I recently ran a course for freelance journalists on ‘Adding a Second String to Your Bow’ – i.e. developing additional revenue streams utilising existing journalistic skills. (I’m running it again in October, through journalism.co.uk – click here for details!)
The main question raised by delegates on that course, and one that I get asked regularly by those starting out in business or as a freelancer, is ‘how do I get work?’ closely followed by ‘how do YOU get work?’.
Most of my work comes to me through my networks – colleagues, clients and contacts. It’s nice to think of this as word of mouth but it’s more than that – it’s the result of a concerted effort to let people know what I do and the sorts of work I’m looking for, and to encourage those who have worked with me to refer me to their contacts. Having said that, it’s also very satisfying when someone comes to me ‘cold’ – ie find this website or finds me listed on another site and contacts me ‘out of the blue’ enquiring about my services.
Back in 2005 I surveyed 100 fellow small businesses and sole traders to ask them how they found work – and networking was far and away the most successful strategy, knocking direct mail, advertising and other methods into the proverbial cocked hat. (Click here to read some of the press coverage the survey got at the time).
There are lots of different types of network – and networking – and identifying those that are right for you can take time and some trial and error. Personally I like networking to be informal and not too focused on selling. I’ve been to too many events where someone has given me a pre-prepared spiel, thrust a business card into my hand and moved on. Needless to say, I’m never going to buy from them and I know they’re never going to buy my services.
This was why a colleague (the lovely Jo at Frank!) and I set up ‘Un-networking’ earlier this year. It’s a monthly event that takes place in a funky hotel bar and is designed to be a much more relaxed evening than many networking events. We have a few rules like ‘no suits’ and ‘no buying rounds’ but the main one is ‘no selling’, which might seem counter-intuitive to some seasoned networkers.
The reason I think that is important, however, is that people don’t tend to buy business services on price (I’m not the cheapest around, although I offer VERY good value, obviously) or even necessarily on service as one PR, one graphic designer, one web developer can, in truth, be very much like another. It all comes down to something more personal – whether we like someone, want to work with them, find rapport.
You’re more likely to find that over a glass of wine than you are to find a quick sale from an exchange of business cards. My advice to those journalists wondering how to find new avenues of work? Talk to people. Let people know who you are and what you do. Ask for business – but don’t sell.