How can I improve my freelance business? That’s a question many in the WordPress community are asking themselves.
According to the WP Engine WordPress industry survey 2016, freelancers make up the largest single group working with WordPress. And why wouldn’t they? One of the reasons for the success of the platform is that it has enabled countless individuals to go into business for themselves.
From web design and development to marketing and content creation – the employment possibilities in the WordPress sphere are countless. And that doesn’t even take into account the many companies selling themes, plugins, and other products.
Plus, WordPress is the perfect tool to strike out on your own. It’s free and all you need to work is a computer and Internet connection. It has other benefits, too.
However, making it as a freelancer also poses challenges. First and foremost the need to generate work for yourself. While we have already written on finding clients for your WordPress services before, today we want to concentrate on an important tool in the freelancer’s toolbox: networking.
In the following, we will talk about what networking is and why it needs to be part of your freelancing life. Afterwards, we will list a number of tips on how to use networking to advance your freelancing career.
Ready to learn how to improve your freelance business with networking skills? Then let’s dive right into it.
What is Networking and Why Do It?
Networking as a term sounds bigger than it is. It basically boils down to making the most of your personal and professional relationships to further your freelance business.
Here’s what networking can help you with:
- Create new business — While in the beginning of my career I had to actively seek out work opportunities, by now they often come to me. That’s because I have built my network. People around me know what I’m doing and therefore recommend me when they hear that someone needs services I offer.
- Get an inside scoop — When using freelancing sites or other public information to find work, you are competing with everyone who has access to that information. Yet, through personal connections, you can often learn about projects before they are made public and thus get in early.
- Build relationships — Studies show that people frequently hire those they like best and not necessarily the most qualified person. If you know someone personally, it’s more likely they will give the job to you than someone they don’t have a relationship with. Same if someone meets you through a personal connection. It counts.
- Collaboration — With a wide network of other freelancers, you are more likely to be invited to take part in other projects. At the same time, you can also try for bigger jobs because you have people you can share work with.
Alright, these should be reasons enough. Now, let’s talk about how to become a better networker to improve your career.
Networking Tips to Improve Your Freelance Business
The tips below are designed to help you win clients and projects, build meaningful relationships, and become more successful in your career through networking. Let’s get right to them.
ABN – Always Be Networking
As mentioned earlier, networking as a “formalized discipline” makes the whole thing sound more intimidating than it is. Being good at networking basically comes down to being a social person who is willing to help others.
That also means you don’t have to go to “networking events” to put it into practice. Instead, networking opportunities are everywhere: parties, meetings with friends, social events, you name it. As long as there are other people, there are opportunities to extend your network.
Does that mean you should always be closing and throwing your business cards at everyone?
No, it just means listening. Maybe someone tells you a problem their business is having, something they struggle with where they need help. When that happens, have an open ear, listen, give constructive advice and offer help.
That way, you naturally establish a connection that can grow from that point on. After that, it’s only a matter of following up. Maybe send over that link you were talking about earlier. Make this your habit and opportunities will arise by themselves.
Give to Get
Overall, giving not asking is the basis of good networking. One of the best ways to get new business is to be generous with your help. Supporting others to succeed is one of the best ways to get noticed for your skills and abilities (as well as your friendly personality).
For example, I make it a point to answer every blog comment, Twitter inquiry, and email I receive. Even if there is no immediate monetary gain in it for me. This practice, in the long run, has led to many business opportunities.
Well, helping others with your expertise establishes you as a source of valuable information, puts you on people’s radar and lets them know about your skills.
Most importantly, however, it makes them grateful and happy to recommend you to their friends and other connections later. That’s why giving is a great way spread your personal brand. Just don’t do it to makes others feel indebted to you. Give for the giving’s sake and it will come back to you over time.
Make Friends with Other Freelancers
Finding others in the same boat as you is another good way to extend your network. Very few people working in the same field will see you as a competition. Nor should you see them as such.
In my experience, most freelancers are happy to exchange knowledge, tips, tools, work processes as well as provide recommendations or work with you on larger projects.
Plus, it’s fun to have people to talk to who are interested in the same things and care about the same topics as you. So, connecting with other freelancers is an opportunity to build both your personal and professional network.
Be a Connector
Networking is not just about you, but also the people connected to you. It’s about creating a network (hence the name). That also means establishing connections between people in your vicinity that don’t know each other but could benefit from doing so.
The easiest moment to do that is, of course, when someone asks you for a recommendation and you have someone at hand. However, you can also be proactive and listen to other people’s struggles. If you know someone that could help them, by all means, put the two in touch!
Doing so will put you at the forefront of both parties’ minds, something that will come back to you in the future.
Attend Events Relevant to You
Of course, in order to network and improve your freelance business, it’s important to actually meet other people. One of the easiest ways to do so is to attend events created for that very purpose.
Here’s how to find them:
- Meetups — Websites like Meetup, Eventbrite, and Lanyrd offer events for basically any industry and interest. Just swing by and do a search for your area. Plus, WordPress events are now displayed right in the dashboard.
- Online groups — We will talk about online networking opportunities further below. However, you are probably aware that Facebook, LinkedIn , and other networks offer plenty of groups for freelancers and industries they work in. Many of them also have offline meetings or at least receive announcements for relevant events.
- Mastermind groups — Mastermind groups are groups where people with similar goals get together to support each other, help formulate and achieve goals, get past obstacles and hold each other accountable. The aforementioned meetup sites can help you find them.
- Professional organizations — Organizations like local chambers also organize events for self-employed people and freelancers that you can join.
- WordCamps — Of course, in the WordPress community we have WordCamps as excellent networking opportunities. Read my accounts of WCEU 2016 and WCEU 2017 to learn about how easy it is to get to know people there.
Also, to really get something out of an event, consider speaking. There’s no better way to put yourself on the map than being on stage. Anyone who has seen your talk has an instant opener to start talking to you. Plus, speaking shows your expertise in front of an audience and makes it more likely someone who needs it will hear about it.
Use Social Media and Professional Online Networks
Social media and professional networks are also a great place to find people in your niche. Plus, they allow you to show your knowledge, attract clients, share information, and build relationships.
- Optimize your profile — Take advantage of all the real estate available to you. Fill in your information, upload images, and everything else available to you. That way you both look professional and are easier to find. I also recommend googling how to optimize the profile of your specific social network as their requirements differ.
- Add a call to action — Make clear what it is you are looking for. When someone visits your profile and they see that you are taking on clients it’s more likely they will consider taking you up on your offer. Otherwise, they have to come up with the idea themselves.
- Join groups — As mentioned earlier, you can find groups for WordPressers and freelancers on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other places. It’s a great way to get in contact and network with others. Better yet, start your own group. It adds that extra bit of authority.
- Add value — Sharing helpful content on social networks is a classic inbound marketing tactic. Being useful to others and publishing valuable information not only grows your follower numbers, it also brings in inquiries and new connections.
- Follow hashtags and queries — A special form of providing value is to monitor the conversation and jump in with advice. Tools like Tweetdeck allow you to aggregate lists of relevant hashtags and search queries. That way, can listen to other people’s problems and offer solutions.
Of course, with social networks, it’s important to know which one is the right for you. My personal weapon of choice is Twitter but you might prefer Facebook or some other platform. Inform yourself before making a pick.
How to Improve Your Freelance Business in a Nutshell
A large share of the members of the WordPress community is freelancers. Working freelance offers many opportunities but also poses challenges, most of all having to create opportunities for yourself.
Networking is an important tool to make this happen. Meeting and connecting with other people is one of the best ways to find work, hear about projects and collaborate with others.
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be a sleazy endeavor. As we have seen above, in the end, networking comes down to being open minded, helping others, making connections in your niche both for yourself and other people, attending events, and optimizing your online presence. Far from rocket science.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally to you, many start out like that. Just try to make meaningful connections, add value to and help others and the rest will fall into place over time. Good luck!
Do you have additional networking tips for freelancers? Any other thoughts you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments section below!
Nick Schäferhoff is an entrepreneur, online marketer, and professional blogger from Germany. He found WordPress when he needed a website for his first business and instantly fell in love. When not building websites, creating content or helping his clients improve their online business, he can most often be found at the gym, the dojo or traveling the world with his wife. If you want to get in touch with him, you can do so via Twitter or through his website.
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