The books on this subject are many, so I’ll just give you a few key things to keep in mind about networking.
Networking and selling are different
When you network, you’re meeting people and giving them the opportunity to meet you. You’re literally building your network of contacts by nurturing a long-lasting relationships, and learning what they do and helping them understand what it is you do. Selling would be focused primarily on getting money from someone over the short-term.
Here’s what the difference between networking and selling sounds like:
“Hi, I’m Amber and I’m a freelance copywriter. If you or anyone you know needs a website, brochure, or press release written, just have them give me a call. Here’s my card!”
Amber: “Hi, I’m Amber. I’m a freelance copywriter.” (Stop)
Dave: “Oh, a writer, huh? What kinds of things do you write?” (Stop)
Amber: “Well, I mostly write marketing content for businesses, like websites, brochures, and social media content. I love being able to work with so many different kinds of writing. Right now I’m working on a website for a naturopath. What do you do?” (Stop)
See the difference? The first example is a scripted speech, while the second is a dialogue, a conversation. That’s what you want. Just talk to people. Relax. Chat. Be curious about them and what they do.
Better even than talking about what you do is listening to others talk about what they do. Be curious about everyone you meet and ask questions about them and their work. People are more likely to hire or work with someone they like over someone with the perfect experience.
For example, I recently met with a prospective client who had a very specific kind of writing he was looking for. I had done some relevant work, but not an extensive amount. By the end of the informational interview, we were geeking out about Sci-Fi books and our favorite characters from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R Tolkien. By the end of the 45 minutes (which was only supposed to be 30 minutes) he said he wanted me working on the next project that came in the door.
If you’re not likeable or can’t stand small talk, you might have trouble with networking, and helping people get to know you and vice versa. Be honest with yourself about your limitations and find ways to manage them. Maybe you do better in small gatherings, or perhaps you need to partner with someone who does better at small talk, so you can just do your work.
As freelancers, being known and liked is key to our success. The best advice I can give is to practice, practice, practice. You’ll learn by doing. I promise.