We’re back with another guest post to end out 2020—this one about how to network as a freelancer during COVID19. It’s an understatement to say this year has been a weird one, and the world of networking has shifted to reflect our new virtual-focused word.
How do you network online if you’re a full-time freelancer? It’s all about taking the personal and going digital. Let’s dive into the guest post.
Freelancing is becoming increasingly popular — in the U.S., approximately 35% of the workforce is taking this route. It’s not difficult to see why. In many cases, there’s the flexibility to choose your own hours, and you can work from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. It’s not even necessarily frowned upon to show up to work in your pajamas if that’s your thing.
However, one of the most challenging aspects of any freelance career is the need to network to find the next gig. Networking doesn’t always come easily if you’re working alone (and from home).
As with much else, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge problems for freelancers. Not only has there been widespread unemployment, with many workers needing to find alternative solutions. There’s also the issue that in-person events have been largely canceled, disrupting vital opportunities for freelancers to network effectively.
That doesn’t mean to say that all is lost. Freelancers are resilient, creative people, and with a little digging, you can make the best of a difficult situation.
It’s worth taking time to review a few of the areas in which you should be directing your attention, along with some strategies you can employ or build upon. It’s still an exciting, world of opportunities out there — it just takes some extra work to seize them.
Attend Virtual Events
Okay, let’s tackle the immediate issue. For the most part, in-person events have been canceled, so you don’t have the same opportunities to start-up casual conversations with industry decision-makers that inevitably lead to passing on your details.
While this is accurate, there are still events being held virtually. In fact, there was a 1000% rise in virtual events reported by one company as a result of COVID-19. Most industry conventions have been transferred to online spaces. There’s just a slightly different approach to taking advantage of them.
- Volunteer – This is a new approach to conventions for most of us. As such, events are often looking for volunteers to help behind the scenes or moderate discussions. This not only allows freelancers to connect with fellow attendees, but it also gives an “in” with organizers who are usually well placed to connect you to resources.
- Run a Panel – One of the challenges of networking has always been crystalizing proof of your expertise for convenient consumption. Online events can help out here. Industry conventions are often looking for panels and discussions to help boost the value of their program. Come up with a topic that is relevant to your expertise, and submit it to the organizers. This is a chance for exposure to attendees, and to connect with other panel guest speakers.
- Attend Break Out Rooms – Many conferences are hosting breakout rooms on Zoom or Slack, giving opportunities for attendees to virtually mingle. This might feel a little strange, but it can also be a lot of fun. As with any networking opportunity, don’t just make this about sharing your portfolio or asking where to find the next paid gig. Take a genuine interest in what other people are doing; make the effort to forge relationships.
Network from Within
Freelancers have always sought recommendations from current employers to launch them onto the next gig. If your contracts are generally temporary, this can be a great way to maintain momentum.
That said, you shouldn’t be approaching this in a way that is essentially mining your employer for information! You have to demonstrate your value before others will be willing to risk their reputations by recommending you. Again, this is very much dependent on your relationships.
When working in purely remote spaces, this can be difficult. Find opportunities to make connections with your employer and your fellow freelance employees (they can be sources of information too).
If you have access to them, use company group messaging channels frequently to not just contribute to discussions on projects, but also show something of your personality. As a freelancer, you want to make certain that people not only get great work from you, but they enjoy their interactions with you too.
It can also be useful to offer suggestions that both serve as networking opportunities, but also provide value to the business you’re working with. Asking your direct manager about the possibility of a team building session is a good start.
Fun online activities, icebreaker sessions, and discussions are great for general team morale and improving productivity. They also help all members of the team forge stronger bonds and develop trust. By fully engaging here, you can help to develop relationships with your manager and fellow workers that can result in them being more receptive to any inquiries you may make when it’s approaching time to move on.
Use Your Social and Peer Groups
You should already use LinkedIn for your resume and job searches, and if you haven’t already joined some groups relevant to your niche, do so. But you can also use these groups to your networking advantage in non-traditional ways.
Suggest a virtual meetup for some peer team building — the difference here is you’re not doing this for the benefit of an employer, but to bolster each other’s skills and morale. Organize a group chat, and set up a remote scavenger hunt, or get creative with a painting session. Make it a fun exercise that brings your peer freelancers a little closer together. You’ll get to know one another better, be more open to sharing challenges you’re facing, and ultimately think of one another when the right opportunities arise.
Your other social media channels can be a goldmine of network options, too. Particularly in graphic design and animation, employers will often search on multiple platforms looking for potential new voices for their projects.
The key to networking on socials is to have meaningful exchanges with others in your industry; contribute to the discussion, don’t just pitch your ideas or services. Grow your personal brand using the most appropriate platform showcase for your skills, TikTok for videos, Twitter for sharing writing and ideas, Instagram for images.
Treat your online networking almost as you would marketing — create quality content and provide value to those you want to connect with.
Start Making Connections as a Freelancer
Just because the world has been disrupted by the coronavirus, this doesn’t mean to say that your freelance networking opportunities are dead and buried. Remember that networking — online or in-person — is about forging great relationships.
Be genuine in your efforts, and give a little of yourself to make those valuable connections.
Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but professional development topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.