Are You Networking Harder or Smarter?

All networking was not created equal. While I’ve heard plenty of Chamber/association networking success stories over the years, it’s usually when people get actively involved in the organization and boost their visibility. But, by and large, the “cattle call” networking event never did much for me – empirically or spiritually. Such events always feel so mercenary, full of mutual “objectifying”: other attendees aren’t humans, just potential sales.

WA graphic designer Mike Klassen weighs in with this guest blog appearance on the subject, challenging FLCWs to rethink how they approach “networking” and offering up some smart alternatives. Thanks, Mike, for the great contribution!

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One of the top recommendations to build a business is to… NETWORK.

Unfortunately, brand new freelancers don’t always appreciate that networking is more than just showing up at some Chamber networking event or striking up a conversation about your business in the grocery store.

After doing things the hard way as a beginner myself, I found that if I’m really going to be efficient about networking and landing the type of clients I need to meet my financial goals, I need to be more particular about where I put my networking efforts.

Let’s take the traditional Chamber of Commerce networking event. It’s typically promoted as a way to reach others with your products or services – in your case, writing. That’d be great if they promoted the event to everyone else as a way to hire you to write copy. But they’re not, are they?

Nope. It’s marketed as a way for everyone to sell what they have. For it to work, though, someone needs to be a buyer. But, buying something rarely enters anyone’s mind.

Plus, many of these events are attended by small business owners, most of whom can’t afford our rates. To them, copywriting is an expense, not an investment. As long as they have Word with spell-checking enabled, they’ll tackle their writing tasks on their own. Sure, there are success stories, but in my experience and that of many colleagues, large scale successes (i.e., landing writing jobs) at “come one, come all” events are the exception, not the rule. Here’s a better idea…

Look for networking events where those attending are likely to truly need you, already appreciate the value a writer brings, and can afford to pay you what you’re worth. Let me give you two examples of what I call “off-the-beaten-path” networking:

A writer/marketer colleague attended a networking event for Americans and Canadians involved in cross-border trade, where attendees discussed trade regulations, security issues, marketing techniques, and more. While I’m sure sales were made, that wasn’t the point of the event and it wasn’t marketed as such. Yet, arguably, everyone there placed a high value on writing skills in their efforts to promote and sell their products. My friend was the only one in the room providing that type of service. By the end of the evening, she had extremely high-quality leads to follow-up on.

A website design colleague attended a seminar on online marketing. Attendees either had a product ready to market, or were looking to develop one. Since it was an “online” marketing event, how many attendees do you think might have had need for a website designer? Like the other colleague I mentioned, this web designer left the event not only with lots of high-quality leads but also a handful of immediate jobs.

So, yes, networking can occur anywhere. But if you’re going to put your time into it, why not target networking events that increase your odds of success?

What sorts of networking events have been the most fruitful for you?

If you’ve been successful at the “cattle call” type of event described above, what was your strategy?

Any good networking success stories (complete with “Lesson Learned”) you care to share?

Mike Klassen is a freelance designer and writer. His eBook, “I Still Can’t Draw Stick Figures” documents his journey from the corporate to freelance world, and the lessons learned along the way. He also shares his freelancing experiences on his blog. For more information, visit http://www.mikeklassen.com

16 replies
  1. Michael A. Stelzner
    Michael A. Stelzner says:

    Peter;

    I found that online networking is by far the best there is.

    Why?

    No travel costs. Less time. You can do it at midnight.

    Social networking as it’s known is really the way of the future.

    Mike

  2. Tammy
    Tammy says:

    Mike,

    I would like to know which sites you have found to be the most useful for social networking. I’m just starting out and I am curious as to what other writers have found works well for them online. I joined LinkedIn recently, but I’m too new to really know how this type of networking will work for me.

    Tammy

  3. Graham Strong
    Graham Strong says:

    Great post, Mike!

    In a round about way, what you are describing is the “don’t-tell-me-what-you-do-but-tell-me-what-you’ll-do-for-me” kind of thing. People go to “cattle call” networking events to sell their services, not to buy others. This may be a big reason why they don’t work so well.

    On the other hand, people who go to conferences want to learn how to do things better. They are open to new ideas, and will even listen to pitches if they feel it is something that could help them. So when a copywriter comes along talking about giving them *exactly* the professional content they need, they are going to listen.

    The other part of the equation here is that networking at conferences is more organic. There is something contrived about a business meet ‘n greet. But people who you meet at a conference could be anybody — and it’s not until after you’ve said hi that you learn what they do. And if the gods are on your side, you just might find someone who can help you, or (better yet) someone who needs your help.

    What it comes down to is expectations. When you are networking, go to places where people are buying, not where they are selling. This will likely bring better results.

    ~Graham

  4. John Paul
    John Paul says:

    I agree about the “cattle call” networking events. I’ve been a member of the local Chamber for a few years now, but knew from the start the monthly breakfast mixers weren’t going to be beneficial for me. If you go once, you really don’t need to go again – too big, too impersonal, and everyone’s there just to sell. I went only once and really didn’t enjoy it. I’ve found being part of smaller Chamber committees far more useful because you can meet others one-on-one and establish relationships – even if the people I get to know don’t need my services, they always know other people in the business community who might.

    My favorite networking story just occurred last week at a 4th of July barbecue. The host is a good friend from college and I always thought his wife worked in human resources. After chatting with her at length, I discovered she’s the Director of Marketing for a life insurance company and might have a need for my services…turns out she really didn’t know what kind of writing I did. Considering I wrote training programs for an insurance company for several years in my former corporate life, it’s almost a perfect match! Just goes to show you, always let people know what you do…and find out what they do, too!

    John Paul

  5. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    First, thanks to Peter for giving me this chance to be a guest-blogger. Peter’s book is what got me on my freelancing start in 2003, so even though I get to plug my business with this article, it’s even nicer for me to “return the favor”, if you will, and share my experiences.

    I found this link that might be a source for uncovering a “non-traditional” networking opportunity:

    http://www.seminarinformation.com/

    Some of these are pricey, so they’re not all feasible for everyone. But it can give you a sense of other opportunities that are out there.

    I thought I’d share my first time at a chamber event because I made such a dumb, rookie mistake. I was totally new to freelancing and running a business, but figured joining the chamber would be a good thing. I went to my first event – yes, with the belief I was going to be the only seller in a room full of buyers – and set about to hand-out my business card and spew my 60-second elevator speech.

    There was a casual networking time and a more formal one where we’d sit at a table of 10, give our speech, impatiently listen to everyone else give theirs, then switch tables and do it all again. By the end, you’d have given your card to about 30 people in the formal portion of the event.

    I hate to admit this, but after that first event, I actually went home and sat by the phone, waiting for it to ring. Someone I just met had to need a writer, right? RIGHT?!?!

    As you can guess, the phone never rang. And when I say “never rang”, I mean it never rang from anyone I met at a chamber networking event in the year or so I went. (Fortunately, it started ringing from other clients.)

    But what’s really shocking is that my phone never rang from anyone who gave me their card. In other words, no one ever followed up with me to see if I needed them. And, of course, I never followed up either, still thinking that if they needed me, they knew where to call.

    We were a room full of people who thought giving a business card and talking about ourselves for 30 to 60 seconds was enough to make a sale. (After a while, it did occur to me that if you needed to be at a chamber networking event, perhaps business wasn’t as good as it could be for each attendee meaning they probably couldn’t afford me any more than I could afford them.)

    Happily, I’m smarter about networking now, but I thought I’d share that as a warning to others who are just getting their business going.

  6. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks to all who’ve weighed. Mike (Stelzner), appreciate your input. Social networking certainly has its huge pluses over the in-person kind…

    And Graham and john Paul – thanks for adding some additional great insights to the conversation.

    And Mike (Klassen), thank YOU for the great contributions – initially and immediately above. Wonderfully instructive story to say the least. When I do live seminars on commercial writing, the bullet point that follows the prospecting discussion reads: “FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU.” Puzzled looks all around until I explain, “Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, …” 😉

    PB

  7. Laurie Schmidt
    Laurie Schmidt says:

    I just started my business fairly recently, and I can already vouch for the truth of Follow Up! When I first started sending out letters and emails, I thought….okay, if they’re interested, they’ll call me. Wrong. Okay, sometimes right – but mostly wrong. Now I followup on every letter and email within two weeks, and I would say that roughly 25% of the time, the person I’m calling says, “Glad you called – I have a couple questions about your services” or “Oh yeah, your letter is sitting on my desk – can you send me more information?” If I hadn’t followed up, these people probably would have never contacted me.

  8. peter
    peter says:

    Great stuff, Laurie! And SO true. You can’t expect prospects to follow up that’s YOUR job – but when you do, it’s often amazing what can happen. Thanks!

    PB

  9. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    Laurie, your comments are kind of related to something I just wrote about on my blog. One of my first clients hired me over someone else not only because he thought I could do the job, but because I had my phone number and address on my website.

    I thought that was a strange reason, but it was important enough to him that he let me know that was the small edge I had over others. To him, having that information told him I wasn’t hiding and I was accessible. Now, I notice that a lot of freelancer websites… no phone number. For some older folks (and younger, I suppose), they want to pick up the phone and talk to someone directly.

    It made me think of all the little things that we can do to land jobs or make good impressions that aren’t really that hard… be accessible (before you get the job), follow-up on your marketing, talk with a smile in your voice while on the phone, etc.

    Yet it’s not always so obvious when you’ve spent all your prior jobs working for someone else and not having to worry about being the face of the company. But it’s usually those little things that make the biggest difference.

  10. Teresa Hall
    Teresa Hall says:

    Hey Peter,
    Thanks for another great blog post. Networking becomes almost magical after a while. You never know how far a connection you make today might reach tomorrow.

    As to your comment- “And Mike (Klassen), thank YOU for the great contributions – initially and immediately above. Wonderfully instructive story to say the least. When I do live seminars on commercial writing, the bullet point that follows the prospecting discussion reads: “FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU, FU.? Puzzled looks all around until I explain, “Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, Follow up, …? 😉

    PB”

    All I can say is when I grow up I want to be a female Peter Bowerman and get away with stuff like this!! Thanks for the wisdom and the smile!
    Teresa

  11. peter
    peter says:

    Thanks Mike,

    Great point. I’m in 100% agreement. Why you wouldn’t put all your contact info on your site (I have it on every page of my site: http://www.writeinc.biz) is beyond me. And I also recommend mailing address. As you say, it just makes you more accessible (and while maybe a long shot, but say a client wants to send you something – info, a check, whatever – and it’s after hours, they can find it on your site). Some say they they don’t want to tie themselves down geographically in a client’s mind by putting their address, but these days, I don’t think that’s much of an issue. It IS the little things…

    And Teresa, you flatter me… 😉 But, hey, always glad to provide the laughs…

    PB

  12. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    Your comment about geography reminded me of my start as a freelancer. I did wonder, “Why on earth would anyone from another area hire me? Certainly they have local folks they’d prefer to work with.”

    How things have changed from those kinds of thoughts. Since starting the design aspect of my business over 3 years ago, I haven’t had a single client from my own state of Washington. I never market locally, so if anyone local finds me, it’s by chance or some word-of-mouth.

    And when I did have one opportunity to meet with a “local” potential client (about two and half hours away), I politely declined the request to meet face-to-face. That’s not something I recommend to everyone, but since I was only working with out-of-state clients at that point, I knew that face-to-face meetings weren’t as necessary as some make them out to be, at least for designers. (I think that for writers, getting face time with the right people during the research phase has value. Even at that, I know lots of writers who will still only do that over the phone or e-mail.)

  13. peter
    peter says:

    Right you are, Mike. Most of my clients ARE local, but it’s amazing how infrequently we meet, and how in some cases, we’ve never met at all! I wouldn’t know these folks if I fell over them in the street. That said, if you do have local prospects (i.e., within 20-30 minutes), I’m a big fan of meeting people face-to-face – at least initially. In my experience, people feel more connected to someone if they’ve met them personally, and in this business, as in most any business, people buy people. Not that someone can’t “buy” you over the phone, but it can speed up the process. But, meet them once, and you usually don’t have to do it again.

    But is it necessary? No. Would it help? Most likely. And all you folks who live in small town or rural areas and are wondering how to build this business with so few clients locally, Mike’s right on target here. It really doesn’t matter anymore.

    PB

  14. Laurie Schmidt
    Laurie Schmidt says:

    I agree, Mike and Peter – distance doesn’t matter anymore. Given my niche (science), I’d be very limited if I couldn’t market myself to clients out of my area. I can honestly say that I have only had ONE potential client tell me they thought I needed to be geographically closer to them (and they were in Maui….bummer, as I was hoping they were gonna fly me there for a project meeting 😉

  15. Zoe Winters
    Zoe Winters says:

    The Objectifying type of networking reminds me of my Mary Kay days. *cringe* MLMs tend to everybody you know into a potential target. And that’s possibly because you’re selling the exact same thing as a whole bunch of other people. When you’re selling something more personal I think genuinely valuing others, and being yourself draws a lot more people. Eventually those who need to find you will find you, provided you’re where they can find you. IMO.

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