Just weeks after the 14th annual Be a Better Freelancer conference that was co-hosted by NAIWE for the first time, I’ve been reflecting on networking.
I’ve been called the Queen of Networking, and I attribute it to my active membership in at least a dozen professional associations and many years of contributing to communities of colleagues, including creating and hosting the Be a Better Freelancer conference. Throughout all this time, I’ve often been asked why I bother to be such an active networker.
It’s a good question, because networking takes time, effort, and a commitment to service, and the payoffs aren’t always immediately obvious. Payoffs being important, of course, because there’s certainly a level of self-interest in networking, no matter how much it involves giving back to colleagues, communities, or professions.
Why do it
We network for the selfish reason of building our businesses and contacts, but ideally to be of service to colleagues and communities as well. Networking creates visibility and credibility if we do it right, and that should lead to new clients and projects.
Networking can create issues, especially for die-hard introverts. It can be hard work, it requires constant effort, and as noted above, the payoffs aren’t always immediately obvious.
If you aren’t comfortable with communicating frequently—even constantly—with peers and other colleagues, that’s fine: You can be an effective networker even if you only interact with one group or make posts once a month. If you’re shy and introverted, you can network electronically rather than attend meetings or conferences in person.
Figure out what is comfortable in terms of frequency or types of information to share, and resist pressure to do more than you can handle.
How to do it
The essence of networking is that it’s a two-way process, as well as a constant one.
Start on the right foot by introducing yourself to the group(s) you’ve chosen to join: Let colleagues know something about your training, skills, experience, preferred types of projects and clients, etc. Before asking for help, try to provide something of value to the group. It isn’t that networking can’t involve getting help with your independent writing or editing business in general or with specific aspects of that business, but that you don’t want to be seen as someone who constantly takes from colleagues and never gives anything back to the group. And “Gimme” is definitely not the image you want to present in your message to a networking group!
What to share
Networking can include sharing information about yourself—publishing triumphs, new projects, speaking engagements, awards, certifications, etc.—but is most effective if what you share is genuinely helpful to others. That can mean, for instance, letting colleagues know about new books, events, and software programs that are useful for our work; providing tips for managing an independent writing or editing business (including how to use standard tools like Word); answering colleagues’ questions about their work or projects; etc.
It can also mean alerting colleagues to new scams aimed at our profession, such as the one that circulated recently through various professional associations involving a fake editing job offer—supposedly from major companies such as Penguin and Bayer—apparently intended to either capture respondents’ identity information or sending counterfeit checks for more than promised to clean out recipients’ bank accounts. Networking also often includes warning colleagues about skeevy clients.
What not to do
If you’re new to networking, keep in mind that—again—it’s a two-way process and not a purely self-promotional one. That means your first message to a networking group should not be a request for “overflow” work or referrals. No one knows who you are, or what your training, skills, and experience are, so why would members of the group hand off work to you or refer you to potential clients on first appearance? We build our networks of clients and colleagues with care, and we will not jeopardize those connections by bringing in or referring someone who’s a total unknown. And we would probably be comfortable with telling a stranger the names of our contacts at publications, publishing houses, and other client businesses.
When it works
Doing networking right can have huge benefits. Being seen as someone who provides value builds your credibility and visibility, which makes it likely that prospective clients will learn of your existence and colleagues will contact you about working together, or refer you when they hear of projects that they don’t handle or can’t take on. A good networker is likely to be asked to make speeches, write for professional publications, and take on new projects. Your business—and income—should increase as you become noted for your networking chops and contributions.
And while those are the self-serving reasons to network, there is also a strong sense of gratification in being helpful to others in the field; it does feel good to do good. Not to mention that effective networking also can result in making new friends!
Ruth Thaler-Carter has been a full-time freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher for more than 30 years. She has been published locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally in, and does editing and proofreading for, publications, websites, service firms, and businesses. She sold her first freelance articles when she was still in high school. Renowned as a skilled networker, Ruth is a newsletter editor, publication author, speaker/presenter, blogger, program host or planner, and chapter leader. In 2006, Ruth launched the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® annual conference to help aspiring and established freelancers find greater success and connections with colleagues. Ruth received the Philip M. Stern Award of Washington (DC) Independent Writers for service to freelancers; the Writers and Books Big Pencil Award for teaching adults and contributions to the literary community; EFfie awards for writing, editing, and newsletters; and the APEX award for feature writing. Ruth was also the IABC/DC Communicator of the Year.