Networking Coward? Land Great Freelance Clients Anyway

Carol Tice

Land great freelance clients - even if you're a networking coward. Makealivingwriting.comby Rebecca Sylvester

You’ve read that making connections is the way to get great freelance clients and make more money NOW.

You know you could land high-paying gigs if you just had the courage to promote yourself.

You’ve got the talent, and you’ve done the work to boost your writing skills.

But something is holding you back. The very idea of promoting yourself in a room full of people fills you with white-hot shame.

Standing up to do an elevator pitch makes you wet your britches.

You’re a networking coward.

Don’t worry. I used to be too, but I beat that fear with a little practical action and a large dose of determination.

How bad was it? When I started, I had a full-blown social anxiety disorder.

My comfort zone was precisely the size of my couch.

But I wanted more. I wanted to earn more money, talk to more people and just generally have a bigger life.

I started small and did something every single day to stretch into what I like to call my “discomfort zone.” My discomfort zone is huge.

Within six-months, I was standing in a roomful of people giving a speech. Not only didn’t it kill me, but I kind of liked it!

Just a few weeks after doing that speech, I brought home a freelance contract for $1,600, and great freelance clients have been rolling in ever since.

Here’s what I learned about networking along the way:

Be prepared

Being over-prepared is the best defense against fear in any networking situation, in person, on the phone, or online.

This means practicing what you will say, how you will say it and why. Think about what kind of image you are trying to project, and how you can achieve that.

When I first started, I recorded myself practicing my “me speeches” so I could evaluate my words like a new listener would. I worked hard to hone my message and make my words flow.

Details matter

Pay attention to the details of your appearance, so you’re not distracted by discomfort while you’re trying to talk to people.

Don’t undermine yourself with itchy clothes or a dorky haircut. Give yourself everything you need to bust your self-doubt and feel great.

No one will notice if you are wearing designer duds, but they will notice if you are tugging at your skirt, twisting your collar or otherwise acting uncomfortable.

Arrive early

Give yourself time to get comfortable and case the venue before everyone else arrives. Don’t walk in late and face a wall of people who are already engaged in conversations.

Remember that people usually enter a room and move through it counter-clockwise. Stand near the entrance and smile at the new arrivals.

They will come to you and introduce themselves–you won’t have to do anything but look welcoming!

Cultivate a feeling of competence

Think back to a time when you felt confident, competent and in control.

Spend some time to really feel that state in your body and access it before you walk into a situation where you will meet new people.

Anxiety is something that happens in your body, and you can interrupt that nervousness simply by remembering a time when you didn’t feel it. This also work when you are about to make a phone call or write an email you’ve been putting off.

Don’t focus on yourself

When I go to a networking event, I like to look around for a poor soul that looks even more distressed than I feel. Then I walk over and introduce myself.

You will not believe the profound expressions of relief and gratitude you’ll see from people when you do this.

And guess what? When you’re helping someone else feel better, you’ll forget about your own nervous self.

Do your homework

You don’t need to toss your business cards to the wind and hope they will land with someone who can give you a gig. Spend some time identifying people you would like to meet.

LinkedIn is a great tool for this. You can see who your contacts know, and ask for an introduction, or see where your target clients are hanging out.

Be strategic

Before you go to a networking event, spend some time identifying what industries you are targeting, and make a goal of finding and talking to just two or three of those people.

I’ve found it much easier to walk into a roomful of people when I’m on a mission. Having a focus like this gives you a manageable goal for the event and something to think about besides how awkward you feel.

Accept yourself

They key to beating your networking avoidance and landing great freelance clients is to accept your limitations and adjust for them.

Give yourself everything you need to be successful as you are. I know you can become truly comfortable with promoting yourself, even if you are starting from a place of abject terror–because I did it myself.

Before you know it, you’ll be bagging the big-time projects that will boost your freelance income now.

Rebecca Sylvester is a writer, blogger and local internet marketeer living in the exurbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

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  1. Allie

    This is great advice, Rebecca! Especially the part about being strategic — I’ve been attending networking events for a few months now, and it’s definitely a lot scarier to go in with no game plan. Another idea is to ask an outgoing friend that is good at networking to go with you, so even if you feel anxious, you’ll have someone with you who can help introduce you to others.

    • Rebecca

      Thanks, Allie. Yes, it is a good idea to have friendly support with you!

  2. Karen

    What a timely post! I’m a complete and total networking coward.I don’t even know where to start in the whole process, which makes my inner coward even more cowardly.
    This is some great advice though and I’m going to bookmark it so I can refer to it often. I’m even going to use some of it today as I go demo an application interface I’m designing. That part about remembering a time you felt confident and not nervous is great advice for this afternoon!

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Rebecca

      Awesome Karen! Good luck — you’ll do great, I’m sure.

  3. Sophie Lizard

    Hi Rebecca, great post! I just visited your blog and I can see I’ll be back for more. 🙂

    Love the tip about finding someone who looks lost or nervous to talk to. It’s true, you forget your own fears while you’re helping somebody else deal with theirs.

    The other trick I use a lot is to create the character “Sophie Lizard, freelance writer and editor” in my head and then *be* her at networking events. She’s very much like the real me, except that she’s more confident and outgoing, speaks more clearly and doesn’t bite her nails!

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for adding another good tip, Sophie!

    • Rebecca

      Great tip Sophie! I love it!

  4. Laura

    I’m one big fat coward when it comes to networking. Thanks for the tips!
    One thing I’d like to know is what’s the smartest way to market yourself on a non-networking event. I’ve never been able to just throw it out there, whenever I meet someone who I believe may be a potential client, on a non-networking situation. Anyone has tips on how to handle it without coming off as an annoying salesperson?

    • Carol Tice

      Just wait for the conversation to wind around to, “And what do you do?” And that’s your opening to say… “I’m a freelance writer who works with X type of clients.” Usually if they are the type to work with writers, they’ll take it from there. Always have your business cards on you — I keep some in my purse at all times — in case you could pass one along to the wife of that big CEO when you run into her at your kids’ soccer match 🙂

      • Rebecca

        Carol is right on here. Most people expect you to talk about what you do, and won’t think you’re acting like an annoying salesperson at all!

  5. Elizabeth

    Great article Rebecca!! I enjoyed our morning coffee and I’m sad we can’t network together in the ‘Burgh but I think we’re overdue for another great morning brainstorming and chatting!!

    • Rebecca

      Sounds great Elizabeth — can’t wait!

  6. Kathleen Dwyer

    I get a knot in my stomach just reading about a networking event. I love the idea of recording your ‘me speeches’ to work out the kinks. Great article, thanks!

    • Carol Tice

      I’m kind of a social animal myself, so I’ve been surprised to learn how many writers are just PETRIFIED to do in-person networking. But I really recommend overcoming the fears and trying it.

      Even if you don’t end up getting a client, there’s something very powerful about saying “I’m a freelance writer” to people over and over at an event. Makes it real for you.

  7. Josh Monen

    Good post Rebecca! I like what you said about not focusing on yourself. When we do that it relieves a lot of anxiety. I like to think about how I could help other people out and that takes the focus off me and my business. Of course we need to be prepared to talk about our business but I truly believe we’ll get more business by focusing on helping others succeed.

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