by 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.