Now on to one of the most promising sources of new work that we freelancers have at our disposal: professional groups. Both online and offline, joining and interacting with groups that relate to your profession and the industry in which you work is one of the best things you can do for your freelancing career.
Joining professional groups is a tried-and-true way of networking in the business world, and there are as many different types of groups as there are job functions, industries, professions, etc.
You should think about joining not only groups of other freelancers but also groups in the industry you serve as a freelancer. This is an immediate way of getting connected with people who might hire you or refer you to others.
Unless you work and network quite locally, the challenge of taking advantage of offline groups is that you will likely have to travel to conferences, which can get expensive and may be impossible due to time or logistics constraints.
If you do decide to attend a conference, especially one where people you’d like to work for congregate, reach out to your desired contacts before the meeting to ask if they’d be willing to set up a time to get coffee or do a brief stand-up intro in the lobby. Going into these situations with specific goals or plans is a good idea; you’re there to network and learn, so get busy doing it.
In the last five years or so, online networking groups for freelancers have exploded on social media sites. These groups can be gold mines for new work; quite a few of my newest clients, including some very lucrative gigs, have come directly from responding to jobs people have posted in these groups or through networking in these groups.
It’s important to find the groups that are the best match for you and what you do; some are targeted to specific niches and others are broader. Each has its own tone, priorities, and quality of moderation.
Finding the groups in the first place is often a matter of networking — one of your contacts invites you to join a specific group, and then someone in that group responds to a question you’ve posed with a note that there’s another group that may be even more appropriate and useful. Etc.
It’s a trial-and-error process to find which groups give you the most value. After that, it’s a matter of spending time cultivating a network of online colleagues in those places. Just remember that it’s imperative to always act professionally when interacting in these groups; you never know which potential employers might be reading what you write.
It’s also good to know that it’s best practice not to promote yourself too strongly in these groups or to ask for things that everyone else in the group is looking for too. I see a lot of people in freelance writing groups on Facebook posting things like “Looking for writing gigs! Send any my way!”
What do such people think everyone else in that group is doing? Why would they send writing gigs to that person instead of pursuing them for themselves? Or if they do have overflow work, why would they send them to that person simply because she asked?
Instead of putting yourself out there in this way, consider interacting authentically and helpfully with people in the group. If you really do feel desperate for work, ask questions about how you can improve your job searching or cold pitching or other methods of drumming up business. You can be vulnerable, honest, and inquisitive, which will inspire others to interact with you the same way, which will set you up with some good potential relationships that may bear fruit in various ways in the future.
You never know who you may meet or what interaction you may have that will open exciting doors for you, either right away or down the line.