Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned vet, the number one driver to your freelance success is your network.
You collaborate with your network. You refer work to each other. And you keep each other sane.
But it’s not as simple as connecting with a bunch of people on LinkedIn or spending serious $$$ on a masterclass with a Slack group.
The actual discovery and connection is generally the easy part.
The challenge is nurturing this network: going from “great to meet you” to “let’s collaborate.”
The Wrong Path
Networking is tough. If you’re an introvert it takes a ton of energy to build the necessary rapport. If you’re an extrovert you might talk too much to get to the right rapport.
But for each type of person, the process usually looks like this:
- Meet with a bunch of people
- Take good notes with the first ten people and connect on LinkedIn
- Take half baked notes with the rest and still connect with them on LinkedIn
- Engage with their content on LinkedIn
- Gradually lose touch
Then, when they have work they could refer to you or vice versa, nothing happens since you’ve forgotten about each other beyond “designer, writer, etc.”
We’ve seen some serious creative hacks to help: Some freelancers build a spreadsheet, others create different groups, and a few lucky ones have photographic memory.
Regardless, managing the network becomes too burdensome and most freelancers end up stuck with too many social media connections and too few trusted collaborators.
The Right Path
Through our personal experience and watching the best freelancers grow, here’s what freelancers with strong networks have in common:
1. They build long-term relationships.
Maybe there’s a project you can collaborate on today. Maybe it takes over a year before something comes up.
Either way, a defining trait of solid freelancer networks is longevity. We like to say, “the project ends but the freelancer relationships never die.”
There’s numerous ways to foster this type of network.
For starters, don’t be a self-promotional used car sales rep. Don’t ask them to like your status, sign up for your course, give you a referral, or recommend you to someone. Just be cool, send them articles or resources you think might help them, or – for serious brownie points – send them things related to their clients or industry if you know it.
To add onto this, try to continuously document what’s unique about them and offer support. We’re all creatures of flattery. Remember their birthday or their kid’s birthday. Congratulate them on their professional accomplishments. Stay engaged – genuinely.
2. They don’t mooch.
No one likes a taker. Maybe you can get away with it at first. But in a networked world where the new currency is relationships, takers quickly get discovered.
But this is a tough situation to overcome – because what can you offer at the start?
“People still want genuine connections where they can trust and build rapport with the person,” said Tiff Ng, founder of The Social Story and longtime freelancer from Sydney, Australia. “It’s disingenuous to approach a new connection with the mindset of merely what you can get out of them. Collaboration isn’t just about the skills and experience – but the cultural fit between the two parties.”
Get creative with your approach to building a mutually beneficial relationship. Maybe it’s an intro to a fellow freelancer, or to a client that didn’t work for you but could for them. Try to give something before you start asking for favors.
3. They’re easy to work with.
This is the catalyst that makes the first two points actionable.
Cheesy relationship advice often goes something like, “Be the person that the person you want to be with wants to be with” (cue sappy rom com).
This is actually pretty spot-on for freelancers you want to grow a relationship with – except instead of flowers once a month, a freelancer relationship is built on being easy to work with.
Initially, this means making it as simple as possible for other freelancers to understand how you can work together.
You can optimize this by:
- Understanding what you do and what your typical value looks like (collateral/outcome delivered, price, time).
- Understanding what makes you unique. Do you have unique experience in an industry or a specific type of client (enterprise focused, startup focused, etc)?
3 Steps to Take Today
1. Discover who you want to be.
LinkedIn is your best friend. Use it.
Hint: Maybe try narrowing the field by looking at people in your location.
2. Meet with 15 people who fit this profile.
Set up a 15-minute meeting (can just be a phone call) to learn about these people. Most human beings inherently love two things in this world: flattery and talking about themselves.
Here’s a template:
Hey [first name], I just started freelancing and am super impressed by [specific project]. Could I grab you a virtual coffee for 15 minutes just to learn how you got to where you are now?
3. Nurture these relationships
Don’t stop at ‘meet then peace out.’ This doesn’t mean you should be annoying – but if you see something that could be helpful or that’s an inside joke, send it their way. Odds are you won’t be able to send them work immediately. But get creative – maybe it’s an article or a report related to their industry, or a new app or podcast you think they’d find useful.
One of our most well-connected Venture L freelancers, Simran Doshi, put it this way:
“The #1 tip I would give (and always follow myself) is keep in touch with your connections/clients, even after the initial conversation or project is completed. Wish them a happy new year or just ask about their well-being from time to time. This helps keep your name in the loop (so they don’t forget you) and forge a strong professional connection.”
How Venture L Can Help
We make it easy to build this kind of network.
To hold yourself accountable, start by adding our project template Accountabilibuddy.
Then, after meeting each freelancer, add them to your talent cloud.
Get specific! Add things you loved about your conversation that were unique between the two of you.
Finally, put yourself in the best position to both get projects and give projects.
To get projects, update your profile so it’s easy for them to know what you do and what you charge, and don’t forget to add examples of your past work.
To give projects, be the best at making your ask tangible through the scope of work, cost, and next steps.
Go out and build your network!
Let us know how we can help 🙂
About Venture L
Venture L is where the world’s best freelancers run their business. By integrating your network of trusted collaborators and processes into one personalized platform, you can take on more projects, slash operations in half, and scale your business.
We’re currently collaborating with a select group of innovators.
Want to be one of these crazy innovators? https://venturel.io/app/