There’s no way around it — your freelance business grows exponentially as your network grows.
You may be the best designer, writer, or coder out there.
The harsh truth is, if people are unaware of who you are and what you offer, you’re going to have a tough time growing your freelance business regardless of your killer skills.
The key factor that sets thriving freelancers apart from struggling freelancers is mastering the art of seeking and nourishing connections that lead to quality opportunities. This can be a problem for us introvert freelancers.
Let’s be honest; you may find the thought of spending a few hours twice or three times a month attending various events or seminars in-person pretty overwhelming. I was in the same boat and made it to the other side.
I spent about a year of my freelance career in introvert seclusion. I gained clients from online connections but eventually hit an income plateau that I simply couldn’t shake because my network wasn’t growing.
After hiring an affordable business coach for a short period and making a concerted effort to network, my circle of connections, income, and opportunities grew.
Here are some tips I can pass on to you:
Use Extrovert Pals as Your Secret Weapon
Finding extrovert business friends has been an absolute game changer for me. Partnering up with an extrovert to go to networking events and conferences is a tip I picked up from author and blogger Kim Anderson of Thrifty Little Mom.
I find it’s easier to continue a conversation than start conversations, and this is where your extrovert friend comes in. Breaking the ice is one of their strengths. You can rely on them to start small talk that can lead to something more meaningful.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t recommend sticking to the side of your extrovert friend for the entire mixer. Instead, after circling the room for initial introductions, you can and should branch out.
At a recent conference, I used the extrovert buddy system, and it worked like a charm. We met some new friends together at preliminary mixers for a warm up and then we went our separate ways for workshops.
Another cool thing about becoming buddies with other business owners regardless of their personality type is that you can share contacts and your network grows exponentially.
Stop Struggling on Business Tasks That Aren’t Your Forte
If tasks like constantly interacting on social media are draining for you, I can relate.
I can usually keep up consistent engagement on Facebook and Instagram for a few weeks before falling off. Hire someone to help you with social media if you have the same challenge.
There are many sites you can go to for affordable help like Fiverr and Upwork. Taking this off your plate can free up more time for you to do business activities that don’t overwhelm you.
Another area where you can get help is public relations if you want to grow your brand with partnerships, interviews, or speaking engagements. Persistent pitching and forming relationships are necessary to gain traction.
Hiring a public relations firm may not be in your budget, but you can hire an affordable VA to help you respond to Help a Reporter (HARO) media coverage requests, to pitch TV shows and podcasts for interviews, or to make your initial introductions with brands.
Practice Opening up in Your Everyday Life
Being a great networker is a skill you have to perfect. And you can’t perfect this skill by sitting behind your laptop screen day in and day out.
What it means to be an introvert seems to always be in dispute. The dictionary defines introversion as being shy.
Others say introversion isn’t as simple as being shy, instead it’s about preferring internal stimulation over external stimulation to some degree. For example, introverts don’t avoid polite chit chat in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store because of shyness. Rather we may be too consumed with an inner dialogue to engage in a conversation about frozen pizza bagels.
My challenge to you is to get out of your head and continue conversations that you would typically avoid or cut short. Practicing can sharpen your small talk skills for networking events, social mixers, conferences, or other engagements.
I’ll admit, the first few events I ventured out to after emerging from introvert hibernation were uncomfortable. I had pretty much forgotten all of the polite small talk skills I had learned from my stint in the corporate world. The practicing has helped me.
Plus, you never know who you’ll meet in passing when you start casual conversations.
At the doctor’s office last month, I met a technician who happened to moonlight as a web designer. He connected me with an agency that hires freelance writers and freelancing writing is how I make a living.
Let a conversation run it’s course. You may be surprised how it can benefit you.
Get All Your Ducks in a Row
Create a plan of action for your networking events to make them less overwhelming. Map out who you want to talk to and how you can be of service to them.
This could be the Type A in me talking, but I also like to control all of the variables I can ahead of an event.
I’ll make sure I’m wearing a hairstyle, outfit, and shoes that I feel comfortable and confident in. I’ll make sure I have more than enough business cards and some breath mints just in case.
I’ll also arrive a little early to get a lay of the land. Rushing into an event late is a surefire way to throw yourself off your game.
If networking is already unnerving for you, try controlling anything that could potentially be a distraction so you can make the most of the experience.
Networking gets easier and easier even for us introvert freelancers the more we do it. The only error you can really make is not trying. So, rip the band-aid off, get out, and start meeting people.