With the current political climate, there’s no doubt that the hardest hit people economically have been business people and creatives. Since their income depends on the ability of clients to hire, they often find themselves disadvantaged by minor fluctuations in the economy. Knowing then that freelancing is not for the weak of heart, it is important for individuals to have strategies to ensure their own survival.
The basics of networking are understanding where you want to go, recognizing who can get you there and then position yourself where you are best placed to have the three factors coincide. Depending on what your aim is, networking can be either serendipitous; where by sheer luck you run into someone who offers you an advantage, or strategic; where you arrange to meet a certain person to facilitate a conversation in the hope that the meeting will result in an advantage for you.
Whichever way you are going for, here are a few tips I got from a professional networking talk at the American Embassy you could use to make the encounter work for you:
Curate your circles
If you’re a business person looking for investors, or a creative looking for collaborators or clients, it would only make sense to make more appearances at events where your targets would be. This could mean art galleries and other people’s shows for artists, or business conferences for business people.
If it is a professional event, you should look up the speakers in advance. Do your research so that you have an in when you get the opportunity to communicate. Things that would work to your advantage are shared alma maters, hobbies and interests, or even second and third degree connections.
Investing in business cards would be advantageous since you’d want whoever you spoke to have means of reaching you. Your contact details, as well as the website, should be on the card to enable whoever it is you give your card to look up your work. This would go a long way in increasing your reach.
If someone gives you their card, you could scribble some light notes at the back of the card about where you met the person just to jog your memory later when you want to reconnect.
It is important that after connecting with someone, you maintain contact by sending a brief email highlighting where you met, appreciation for their time and expressing interest in keeping the conversation going in the near future. This ensures that when you talk to them again, you have a foundation to build up on as compared to popping up out of the blue to demand a stranger’s time. From time to time, keep in touch in a direct but courteous manner, taking care not to come off as a nag.
In the email, you could attach a link to your LinkedIn profile, but only if it is professionally crafted.
Practice your elevator pitch
Given that you will rarely have extended periods of time to talk to whoever you’re interested in professionally, it is important that you practice a brief, concise pitch for these moments. Keeping it under thirty seconds to a minute, sum up your ideas making sure to indicate exactly how this is relevant to whoever you are speaking to.
The focus of the pitch should be what you bring to the table, what you have accomplished so far and your plan for the future. In this way, by highlighting the positives you come across as driven and deserving of investment. Of course, this doesn’t mean should over-embellish. Rather, find a balance that plays up your achievements enough to make the shortcomings pale in comparison.
Pay back the favour to other people by offering them opportunities if you are in a position to do so. You could also recommend them to your other networks, but only if you have ascertained that whoever you are recommending is deserving of this show of trust. The butterfly effect of this kindness will come back to you full circle when you least expect it.