I got the job of editor for Macworld Australia after many years of being a freelance contributor to the magazine. The combination of relationships with the publisher and experience got me that job. But, the publisher has decided to shutter that operation and I lost a long-timer retainer client. While that hurt, the pain was short-lived.
I’ve been freelancing for over 15 years. For about half that time, my writing work was an enjoyable side-job that brought in some extra money while being fun – a hobby with benefits. But about eight years ago, I decided to make the leap and give up my nine-to-five job and try freelancing full-time.
One of the big factors in making that decision was that I had a solid network of contacts and I was confident I could convert those relationships into work opportunities. But creating that network took effort. It wasn’t accidental. I went to a lot of media events. I set up coffee meetings and invited people to simply spend half an hour and explain to me what they did and vice-versa. There were days when I would fly to another city and set up camp in a cafe and meet with a different person every hour. There was no selling agenda. It was just a dialog where we exchanged at we did and, in some cases, noted where there may be opportunities to work together one day.
One of the most important pieces of advice I received early on in my freelancing career was that it was my role to solve problems and not create them. Offer a solution even if the person you’re talking to can’t yet see the problem.
There are lots of ways to maintain contact with people. Social media is a powerful tool. Doing a few simple things such as liking Facebook and Twitter comments, sharing posts and posting comments show that you are interested in people and their work.You can also participate in online forums and mailing lists. And for more solid relationships, the occasional email or phone call is good as well.
When you’re hustling for work, it can be easy to see things from your own perspective. Put yourself in the other person’s position and look at what they need. It might be that you can’t solve a problem for them. If that’s the case a simple “How are you?” message might be all that’s needed.
One of the challenges we face today is that it’s very easy to connect with people on a superficial level. For some, collecting Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn friends and followers is a competitive sport. But it’s impossible to maintain relationships with all those people. Business relationships need to be mutually beneficial.
Be selective about where you put your efforts. Relationship building needs to be allocated a part of that non-paying work time. It might even need to be funded with the occasional trip to another city in order to meet with important contacts. By investing in building long-term connections where you can bring value you’ll help ensure you’re in a good position to present your message.