle a few feathers, that’s not my intention at all.
We hear the constant refrain
“Network your little heart out. Get out there. Relationships are your most valuable asset. Seven touches to make a sale. Build a client base through hard work and determination. Keep on planting seeds and chasing leads.”
And yet the irony is that so many openly say they’re not comfortable networking, often when they’re huddled in corners at networking events.
(Funny how it tends to be the most gregarious who plug networking. Or those in the very lucrative networking events industry.)
For me, they didn’t lead to that much business. Not compared to networking online, LinkedIn, letters/emails of introduction, and the like.
I’m a one-man band. My time is limited. Networking is a slow burn. It takes up time: time that could be better invested elsewhere.
This isn’t to criticise...
...as many do, the venues. Or the food, or lack of it. “No free pizza!” I read recently. Or the people. Many of the people I’ve met at local events were warm, welcoming, friendly.
My main criticism
The only thing found wanting was...me.
I don’t enjoy networking. I’m a fish out of water. A tractor in the fast lane. A pigeon among the cats. Take the latter image where you will.
An introvert by nature, and thankfully now by profession, I’m not the most outgoing person in the room. Nor wish to be. I’d much rather listen to mates tell stories than relate my own. I know what I think. I’ll learn more from shutting up and listening to others.
James Salter, a writer I greatly admire, said he preferred himself as he appeared on the page, rather than in person.
Seth Godin, an introvert by nature, joked in interview about how people grow tired of him after 45 minutes. He struggled to maintain sociability for that length of time, or they expected too much of him.
Sue Townsend, of Adrian Mole fame, talked of “late-onset shyness” in the last decade of her life.
These are all sentiments to which I can relate.
Posting on LinkedIn is infinitely superior to real-world schmoozing, for me, because I can edit myself after the event. Not so with the occasional nonsense that I find myself saying when a little nervous at networking events.
Freelancers are solitary souls
It’s a curse, but also a blessing. It is a blessing to be so self-contained. We’re well suited to the demands of the job. Reading, writing and thinking are, for the most part, solitary pursuits.
Perhaps I’m being a tad hard on myself
Am I so terrible at networking? You may as well ask me am I any good at scuba diving. I’ve done it a few times, enjoyed it, but it’s not something that I seek out or excel at. I get a bigger bang for my buck elsewhere. Then again, I might well find more clients scuba diving. My regular clients live many miles from me. And I’ve found them not through scuba diving, but surfing the internet.
Networking doesn’t work for many
It sets up expectations and a certain mindset. Many don’t want to be there. Their boss, who didn’t want to be there, sent them instead.
Or, people come to sell, and the process, for them, is one way. The ulterior motive isn’t so hidden. It’s a thrusting hand, wielding a business card.
My time, patience and energy for this are limited. Busy with work, I don’t see enough of my mates down the local pub.
Now, I’m not ruling out networking altogether. And no doubt I’ll revisit this decision six months from now, as one should intermittently review every business decision.*
I’m not for one minute arguing that online networking is superior to one-to-one face-to-face real-world interactions.
I’m not saying no to chats over coffee. Love those. I’ve really enjoyed meeting LinkedIn connections in person. Would that more people made the effort.
And I’m not ruling out networking for others, for those who like the idea. If you’re new to freelancing, and you have the time and inclination, and the charm, charisma and chutzpah to go with, don’t listen to the likes of me. Get out there. What are you waiting for? There may even be the free pizza.
* One should always see the other side. Julia Hobsbawm, a big believer in “knowledge networking”, examines the subject in her BBC Radio 4 series.
And I’ll fess up: an invitation to a networking event arrived this week, from a good friend and client, and I accepted.
It is Christmas, after all.