Do you cringe at the thought of walking into a networking event? Waste hours trying to find the right people to connect with on social media? As a freelancer, you know what they say – your network is your net worth... or at least a nice steady pipeline of leads, collaborators and people to cheer you on when you need it. So how do we go about building a network?
In this episode, Katie Sandow, marketing consultant and founder of The Marketing Forum, shares her advice on the art and science of networking:
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.
Louise: Hello, and welcome to the 15 Minute Freelancer podcast. Louise Shanahan here. I'm a freelance health copywriter, and on this podcast, we talk about how to build a freelance business that works for you, rather than the other way around. Today, we are going to get stuck into the art and science of networking. I probably get the majority of my work through referrals and word of mouth, and networking is a big part of making that happen. So I'm very excited to have Katie Sandow from The Marketing Forum here today, to talk us through how we can be better networkers and how we can approach networking in a way that works for our individual personalities and businesses. Hello, Katie.
Katie: Hello, thank you so much for having me.
L: Katie is a marketing consultant and founder of The Marketing Forum, which is a network for marketers, communicators, and creatives to learn, connect and collaborate. So Katie, let's jump right in. When we think of networking, we might imagine those kind of cringy meetups with bad coffee and a bunch of strangers in suits. And it all sounds very corporate, doesn't it? But to me, now, networking is really just about getting to know people, getting to know the right people, building a community around you who might later become clients or refer you for projects, or collaborate with you, or even become friends. The key is finding the right people. So in your experience, what does a good network look like?
K: You know, there's actually quite a bit of research around this. So one of the things that good networks look like is they have large number of weak ties. So what that means is rather than just having say four or five really close connections, that actually things like LinkedIn, things like connections on Instagram, and other social media channels, and just people you meet at networking events that you just kind of might see on a month to month basis. They're actually the kind of weak ties that do make up a really good network. Diversity is another really important thing in network. So say for example, if your network, Louise, was just other copywriters, for example. That's not a great network, the best networks to have are where, for example, you're across different sectors, different specialisms, different experiences, so that you can kind of cross-pollinate ideas. And obviously, being a good person to add value to a network yourself, as opposed to just thinking what you can maybe get out of it?
L: Yeah, so it's trying to be as helpful as possible to people and not going in there kind of expecting anything.
K: Yeah, I think that's kind of the old school, you know, we kind of have our picture in our heads of what a networker looks like. And it's probably maybe a bloke in a shiny suit with a massive packet of business cards in his pocket. And that's not really effective networking. Effective networking is much more about building connections, building relationships. And, you know, ideally, you're not going in with an ask in the first instance, meaning sometimes going in with the kind of thought of how can I add value to this person, or this group is a slightly better approach?
L: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So you're not going in with this kind of transactional mindset, you're thinking more about how you can be of service to other people?
K: Yeah. And, you know, that's mutually beneficial.
L: So how do we go about building a network like that? How do we figure out who to build connections with and where we can find them?
K: I think it's one of those things, which is possibly a weird combination of science and art, I think it is worth sitting down and thinking, Okay, what would be beneficial to me and what I'm trying to do my business? You know, for example, in your situation, are you thinking about who would I get referrals from? So marketers, marketing managers, in-house people, small business owners, you know, be thinking about those kinds of lists of people. And you'd also maybe be thinking like, well, who could I add value to? Who could I support, you know, who could benefit from some of my knowledge? And it's almost kind of creating like a bit of a list to think about it in those terms. And then, you know, just the classic marketing strategy around where do these people hang out? There are so many different ways of connecting with people. Now. I don't think you need to just think in terms of real-life networking events. A really great way to meet people is to get on programmes. There's loads of different like group coaching programmes or learning programmes or, you know, sort of like mastermind style programmes. If you go onto those kinds of programmes with 15 other people, you've automatically grown your network by that number. Even things like Facebook groups, LinkedIn pages, just starting to recognise people's names, build community, connect with each other, comment. Those are the kinds of weak ties that are really can be quite beneficial in the long term.
L: Would you include social media in that? You know, obviously, the kind of paid private groups and Slack channels and things like that might be a great place to connect with people. But what about wider social media?
K: Yeah, I would. So I mean, I don't know about you. But I've done the probably slightly weird thing of just follow people on Instagram and just sort of drop them realising really interested in what you're doing, I think it's really exciting, ending up having a conversation with them. It's not about necessarily saying in the first instance, I want something from this person, or let's do something, it's just about connecting. And then always just seeing where that goes. So you know, I think it's really important to build meaningful, genuine connections, as opposed to, you know, you might meet someone you think, like, oh, they'd be really useful, but I just absolutely don't relate to them in any way, shape, or form. It is to do with connecting with people having conversations, and just seeing, seeing what happens really. And that also takes some of the fear out of it. Because you know, you can be networking, particularly if we do think of these kind of old school styles of turning up in an office. It's intimidating.
L: I think, just thinking of these events, whether it's online or in-person, one thing that I find is quite helpful is to try to be one of a kind at these events. So you know, let's say you're an accountant, it doesn't make sense to spend all your time hanging out with other accountants. Or maybe from a learning and development point of view, maybe it does. But if you're looking for clients, you'd want to go to events with people who need accountants who maybe don't run into them everyday. So you can be the one person that's there to answer their questions. I've got friends who are designers, and this is their strategy. So they specialise in branding and graphic design for companies with sustainability focus. And they would deliberately just go to events for sustainable and socially responsible businesses. And they'd be the only designers in the room. So everyone wanted to get their number, you know, if anyone was looking for website support, or branding support, these were the people in the room to speak to, and they didn't have any competition. So that can be quite an effective way to think of it too. So you're kind of thinking about, who are the people that would be looking for someone like you? Who are the people in your industry that you should know? And maybe that would be a place to start.
K: Yeah, absolutely. And there's just so many different groups now aren't there? So it's so easy to do that. Take that example, around sustainable businesses, you've got things like B corps, and those groups would meet up and network with each other. That's why I think it is important to have a bit of a plan because it means that you can do the kind of strategic thinking around who are the right people, and where are they? And it might not be in the traditional places where we think of networks.
L: We could find ourselves spending a bit too much time on what we're telling ourselves is networking. But maybe we're just kind of frittering away the hours chatting to our friends on Twitter, which does have its place, doesn't it? But you mentioned lists. Do you think it's helpful to have a strategy rather than playing it by ear?
K: Well, I think it's a little bit of both, isn't it? You know, we all have had those moments where you go somewhere, I don't know, like a business dinner or something where you're thinking like, Oh, God, why am I spending my evening doing this. And then you meet like a great new connection, who you end up working with loads over the years. So I think have a loose plan, do consider it. So it is important. So it is something that's worth integrating into your strategy of how you're going to get business, but also how you're going to, I guess without it sounding too deep, but how you're going to serve, play it by ear a little bit. Say yes to things may even the things where you're just not really sure that you're quite right. You know, and it can be anything, you know, like small groups and coffee shops on a Friday. It could be your knitting club, it could be a book club. These people all have jobs, and they all have families and their own relationships. So those kinds of ties are useful.
L: Yeah. You never know when you're going to make a spontaneous connection with someone do you so yeah, I think my own approach is quite spontaneous and maybe playing it by ear. But I also think it's maybe worth thinking about not saying yes to every invitation. So you know, when I first started out, I thought it was basically to say yes to everything because you never know, they might be a client one day, and I ended up on way too many coffee dates with people who turned out to be trying to get me to join their MLM company or something like that, you know? And you end up losing half a day. So you do have to protect your time a little bit, don't you? You think that's kind of something that you develop a sixth sense for over time, you kind of go with your gut, if you don't want to be kind of too specific about making lists and sort of going after people in that way.
K: Yeah, well, I think it's a balance. And I think it's where you are as well. So I think if you are somebody who has resisted networking, I think allocating yourself a short-term stint of seeing what works for you. And saying yes, to more than is probably sensible, is probably a good start. I think if you have already got a good bunch of networks, but maybe you might notice that actually, you've ended up with a really tight network of people. But you might not have those broader, looser acquaintances. And you know that that's a bit of a gap, then, you know, maybe that's where to approach it, and potentially social networks and stuff is a is a good way to do that. So I do think it's super personal. But yeah, I completely agree these days, I'm pretty good at saying no. And you know, exactly as you say, you know, that's where, in a way the pandemic has, has helped. Because, you know, for a while you couldn't just meet people for coffee, and as you say, take up half a day for somebody that where it isn't really mutually beneficial.
L: So you mentioned earlier that sometimes people can find this a bit of a daunting prospect. Have you got any tips for how freelancers can feel more confident about putting themselves out there when they're trying to meet new people?
K: I think if you're super apprehensive about it, then it can be good to start with where you're more comfortable. So for example, like I say, things like LinkedIn connections and social media connections. And maybe you could literally just start by, you know, dropping someone a message and saying, I love what you're doing, I think it's really interesting, like, just going a step further than you usually might, in terms of in-person networking, it's useful to remember that most people in the room don't know each other, and it is hard to walk into a room where you don't know a single soul. Most people do have the same sense of slight awkwardness. But I think that's where it's, it's easier to start with more of your tribe. So if you think, I don't know, lawyers, and accountants are a great audience for you, but you're, you know, hugely creative, and maybe might feel like they're a bit alien. And maybe don't start there. Because it is, you know, it's a very different environment walk into. Maybe start with a smaller group of like-minded folk, and over time, build the confidence to maybe put yourself into different groups of people.
L: And I think if you take the pressure off yourself from going into it with expectations, that definitely helps, too. So you're just joining in the conversation, being friendly, being helpful. And another way to maybe ease the pressure a little bit is to think about trying to connect other people. So you're not necessarily getting to know people for your own benefit. But just kind of thinking, when you speak to someone, oh, I know someone else who might be interested in speaking to this person and making connections between them. So you can kind of see yourself as a connector.
K: Definitely, if you're in a conversation, and you see somebody struggling by the door, be the person that says, Hi, come and join our conversation, we were just talking about X, put yourself in the position of being the connector, even if you know that you're not really. I don't think you get short term results from networking, I don't think you walk out and say, well, that's 10 grand in new business today. It's not like that. So don't walk in with that expectation and just see if you can enjoy the environment and meet a few nice new people.
L: That's a great way to look at it. Thank you so much, Katie. I think this has been a really useful dive into the art and science of networking. If people want to learn more, if they want to find out more about The Marketing Forum, where should they find that?
K: So you can find us on social media. So it's at the marketing forum, underscore and on our website. So that's the marketing forum.uk. And you can of course, connect with me on LinkedIn if you'd like to, because I have to say yes, these days.
L: And am I right in thinking that The Marketing Forum has a programme coming up that touches on some of these issues in a bit more detail?
K: Yeah, so the programme, that it starts on the first of April, and it's called Up Your Game, and it's about confidence, creativity and connections. So it does touch on networking in more detail, and also the importance of mindset, behaviours, confidence, kind of the whole skillset.
L: Right, so everything that underpins successful freelance business then.
K: Absolutely, absolutely.
L: That's brilliant. So we'll put the links to all of those things in the show notes. So thank you so much, Katie, and thank you everyone for listening. If you enjoyed this, as always, please consider leaving a review or sharing this with someone who you think might find it helpful. And until next time, happy freelancing.
You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.