business of freelancing

Why I don’t believe in networking for freelance writers

By October 16, 2019 14 Comments

So often when I listen to a freelancing podcast, go to a seminar or read a business blog, presenters and experts highlight the importance of networking.

But I think the need for freelance writers to network is overstated.

In my experience, ‘networking’ has never been fruitful.

And this is why.

At its core, networking is about connecting with people and exchanging information. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, maybe I have a narrow view of networking.

Woman standing reaching to touch inflatable globe

But the word evokes images of rooms full of people shaking hands and handing out business cards. Or worse, walking up to someone cold and introducing myself.

Yes, I’m an ambivert (and a fairly introverted one at that), but there’s something about the intention of networking that doesn’t ring true.

Every time I’ve been to that kind of event (either an identified ‘networking’ event or an event that would offer a networking opportunity), it’s been a flop.

I haven’t approached those opportunities with the expectation of getting writing work yet I leave feeling flat, wondering what went wrong.

Why networking didn’t work for me

Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong events – in my early years as a freelance writer I went to some corporate networking events where I felt out of my depth and couldn’t wait to leave.

It was like an old boys’ club where everyone knew each other and spoke about people they had in common.

I’ve also been to conferences where I’ve struck up interesting conversations with people at dedicated networking sessions, but those connections have never translated into anything meaningful outside the conference setting.

Even at specific events about networking for freelance writers, I never felt 100% comfortable.

It took me years to realise that my mistake in the beginning was to focus on networking, rather than building relationships and finding my tribe.

Networking for me seemed to focus on what someone could get, rather than what they could give.

For someone like me, who much prefers conversations with individuals or small groups of people, networking events with rooms crowded with people were too much.

Instead of networking, focus on this

This won’t come as a surprise to any of you who read this blog regularly, but having strong relationships with clients, editors and other creatives is the key to being ‘successful’ as a freelance writer.

Think about the kind of relationships you want to have with others. What qualities do you want to share?

Honesty? Trustworthiness? Loyalty? Openness? Helpfulness?

Focus on building individual relationships with others that are built on qualities you value.

Take the time to understand how you can help them, not just what they may be able to offer you.

Be authentic (urgh, I know that word is overused) in interactions. If you want to help them (or not), listen to your gut. Be genuine in the way you engage with editors, clients and other freelancers.

I’ve found that if editors or clients start to regularly commission you, it’s not only because you deliver the goods, but it’s also because they value the relationship.

They know you and like you. They trust you and your work.

It may sound soppy, but when I think about my network of editors, clients and other freelancers, I feel really happy. I feel as though I’m surrounded by good people.

I have individual relationships with them all and they’re not just some people who I’ve ‘collected’.

Lots of the advice around networking for freelance writers doesn’t acknowledge that it takes time to connect and build relationships.

Finding and genuinely nurturing the people who surround you in your business doesn’t just happen over drinks one night.

What do you think about networking?

14 Comments

  • Rachel Smith says:

    Totally agree (and we just did an ep on this for The Content Byte) that it’s about going in with a curiosity and a genuine interest in connecting with others rather than the mindset of ‘I’m here to get work’. I totally believe there’s a place for networking but am not a huge fan of the formal type of things; that said, I manage to build big networks just by being interested in others and remembering and connecting them – then they do the same for me, if they can. I do think a huge network is a plus in turbo-charging your freelance business, as there are just so many more people to refer you or to offer you work, but it’s a quandary for those of us introverts 🙂

    • lindyalexander says:

      Oh, I haven’t heard that episode yet Rachel (although I did listen to a couple on a flight yesterday – loved the co-schedule tip). Yep I agree about the benefit of having a big network (it links to the idea that extroverts are ‘luckier’ in part because they have bigger networks), but I’m going about it one by one!!

  • Michaela says:

    Well I have to say I rather enjoy networking events but you know I love talking and I love champagne. Usually they involve both so that’s a WIN for me!! But I tend to agree that the focus needs to be on what you can give, rather than what you can get. Sometimes there’s a few people at these events that are a little too promotional for me.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Ha, yes I know! I’m the total opposite – much prefer a cup of tea with one person! Sometimes it just feels a bit forced and I think because you don’t always have too much time then people can feel like they need to promote themselves quickly and forcefully!

  • JuJu says:

    I spent a lot of my business years networking in various ways. I never felt it really worked for me. Now that I am a freelance travel writer, when I consider networking, I don’t see how it fits into the game plan in a formal way. I am making relationships one at a time these days and it’s more comfortable, natural, and not forced. More genuine.

  • Kirsten says:

    I’m sure some networking events are useful but many I’ve been too seemed a bit pointless. Lots of people madly exchanging cards. My worst experience was a lady from a funeral company insisting I take her card as she cheerfully informed me I would need it some day!

  • I’m an introvert too, so I find networking events don’t really play to my strengths. I find Instagram is a great way to connect with editors and build a genuine rapport with them.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Thanks for your comment Diana. I love that you’re using Instagram – I do too and think it’s a bit of a ‘hidden gem’ of how to connect and form relationships with editors.

  • Caitriona says:

    Although I sometimes find networking a little difficult (I’m an ambivert, like yourself), I have found it to be very valuable. I often find myself getting ideas for my business when I’m trying to give someone else ideas for theirs. You’re absolutely right, it’s all about building relationships. I love making connections between two people who can help each other, it’s quite rewarding.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Ah, that’s so interesting Caitriona about you getting ideas when helping someone else with their business. And yes, I totally agree. It’s such a great feeling when you connect two people. Thanks for your comment.

  • michael anderson says:

    It is so refreshing to hear that networking is not a firm ticket-punched requirement to be a successful writer, as many would have you believe. I teach a basic Writing For Magazines class at various conferences and the point I stress is becoming “the favorite horse in your editor’s stable.” You are spot on that it has little to do with a business card collection, rather an honest trusting relationship with your editor(s).

    I do not follow many blogs, however I am so glad I found yours Lindy.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Hi Michael, I really like that favourite horse analogy. Thanks for your kind comments – glad you found the blog!

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