Networking advice for freelancers

If you’re new to freelancing, you may quickly find that the network of people that you have might not be growing fast enough to keep up with the bills that you have to pay.

As a result, you might start looking towards things like conferences, events, or networking groups to get your name out there and help grow your business.

They seem like a great idea, but for some graphic designers, this can be a daunting task. Once you get to a networking event, you begin to realize how real things quickly become. For some its easy to leave feeling frustrated and that it wasn’t a good fit for them. Maybe they weren’t getting the leads that they were looking for and it felt like time wasted.

This is something that I struggled with when I first started freelancing. I wasn’t just new to being a freelancer, I was new to the city that I was living in. So it was a double whammy for me.

I wasn’t only trying to grow my business. I was just trying to grow my network in new place. But I learned a few things along the way. 

Generalized networking groups aren’t the best

If you’re in a financial, insurance or similar industry, generalized networking groups are a good place to go. But for more specialized trades like web or graphic design, its more of a struggle. Many times, I was viewed as a commodoty instead of an expert, because the people at these events weren’t anywhere near an ideal client for me.

Many of the people at groups like these don’t have the budget or the values that designers always want to see from a potential client. 

On the flip side, specialized networking groups can be a gold mine.

Restaurant groups are a fairly typical example of this. It’s more difficult to get into a specialized group, as they tend to approve anyone who wants to join. If you are approved to join though, you’re usually not competing with anyone else who may offer similar services. Gain the trust of those who are a part of the group, and it can open the door up to many new potential clients and projects.

Go to conferences!

Conferences are a bit opposite from a networking group, but better for those who need a lot of energy to get out the door. It’s easier than attending a regular event every week or month.

It’s easy to attend conferences geared at our colleagues. While I do encourage you to go to these, take a look at conferences that your potential clients would be likely to go to. If its possible, it might be worth looking into speaking at them as well. There’s a very strong likelihood that you’re an only or one of a few designers in attendance.

This can establish you as the defacto expert. As these people are looking to network and connect, which I think there’s a little bit more willingness to do at a conference, being there shows them that you’re serious about their industry. It opens the door a little easier towards potentially gaining new clients.

Balance your time

I always have to remind myself of this. Balance your time with the people you meet. You want to spend enough time with them that you feel that whether or not it’s a good fit and to exchange contact information. But on the flip side, don’t monopolize your time with one or two people.

It’s so easy to get buddy-buddy with someone, but you have to remember at the end of the day, that the goal is to meet people. That’s why everyone else is there as well.

Don’t spend 15 or 20 minutes with someone if five minutes will do.

While it’s a lot of work, there are benefits to networking. It’s a great way to quickly start growing your business, getting your name out and making a positive impact on your bottom line.

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