If You Build Your Network, Gigs Will Come
Networking, for most any professional, is something that can pay off handsomely. If you are an individual depending on new gigs to support your lifestyle, networking is an indispensable part of doing business as usual.
The good news is that you do not have to be a master of self-promotion to reap the benefits from networking. Simple actions, and careful steps forward can help you to make the most of your interactions and open up a better world of professional opportunity.
See the Forest and Its Trees
One thing to keep in mind when you are gigging for a living, is that EVERYTHING is a networking opportunity. You never truly know where your next job will come from, so you have to treat each interaction like it has professional potential. Every person could be the one who calls.
You will be surprised, over time, at the folks who come to you, and connect you to professional opportunities. Carefully cultivate each relationship, and handle people with kindness and respect. You will be happily rewarded by simply keeping your head in the game, and never burning your bridges.
Find Your Folks
The first thing to figure out of course, is where like-minded folks might be grouping. Your professional bent will lead you in the right direction, so all you really have to do is follow along.
For instance, if you are selling products from online web stores, you will want to find others who are also doing the same. You might start with the products themselves, which often can have a rabid fan base – think of tennis shoes, cellphones or vinyl records. It would be easy to find folks crazy about Nike shoes, or devoted fans of southern blues eager to find others.
Or, you might aim for a more general, online retailers’ group. You would look for an ability to share and learn new strategies, rather than joining a fevered fanbase. Use a site like MeetUp (https://www.meetup.com/topics/internet-retail/) to quickly and easily find out where local events are happening. You can even start your own event and group there, and get the good juju flowing outward if you don’t see a group for you already in action.
The same can be said for using Facebook and LinkedIn – in both platforms, you will already have access to like-minded folks by simply searching for them. You can also use the ad centers on either network to promote posts and target specific audiences. Groups on Facebook in particular, can be very passionate and energizing: it is easy to use the tools there to share messages and comments to quickly bind you into your selected groups.
The web is really a wonderful place to find and connect with your tribe. Trade organizations might be a good step forward as well, depending on your niche. Online writers, designers, accountants, small business owners and web builders will each have local groups that meet and share ideas, and the same can be said for countless other professions. A quick search should get you started.
The point is, without a lot of investment other than your time, you can become active in your professional circles and start mingling. However, if you do have a little more money to spend, one fantastic way to network, is at a national convention or tradeshow.
What Happens In Vegas…
National conventions and tradeshows are held in major cities across the US. The wonderful thing about a convention to a career gigger, is that everyone there has the same thing on their mind: it is a single place that can feed the fires of your network for many months, or even years afterwards.
At a tradeshow or convention, you will typically incur more cost than other methods of networking, but you might consider it as a distillation of the networking process. You can really cover a lot of ground, in a short time. Where online acquaintances might take a while to cultivate properly, meeting someone face-to-face cements the first impression much more directly, and everyone at a convention is a bit more driven to get something out of being there.
Most opportunities like this will take place over a few days, giving you a very focused window to maximize your efforts.
The key to getting the most out of your trade show or convention is being prepared. Before you go, you will get a list of other participants, and can potentially make some inroads before you even leave your house. Here are five more easy strategies to consider:
- Scheduling meetings is a smart and efficient way to ensure you will talk to the people you most want to meet.
- Use the registration materials to map out a loose game plan. Identify the vendors or presentations you want to see, so you know (loosely) how you will spend your time.
- Pick a place to stay that is central to the happening. Most often, the sponsors will have an arrangement for discounted rooms for attendees. You will find a lot of opportunity is simply being in the right place at the right time…however, there is also a benefit in being able to leave it behind for the evening, get your rest, and get back into it again completely refreshed.
- Have an elevator pitch ready, describing the work you do. Be armed with plenty of business cards to disburse, and always have a pad and pen to capture any contact info on the fly.
- Resist the urge to overindulge in partying, as tempting as it may be.
While you may realistically spend a couple thousand dollars when all is said and done, you could easily turn it into tens of thousands or more, if you are networking properly at a convention or tradeshow.
A Final Thought
I will wrap this up with a true story of my own, that I feel really illustrates the power of networking.
I have not advertised my business since its very earliest days. I always felt it better to cultivate my clients more specifically, mainly by personal referrals.
In talking with another parent at my son’s elementary school, I told this friend what I did. He was an anesthesiologist for a very prominent plastic surgery group and ended up asking me to come pitch to his practice. I did and got the gig to overhaul and then manage all of their web stuff.
The gig with them lasted about two and a half years, before the practice was swallowed up by a monster-sized medical group. The practice shared glowing reviews of my work, so the new company brought me on board for the transition, and then to fully manage some of their own ongoing content – which lasted about nine months under contract.
From the disbanded practice, four different doctors asked me to get them started on the web. From them, one was a single effort, one was an engagement lasting a year, one lasted two years, and the last went on for over nine years.
One of these doctors introduced me to a few of his professional friends in different states, so I took on four additional contracts from them…with each lasting between one and three years.
The anesthesiologist himself, started a few more businesses and I was hired for all of them. One lasted almost ten years, while others were quicker flips. For one of them, I got paid with a 10-day stay in a $4 million condo on Maui’s most beautiful beach: that was a hard payday to top!
Point being, from the single conversation I had with this guy in a completely unprofessional setting years earlier, I networked my way into what became a heavy part of my career. How? By working, steadily. By only talking about what I knew, and always doing what I said I was going to do. I did not have to oversell myself or push an agenda; I had to be a professional and earn the trust of other professionals.
And networking can really be, just that easy sometimes.