Friday 17 July 2015

How to build your post-career break network as a nervous freelancer

A common route to return to work following a career break is by working as a freelancer, offering your specific skills to companies or individuals on a project basis. I took the freelance route when I first started building my executive coaching practice following my career break and being quite shy and reluctant to ‘sell’ myself, I found the process of networking to find clients intimidating. Mary Jane Boholst, a self-described ‘shy, introverted, geeky freelancer’ shares her expertise on how it’s possible to build your network despite your fears.

If you are like most introverts or you are just unused to talking about yourself as a professional then the idea of networking to get clients or jobs as a freelancer can be a daunting one.

There are a great many problems that arise, the most pressing of which are where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them. We’ll tackle those one by one in a moment.

What you offer
Before we do I want to make networking less daunting by sharing something that helped me to overcome the scary task of actually going networking to get clients and connections when I decided to take the leap into self-employment from my job.

This is something that I teach during my talks and seminars, which attendees and clients alike tell me makes such a difference to how they feel about networking and it’s:

Your service is a gift!

Now whether you are an employee or a freelancer, whatever it is that you do as a job or a career, it makes a difference to the people you provide it for.

That makes it, and you, a gift.

Whether you are an artist who brings a slice of beauty to everyone who sees your art, or a digital media professional who advises growing businesses on how to make the most of the social media channels or a business consultant who can carry out research and analysis and present recommendations, the service you provide is a gift that others need.

If you don’t know what your gift is then take some time to get clear on that first! Photography, cooking, interior design, counselling, coding, editing, copyrighting - take your pick! (I highly recommend choosing something you are passionate about doing.)

Once you know you are offering something special to the people you meet, where should you meet them?

Where to find potential clients
If you are a freelancer or new to business then it is going to save you time (and money) to think about who you would love to work with.

Who are the people who you think would benefit the most from your gift and who you would love to share your gift with?

Companies, individuals, busy professionals, couples, techies, creatives - the list is endless!

When you know who you are looking for it becomes easier to find them and talk to them.

The best way of finding who you are looking for is to think about places they would go and be at those places. If you struggle to find events eventbrite and meetup have great events that you can go to meet people with various interests. For more corporate/ professional individuals, Internations could be a great way for you to meet people.

Each of these sites has a search facility so you can search for the people, interests and topics that you, and your people, enjoy.

What to say
When you are at events meeting people, there are several steps to having a great conversation and making sure it is effective.

Firstly, keep in mind that you are offering people something that is a gift! 

This will help you to feel less salesy when approaching people and starting conversations.

Then I find it is useful to start the conversation by asking a question like what’s your name? Or what brings you here?

Actually I find that curiosity is the key to having great conversations: the more that you are interested in the people that you meet, the more they respond positively and the less self-conscious you’ll feel because you are focusing on the other person.

It also means that you listen to what people say, and who doesn’t want to feel heard?

When it comes to what you ask questions about, the key is to find out if you can help or support the people you meet in some way.

If you can help them with your product or service then you can ask them if they are interested in hearing more about it, before telling them more about it.

If not then you can give them a referral to a resource or opportunity/event that might help them move toward their goals. Then you can still ask them to be open to sharing about your work too, once you are done.

Networking and building a network is a long term strategy and game plan, so if the first few people you meet are not your clients, still be open to speaking with them because they may be able to get you one step closer to an investor, referral, potential client, event or opportunity.

If you are introverted, shy and geeky, like me, then you could find it especially useful to be curious and listen because it doesn’t require you to be extroverted and someone you are not.

In fact I know that networking works best when you are being yourself, because it is something my clients say to me all the time and something I discovered for myself when I discovered how to build my network effectively.

If you want more support to do this then please get in touch with me!

Mary Jane Boholst is the founder of Conscious Cocoon helping women in tech and shy introverted business owners to step out from behind their computer screens, speak up, speak out and share their expertise. Find out more here.

For other posts on freelancing see:
Freelancing as a return-to-work option

Posted by Katerina

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