Reid Hoffman, an American internet entrepreneur and author best known as the co-founder of LinkedIn, once said this about networking: “One of the challenges in networking is everybody thinks it’s making cold calls to strangers. Actually, it’s the people who already have strong trust relationships with you, who know you’re dedicated, smart, a team player, who can help you.”
As a freelancer for the last decade, I can absolutely speak to the truth and wisdom of Hoffman’s advice. While hard work, a strong skill set and persistence are the tools which propelled my initial success when I struck out on my own, there is no doubt that it was the relationships I already had fostered that have been the driving force in my continued success.
Freelancing is a tough gig. While job and security are two words that often do not go well together in this current economy, working for oneself can be a far scarier venture than working for someone else. When you work for yourself, any success or failure you experience is entirely attributable to you and you alone.
Even the most talented, hard-working person can fail to thrive when they strike out on their own, which is why it’s very important to incorporate another tool into your entrepreneurial toolbox – networking.
Before I go on, I want to make it clear that when I talk about networking, I am not talking about simply using Facebook and Twitter. While social media is, indeed, a valuable tool for business, it is not the same as networking. Anyone with an internet connection can tweet and post to Facebook. Networking involves the actual engagement of other people and professionals, most frequently those who can assist you in furthering your career. But you have to do more than simply connect with other professionals in your field. You have to know how to use those connections to your benefit.
A decade ago, when I first decided to quit my full-time reporting job to stay at home with my newborn son, I knew that I wanted to continue to work in some capacity. Freelancing seemed like the perfect fit; however, going from a full-time job where someone dictated the work I would be doing, to finding my own work, was quite an experience.
One of the first things I did was to reach out to a former colleague of mine, who had moved on to a job in public relations. In her current position, she had access to many people and publications and put me in touch with several professionals who were able to help me get started. This is called peer networking, and it is one of the most valuable networking options that many professionals overlook.
While we’ve all heard the expression “it’s a dog-eat-dog world,” what I have found in my industry is that many of my peers are happy to help those who are trying to get started in the industry. I look back 10 years later and know that if it hadn’t been for Kathleen Brenneman, Kathleen Ganster, Vanessa Orr and Rachael David, I probably would have fallen flat on my face when I first started out. They willingly shared their knowledge of the industry and offered me help in finding some freelancing work. I still network with these wonderful professionals today.
If you don’t know anyone personally in the industry you wish to pursue, consider taking advantage of other in-person networking opportunities such as conferences or networking events offered by professional organizations or local civic groups. There are many professional organizations out there designed to help freelancers succeed.
In addition to in-person networking, there also are great tools such as LinkedIn, which allow for online networking opportunities. Unlike with Facebook and Twitter, this site is strictly meant for business networking. You will not find status updates about what someone is eating for dinner or whether they’re in a recent relationship. With LinkedIn, it’s all business, and if you’re not currently using LinkedIn as the valuable business tool that it is, I urge you to head over there now and get started.
There are innumerable ways to use LinkedIn to further your career. In a future post, I’ll discuss some of the best ways to put LinkedIn to work for you.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.