A common misconception about freelancing is that it’s only something you can do after you’ve established yourself within your industry. This is because freelancing is something many people do later on in their careers, having already worked in staff jobs and various offices. But since coronavirus has revolutionised the way we work and remote, digital working has become the norm, the idea that freelancing is only a next-step job has never been less true.
One of the reasons many people assume you need a traditional full-time role before becoming a freelancer is because having a strong network of contacts is important when you’re self-employed in order to secure work. Acquiring contacts requires networking, which traditionally looks like mingling with senior colleagues by the water fountain in an office or attending in-person events in the evenings. But these water fountain conversations now largely take place via Twitter replies and Zoom work events are as common, if not more, as those that take place in-person. Building up your network as a freelancer, whether or not you have experience in the industry you’re entering, is therefore more than doable.
I would know – I became a freelancer straight out of university and successfully built up my portfolio alongside finding industry contacts. Even as the world slowly begins to go back to normal, it seems that digital networking is here to stay and there is so much more to it than LinkedIn.
Here are some networking methods you need to consider as a freelancer.
Twitter is the new LinkedIn
Although LinkedIn is a great place to start when it comes to digital networking, for the majority of people it acts as a digital CV rather than a place to find real connections. Instead, a lot of freelancers use Twitter to establish their network. According to Muck Rack’s 2021 State of Journalism report, 76% of journalists said Twitter is the most valuable social network to them.
Twitter will not only help you to secure work – whether it’s through pitch call outs or #journorequests – but connect with other journalists and editors too. A casual exchange with an editor via Twitter replies, for example, might mean they remember your name when it pops up in their inbox with a pitch.
You can also join group chats on Twitter, something Natalie Arney, a freelance SEO consultant has found invaluable: “I’m part of a small group of freelancers on Twitter – most of us became freelance in the last couple of years and it’s really useful to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and answer questions that any of us have.”
Make the most of Facebook and Instagram
You might only use Facebook to catch up with distant family members or as a reminder tool for your friend’s birthday but there are a range of networking opportunities available on Facebook. Mostly, these opportunities come about via Facebook groups, like the ‘Freelancing for Journalists’ Facebook group or ‘No.1 Freelance Media Women.’
Katie McCourt, the co-founder of the brand Pantee and a digital marketing consultant, says that she found her longest term client via an opportunity she saw on a Facebook group. “I’ve worked with them for two years but I’ve never even met them in person,” she explains.
Instagram can also be a useful tool for building genuine connections. Tori Porter, a Freelance Fitness & Wellness PR Specialist, explains that she always follows people on Instagram after meeting them at events and sends them a message. It’s then easy to build on that connection by replying to people’s stories or commenting on their posts. “I also use Instagram to share my work and reach out to new clients,” Tori says, explaining that the social media platform acts as a portfolio in this way.
Find a mentor (or become one)
Mentorship is something that few people do but it can be invaluable for both mentors and mentees. I was lucky enough to find a mentor a few months after I graduated and she not only introduced me to key contacts but answered my questions and helped to promote my work.
You can find a mentor through various schemes, like the Freelance Journalism Assembly or the Young Women’s Trust. But the process doesn’t have to be so formal – if there’s someone whose work you admire, why not reach out to them on social media or via email to see if they’d be open to the idea of having a mentee? After all, being a mentor is also a great way to network and stay in touch with emerging creatives within the industry.
Peer networking is key
When you think about networking, you may only think about reaching out to people who are very senior within your field of work. But connecting with your peers is also important. Not only will they be able to point you in the direction of new opportunities, but you can share tips and advice with them and they’ll do the same for you.
Plus, your peers will eventually land those senior positions and potentially prove to be even more useful contacts than you ever could have imagined.
Never ‘file and run’
Email exchanges often feel impersonal but there’s no need for that to be the case. When you connect with a new client via email or finish up a piece of work for them, think about ways you can keep the conversation going. That might be by suggesting a coffee (IRL or over Zoom), pitching another idea or bringing up a topic of mutual interest.
Obviously, editors and senior members of staff are very busy so try not to take offence if they don’t reply but being kind as well as efficient via email never hurt anybody when it comes to networking.
Re-think meeting in person
Just because the world of work is becoming increasingly digital, that doesn’t mean you have to completely rule out meeting people in-person. But with few people working centrally in cities anymore, lunches or after-work drinks might seem less appealing. Instead, try suggesting something a little bit different and pandemic-friendly.
“Once I’ve had an intro to someone in a network, I like to meet them for a walk with my labrador Finn,” says Georgie Starkey, a freelance content marketer. “It can be quite isolating being a freelancer, especially for those of us that work from home, so I’ve found getting outside, in the fresh air, really helps. I also have found stronger working relationships have been built with the people I have walked with – you definitely discuss things you maybe wouldn’t in a workspace environment.”