Learn how to forge valuable connections as a professional with these six networking tips. Find out why networking is crucial to advancing your freelancer career.
To thrive as an Independent, you need to know how to network — and no, "networking" isn’t just a buzzword. Building relationships with fellow industry professionals is a skill that ensures you’re top of mind when career-advancing opportunities arise. You can never get as far alone as a comprehensive and helpful network will take you.
By the end of this article, you’ll understand what it means to network and why it’s important. We’ll also share six pro networking tips for doing so effectively.
What’s networking? 🤔
Networking is the act of reaching out to fellow professionals to build valuable relationships. You might network with others to gain industry knowledge, develop your skills, or find a new job, among other reasons.
At Contra, we like to call networking “community building” because that’s the ultimate goal. You’re trying to build a valuable network of like-minded industry professionals so everyone can help each other succeed.
Why is networking important? 👏
In a traditional work environment, networking happens quite naturally since you’re working closely with others in your industry. Remote work can make this community building more difficult, but you’re still working alongside coworkers who can help you succeed.
Whatever your workplace environment, you can benefit from putting in the work to network inside and outside your workplace. Here are a few of the greatest advantages of networking:
- Career growth: Finding work as an Independent is tough and usually involves spending hours crawling job boards and freelance gig platforms. But the more connections you make, the higher the chance the right person thinks of you when a job opens up. With time, you’ll find the right people — those who can help you advance your career.
- More credibility: Most freelancing opportunities don't allow you to claim credit for your work, making it challenging to grow your reputation. When you effectively network, you make more people aware of who you are and what you offer, building trust within your niche.
- Skill development: Connecting with a diversely knowledgeable group of people offers access to various growth opportunities. You gain more chances to learn from fellow professionals and upskill where needed.
- Access to resources: Working alone can isolate you from the resources you need to grow, but community building broadens your resource scope, as you can gain access to others’ support, tools, and knowledge.
How to start networking: 3 steps 🪜
If you’re new to networking, it’s often nerve-wracking to start. You have to do many firsts, like reaching out to strangers, cold connecting on LinkedIn, and asking industry experts for advice.
The good news is that one of the best ways to network is by reaching out to people you already know. Becoming closer to current coworkers and industry friends makes it easier to meet new people within their network at social and professional events.
No matter who you’re reaching out to, here’s how to network effectively:
- Offer compliments on the characteristic or skill you want to improve. If you need help heading your first Zoom meeting, email your old boss or supervisor to find out how they are, and then get into it with: "I remember how you kept things concise, stuck to the agenda, and preemptively answered questions. I'm about to manage my first Zoom meeting. Do you have any advice for me?" This gives the person a clear idea of how they can help and the potentially awkward conversation purpose.
- Send a friend or follow request on social media to make it less awkward, followed by a greeting and inquiry about how they've been. Remember to connect via a professional medium like their LinkedIn profile rather than a personal account to come across professionally and avoid crossing any contact boundaries.
- Start with a simple request before getting into the big ask. If this is an old coworker or university friend, they might not remember you, so receiving a request for a big favor won't create an excellent first impression. Start with a brief intro and contextualize your request by discussing how their expertise and help are relevant.
6 tips for effective networking 📝
Whether you’re cold connecting with an industry expert or getting in touch with an old coworker, these six business networking tips will help you build a community of helpful and inspiring professionals.
1. Start with coworkers and acquaintances 🤗
Become more comfortable with networking by starting with those you know. If you’re quite comfortable with them, you might even mention that you’re building your professional community and would love to be introduced to other industry experts. This allows you to expand your presence, build your confidence, and gain credibility before venturing to people outside your circle.
2. Make a good first impression 🙂
You can chat with people all you want, but if you don’t leave a good impression, they won’t want to help you advance your career. Here are a few ways to come across well:
- Make your purpose clear when reaching out to respect their time
- Contribute thoughtfully and professionally when asking or answering questions to help others
- Respond promptly to show interest and commitment
And here are a few tips for networking events:
- Dress appropriately, wearing professional attire that suits the event’s dress code
- Maintain eye contact and focus on your posture (don't slouch!)
- Avoid generalized questions if you can — be specific, but allow for open-ended answers
3. Improve your online presence 💻
A great tip for networking for beginners that feel nervous about direct, in-person chats with new people is to use social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Having a fleshed-out LinkedIn profile complete with an updated resume enhances your credibility, and posting great content regularly maintains your relevancy. Use all your professional social accounts to showcase your talents and encourage your audience to reach out.
4. Network before job searches 🔍
To help your application stick out and make a name for yourself, network with people in your industry before beginning a job search. You’ll have more followers on social platforms that see you’re looking for a new job and might increase the chance someone at a company you’re applying for knows you and can put in a good word.
5. Approach people with purpose 🔥
The best way to make a good first impression is by showing that you respect people’s time. A busy industry professional doesn’t want to help someone who doesn’t seem to consider how valuable their time is.
When reaching out to people, make your purpose known and give them next steps to act on to ensure the conversation goes somewhere. You might start with flattery, complimenting their work, and then clearly explain why you’re contacting, ending the correspondence with an ask from them, like “Would you have 10 minutes later this week to chat about this?”
6. Maintain connections 🧑🤝🧑
To keep the momentum going and ensure you’re building valuable and long-term connections, follow up — always and often. If you met in person, you might email two days later expressing your pleasure in meeting them and try to arrange a coffee. And if you met online, you could continue exchanging professional correspondence, perhaps sending them interesting articles or eventually organizing an in-person meet.
Start networking today with other Contra professionals 🥳
To start networking today, join Contra's Slack community. You’ll find ambitious and helpful Independents looking to help each other out. And if you’re looking for a freelancer, you can check out the top Independents matching your unique needs.
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