by Justine Clay

Justine Clay has been helping freelance creative talent build thriving careers for more than 15 years. She is the founder of Plum Creative, a creative management agency she started in 2005. Pitch Perfect was launched in 2010 and born of the desire to share her knowledge and experience with a wider range of creative professionals and entrepreneurs. Find her on Twitter @plumrep and join her next Tuesday 11/12 for her workshop in NYC, Thriving Networks: Marketing and Connecting That Works!

It’s no secret that networking is one of the best things you can do to build and maintain a thriving freelance career, but I’ve come to realize that networking, like most other things, is something of an art form. Some people make it look easy (even though it isn’t), while others seem to miss the point entirely.

I attended a couple of events recently where I was subjected to the latter type of networker. On both occasions, I was happily talking to a couple of people I had just met, enjoying the natural back and forth of what we do, who we do it for, why we do it, etc, etc. And on both occasions, we were interrupted, mid-sentence by a woman who barreled in, thrust a flier into our hands and launched, head-on into her pitch. She didn’t wait to enter the conversation politely, show any interest in what we did, and certainly didn’t gauge whether there was any interest in her product. She just went for it. It was awkward and I kind of felt bad for her. Someone had given her some really, really bad networking advice.

As I thought about the interaction later, I came to the conclusion that they were probably very nice people who were passionate about what they did, but they were simply practicing an out-dated form of networking. Just like old-school advertisers, old-school networkers operate under the assumption that you just have to put your product in front of as many people as you can, go for the hard-sell and hope that some people buy in. It may have worked at some point in time, but that model just doesn’t fly now.

The new paradigm for both advertising and networking is starting conversations (that go both ways!) and building authentic relationships with people who have a genuine interest or need for what you have to offer. The great thing about this type of networking is that you can be yourself, release any negative emotions around ‘selling’ and feel great when you connect with someone who has a genuine need for your services. This is not about short-term gain, but building your relationships and your reputation, little by little. It takes time, but the pay off it truly worth it.

And so, I’d like to offer a few networking tips for the modern freelancer:

· Have business cards (and use them judiciously)

· Know your elevator pitch

· Know your ideal client profile

· Make eye contact

· Be genuine

· Be yourself

· Be interesting

· Be interested

· Be gracious. No looking over a person’s shoulder to see if someone more interesting arrived

· If you see someone who’s alone, invite him/her to join your conversation

· Be succinct. Interactions should be short and sweet

· Be OK with being uncomfortable. It’s a rare person who can walk into a room full of strangers and be totally at ease.

· Be kind to yourself. Sometimes it goes better than others and that’s OK

· Dress the part

· Smile, Smile, Smile

· Pay attention to your posture. Shoulders back, chin up and make sure nothing’s crossed

· Shake hands when you introduce yourself and again when you exit saying ‘it was nice meeting you’

If you’d like to learn more about building a solid network and marketing yourself effectively and consistently to your dream clients, I’ll be presenting a workshop titled Thriving Networks: Marketing and Connecting That Works on the 12th of November. If you’d like to meet some of your fellow freelancers, check out Freelancers gorgeous new medical center and learn techniques that you can use to improve your freelance career right now, come along. I’d love to meet you!