It goes without saying that we are living in some strange times.
As freelancers, this period has been both challenging and rewarding. Where others have struggled to modify their work environments or transition to remote work, the freelance community is built on evolving circumstances. One aspect of contract work that has drastically changed is the frequency and volume of nontraditional freelancers entering the market. Because of this unprecedented shift, networking and relying on established connections in various industries is pivotal for success.
Networking has taken a huge hit. Gone are the days of post-work events with handwritten name badges, coffee meetings, happy hours, etc. While we look forward to their triumphant return, all of that has gone digital. For now, the networking options are floating in cyberspace, ready for us to grab them.
Pausing your networking efforts is a nonstarter, especially when you consider that most jobs are filled through networking.
These are uncharted waters for many, so here’s how to make the most of it.
Get Comfortable with Tech
An obvious one, but it’s vital to your networking success.
Technology is the only way we can connect and grow our networks these days. LinkedIn was always a nice complement to the in-person networking you were already doing, but now there’s a world of apps, software and platforms to learn for both networking and work. Slack, Zoom, WebEx, Meetily, GoToMeeting, Teams, Google Meet... One of those wasn’t even a real app, but could you tell?
The growth of these platforms has been monumental and almost overnight. There’s a lot to keep track of, but the key is getting comfortable with the handful of platforms that work for you. It can be overwhelming, but remember: Everyone is going through the same thing, and people are generally forgiving when it comes to tech.
Update and Audit LinkedIn
Let’s talk about LinkedIn. Get it up to date!
Any updates you make to your LinkedIn profile go out to your entire network, opening the door for your current connections to see what you’re up to.
LinkedIn is a powerful tool for your networking success. Now is the time to make sure it’s optimized to work best for you. Remember that your profile is a reflection of your personal brand. You’re functioning as your own marketing department and appealing to your audience.
The important thing with LinkedIn and all your networking efforts is what’s coming next.
Know What You Want
Why are you networking? What’s the goal? What are the connections going to do for you?
Both on- and offline, these are all crucial considerations. Without some direction and intention, you’re wasting your time and that of those you’re networking with.
When you know what you’re looking for, it makes it easier to find the who to match.
Share What You Know
Networking isn’t a one-way street. It’s not solely about you, you, you. People can sense when they’re being sold and when they’re being used.
Networking to only fulfill your needs will cause folks to pull back, limiting further connections.
Even if you’re seeking a new job, you still hold an incredible amount of value and knowledge. Lead with that value and see what you can offer others. It can go a long way to building a fruitful network.
Set Up Virtual Meetings
The pandemic has given us all a great excuse to cancel meetings. While understandable, this is the wrong move for a freelancer.
The natural inclination we have when we connect with someone in sync with our goals in real life is to keep that connection going, meeting up for coffee or something to that effect.
The same logic and principles continue to apply now. Of course, you won’t be able to go out for a coffee, but setting up a digital meeting will certainly help cement that professional connection.
Attend Virtual Conferences
Conferences are still happening! They’ve just gone virtual, like everything else.
The value you can get from them is still immense and they are still very fertile grounds for networking. In some ways, virtual conferences make it even easier, the nervousness of approaching someone is drastically cut down when all it takes is an email or on-platform message.
Many of us have a fear of being on camera. Realize that everyone is just as nervous as you are! With dozens of others sharing the screen, a virtual conference serves to mitigate that anxiety.
If you’re still scared of the camera, consider this: 95% of people say face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships.
Embrace the New Normal
That phrase may be the bane of your existence at this point, but it bears repeating. The reality is that COVID-19 has thrown much more than a wrench into the system; it has fundamentally changed so much of our lives. Nonetheless, while we wait for things to get back to some sense of normalcy, we have to make the most of our current “normal” because there are still opportunities to grow.
Networking is an investment in your future. Not continuing to commit resources to it is only hurting you. In a time when we’re all stuck inside to varying degrees, networking is another way to maintain our mental health as well.
Get online and get connected.