The underpinning of any successful freelancer is the relationships they have.
From these relationships comes repeat business, as well as referrals for new clients. So, what’s the best way to build these kinds of relationships? Networking.
Unfortunately, most of us (including me!) don’t enjoy “networking”. We feel anxious and out of place. And start to stutter when asked the simple question, “What do you do?”
Below guest writer Joyce Akiko shares a three-step formula for overcoming the anxiety associated with networking. And instead, be a superstar networker—building relationships and attracting leads left and right.
Take it away, Joyce!
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Networking is kind of like going to the dentist.
You know you have to do it, everyone tells you that you have to do it… but you don’t want to do it. And when you do decide to bite the bullet, you know you’re going to be white-knuckling it every step of the way as you imagine everything that could possibly go wrong.
Before you know it, you’re red-faced and sweaty, and you haven’t even walked in the door.
Why does this happen?
Some of us have a hard time approaching and talking to people we don’t know. For others, our confidence is put to the test, and we wonder whether we’re good enough, smart enough, talented enough, or whatever enough.
The problem is, if your goal is to be successful as a freelancer, you do have to do it. Networking, nervous laughter, practiced elevator pitches and handing out business cards. The whole kit and caboodle.
This is because, ultimately, your freelance business relies on your ability to establish strong, meaningful relationships with the people who would hire you for your services! By establishing these kinds of relationships, you can become known as the go-to person in your specialty and have a stream of referrals and warm leads sent straight to your inbox.
And the best possible way to get out and begin building strong relationships? Not cold calling, not shooting emails or LinkedIn messages off to total strangers.
So if you hate networking, what can you do to make it easier? Wouldn’t it be great if there were a simple formula you could mentally pull up the next time someone asks “so, what do you do?”
Well, you’re in luck. I’ve got that formula for you.
It’s only three steps long, and it’s amazingly effective at 1) telling people what you do, 2) telling them why you do it, and 3) giving them a reason to give you an introduction to anyone they know who might need your services!
Let’s jump in.
Step #1: Be Clear About What You Do
If we aren’t clear about what we do, then we make it really hard for people to make referrals! We may also feel an unnecessary lack of confidence. By that I mean: if someone asks what you do, and your stomach clenches up and you don’t know what to say…
Then you may feel a little down. You might feel like you don’t know what to say because you don’t do anything worth mentioning. And even if you do speak up and say “I’m learning to code!” you may feel like you’re falling flat and have nothing else of importance to share.
But it’s just not true!!
It’s far more likely that you simply don’t know how to explain what you do in a detailed way. So let’s solve this challenge right here and now.
See if this holds true for you: you know what you do, as in what coding languages you know and what kinds of applications you can build. But what is it that you do with those skills?
Do you help hacked clients get peace of mind when it comes to their website security? Do you help young professionals get promotions and new jobs with stellar online presences that showcase their knowledge and skills so employers can’t wait to snap them up?
Whatever it is that you do with your skills, that you do for your clients, add it to your “what I do” statement.
The benefits are numerous: instead of a conversation-stopper, you have a conversation-starter. Instead of building superficial relationships based on small talk, you open the discussion up for real discussion. And lastly, most importantly of all, you’ll make it extremely easy for people to identify people who could use your services!
By the way, if you aren’t sure what you do with your skills yet, it’s perfectly fine! This is a great jump-starter to begin thinking about potential niche areas you’d like to break into. The more specific you get with who your clients are and what you do for them, the stronger you’ll feel when talking about what you do.
Step #2: Be Clear About Why You Do It
In addition to knowing what you do, you also want to understand why you do it. After all, you chose to learn how to code and become a freelancer for a reason! And talking about that reason helps to create a bond with the person you’re speaking with. They are more likely to help you out with leads and referrals. This is because your motives are made clear—they know you’re not just trying to make a buck!
Ask yourself: why do you want to freelance? Is it to escape the 9 to 5? Is it to be your own boss and make your own rules? Is it so you can travel the world and have tons of new experiences and memorable moments?
Whatever your reason, get clear on what it is. Use it to help explain why you do what you do. You can also explain what makes you passionate or interested in your target niche.
For example, “I make websites that help new moms get peace of mind about the healthy habits they’re instilling in their kids. I started doing this because I’m a new mom myself, and I’m super passionate about raising my kids with nutritious food and healthy habits. I began freelancing because I wanted to be able to spend more quality time with them!”
Doesn’t that sound engaging? Wouldn’t you want to help that mom to help out your friends who are new moms that would love to work with someone who understands their challenges?
Step #3: Provide Value
Part of the reason networking can feel so vile is because you feel like you have to sell yourself. Like you have to become narcissistic, cocky, or a know-it-all in order to get the right person’s attention.
The reality is, you need to be just the opposite!
Networking is about making meaningful relationships, not surface-level connections. It’s not about getting into endless conversations with small-talk and fluff or trying to close deals.
So how do you create meaningful relationships? How do you build a connection with someone that is give-and-take, that considers what they want and need, and also what you want and need?
You can do it by giving away value.
Maybe you can recommend an excellent book that they’d like! Or you can ask them what kind of people they want to get connected with, and search your own network for people to introduce them to! Another way to provide value is to follow them online and leave helpful feedback on their posts.
If you aren’t able to think of a way to help someone out, ask them. Let them know that you care. That they are special to you, that they are meaningful to you.
As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
So make them feel good. And as long as you come from a place of providing value, you won’t sound contrived or fake. You will come across as genuine, sincere and REAL… because that is what you are!
And as an added bonus, anyone that you’ve gone out of your way to help is far more likely to go out of their way to help you. So ask for referrals! They will know that you’re a person worth introducing around.
Use this simple 3-step formula when meeting new people to connect with them, build instant rapport, and make it easy and compelling for people to send potential clients your way. To review, Step #1 is to explain what you do… and what you do with your skills. This opens up the conversation and takes it from small talk to meaningful and real.
Step #2 is to talk about why you do what you do. Just one simple sentence on your “why” will take you from nervous and scared, to confident and propelled. Talk about what makes you tick! What you’re passionate about! People want to hear it. And they’ll remember you for it.
Lastly, in Step #3, provide value to the person you’re speaking with. Tell them about some advice you heard that they might find useful. Recommend a book or article. Put them first, and show them how you value their time and care about helping them. They will not only be grateful, but they will also be far more likely to think of you as a person worth introducing to their friends.
Now go forth and start getting those amazing leads!
About the Author
Joyce helps those who ache for freedom and flexibility by giving them affordable, accessible education on how to build profitable freelance businesses so they can be their own boss and make more money doing meaningful work that they love. Check out her 3-week course, Freelance On The Side, and enroll today — it’s 100% free for a limited time.