The Art of the Schmooze: Why Freelance Writers Are Horrible at Networking


The big, important thing freelance writers always forget about making new connections

Hello, lovelies! Apologies for the delayed post. Been busy with expected and unexpected family stuff, a work trip, frantic and sudden house hunting … and oh yeah, I got engaged. So there’s that, too. 🙂

But we have important freelance writing things to talk about, so let’s dig into those, shall we?

Why you stink at networking

Are you getting enough work? If you’re not, there may something that you’re doing wrong. Did you guess that I was going to say “networking?” You’re so smart.

Here are two ways to know if you’re not networking effectively:

1. You never leave your house.

2. Your networking game plan largely consists of tweeting at strangers until they notice you.

Right now, I can hear a bunch of you going “I became a writer so I don’t have to leave my house! Plus, aren’t virtual connections are just as important as in-person connections these days?”

To that last bit, I say yes and no. (Free free to read that “no” as NO, YOU SILLY FOOL.)

People hire people they know

Last year I was at the Contently Summit in NYC. During happy hour, I was chit chatting with the lead talent manager. He said something like “We have so many people looking for work. I’m much more likely to place someone I’ve met in person and had a beer with.” (Paraphrasing, obviously.)

As I’ve said before, I don’t know everything there is to know about freelance writing, but I do know this: Many of my most-substantial, long-term gigs have been the result of a face-to-face connection with someone somewhere along the line.

What you need to do (or) what’s worked for me

That doesn’t mean that I’m out rubbing elbows all the time. In fact, I only get to networking events or conferences a couple times a year. I’m a single mom. I have two kids and I have clients that expect me to, you know, produce stuff for them. Also, I live in the suburbs and I just can’t easily get into the city all the time.

So here are some things that I do that have worked out well. You may already be doing some of them, but if not, give ’em a shot.

Keep in touch with everyone you ever worked with. Easy enough through LinkedIN or Facebook. Hopefully you’re doing this already.

Go on writer dates. If you make a connection with a writer person who’s in your relative local area, ask him or her to meet you for coffee — even if the person is younger than you and less-experienced than you. Why? A few reasons:

1. Karma. Perhaps you’ll be able to help this person and that’s a nice thing.

2. You don’t know everything. There’s always something to learn from everyone if you keep an open mind. And I promise you, this “kid” knows stuff about content and digital media that you don’t.

3. This person may not have experience now, but remember: People love to hire 20-somethings over 40+ -somethings. This “kid” could be a powerful connection someday. Or tomorrow.

4. If you’re the “kid” in this scenario, asking someone to meet with you shows confidence and initiative.

Go to stuff — but not just writer stuff. Sure, there are a gajillion writers’ conferences. Some of them are good. But if you’re trying to get work as a freelance writer, is hanging out with a bunch of other struggling writers a great strategy?

Probably not.

That’s why it’s a good idea to get out of your house (and yes, out of your pjs) and hit up some events in industries you’re interested in writing about.

I’m lucky that Philadelphia is right down the road. Sometimes there’s a lot going on, like this week’s Philly Tech Week — which on the surface is about technology, but which also attracts bunches and bunches of media types and companies who need writers.

Because here’s something important you need to know if you don’t already: the writing world and the digital world are converging like crazy. Don’t be afraid of technology or you will make yourself obsolete.

We also have a great Content Strategy Meetup group, run by a guy named David Dylan Thomas. This dude is fantastic about creating events that relate to current trends in content strategy. I don’t always get to everything, but even just cyberstalking the speakers he has lined up is often a great way to keep on top of what’s going on.

Don’t overlook the obvious. Guess where you can make a lot of great contacts if you’re just starting out? Your local chamber of commerce.

A colleague suggested that I go to a networking event there months ago and I was all “Why didn’t I think that of that???” Everyone had to get up and give a 30-second pitch about what they did. When the event concluded — no lie — there were five people waiting to talk to me. They were not all the right clients for me, but it really opened my eyes to the fact that people are desperate for writers.

So what about you? Have any other networking tips? Let’s hear ’em.

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