By Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan
If you’re a writer for whom the word “network” has only one meaning — and that’s when your connection to the server goes down — you’re missing out on some great opportunities to find clients.
Networking, or meeting live people face to face, can boost your business and lead to more clients just as effectively as email marketing or enhancing your writer website. In some cases, it works even better.
Networking events often have a registration fee, and I don’t discourage you from paying those fees for the right events. But I also encourage you to consider these other productive, free ways to branch out and find new clients and connections. The key to interacting with real people: be open to seemingly random conversations.
1. Attend random free events – Read flyers in your coffee shop, skim your community newsmagazine, or join a local networking group on LinkedIn (I am a member of Local Pittsburgh Connect) to find out what free events are happening near you. For instance, I attended a local Chamber of Commerce business fair, where it was completely free for me to wander around and chat with the table vendors (who had to pay).
I didn’t get any clients, but I talked about my writing with a photographer, real estate agents, a local technical school, and an accounting firm. That’s how I found my accountant — and got invited to another free event.
The same Chamber was introducing their Women in Business University. At the kick-off, I made my way around the room and met a woman who wanted to know how an HVAC company could benefit from a blog. I listed three broad topics that I thought customers would be interested in reading about, and told her “businesses that blog get 55% more business than those that don’t.” She was impressed, took my card, and said she’d be calling me.
The next week, I attended an open house hosted by a local university that was promoting their Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship. At this free event, I connected with a lawyer I had called once, connected with another business blogger, and met some great local runners with amazing stories to tell (which is perfect since one of newest clients is the company that runs the Pittsburgh Marathon.) AND some of the people I met at this open house were also at the Chamber event, so when I arrived I felt very connected.
2. Talk to random people – At my son’s gymnastics class, I had a casual chat with a fellow parent. One day, I brought an article with me to edit during the class, and the parent asked about my work. He turned out to be the art director for Carnegie Museum magazine. We’ve been friendly for a few weeks now, and he was happy to pass my info on to the editor.
3. Shop random local events – During the holidays, I took time out of my day to attend a local craft show. I shopped and talked to some of the crafters about their projects and businesses. I was looking for something with great products that got me excited. I expressed interest in their work and let them know I was a writer who worked with local businesses. Most were very small scale, so I wasn’t seeing a lot of opportunity for work, but I did find two lovely gifts for friends.
As I left, I checked in with the woman who organized the craft show, who knew my business. Her first words were, “I’m so glad to see you, can we talk about working together?” She told me she was organizing her annual conference and her main marketer and writer had left the team. A week later, we spoke on the phone and agreed on a scope of work and a fee.
4. Lunch Carefully – Long lunches can be a time-suck, so this one isn’t so random. You do have to plan carefully. I agreed to lunch with a local successful businesswoman who wanted to learn how to use Twitter. We both committed to a 1 hr time limit.
I provided some social media advice and in exchange she mentored me on pricing, negotiations and helped me lay out a timeline for a book promotion project. I also agreed to lunch with a local graphic designer. We commiserated over business challenges and shared a few laughs.
About a month later, I received an email from the foundation of a major hospital, asking for samples of my work. My graphic designer friend, they said, had suggested they contact me for great writing.
There is a sense of randomness, of unpredictability, in live networking. I didn’t go to writer’s events and I didn’t know who I was going to meet. But I knew what kind of business I hoped to get and I knew how to talk about my business. I always had business cards handy, and I always tweak my website so I know when people check out my work they will see the best I have to offer.
All of the opportunities came along when I was away from my computer, dressed professionally, making real face-to-face connections with real people in my community.
What has networking done for you? Leave a comment and share your story.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, owner of Sweet Tooth Communications, is a freelance writer and social media consultant in Pittsburgh, PA. She writes on parenting, sports and healthcare issues. She blogs about her family’s mistakes and masterpieces at Try It & You May!
Photo: stock.xchng – Lotushead