If you ever had the thought: I don’t have time for networking. I am too busy working, then you are not alone. Many contractors will focus on the urgent tasks in front of them, and especially their current job priorities before taking the time to network.
But, one of the challenges of working as an independent contractor is that you have to wear many hats at once for your business, including operations, technical support, finance and of course, marketing. Networking is the best marketing tool for any contractor, but is so easy to put off when you are busy working on client projects that bring you necessary income.
Networking can be enjoyable for contractors who lack a typical office environment.
If approached in the right way, networking can be a pleasure rather than a chore, and for many contractors that work solo it offers a chance for contact and communication with others in the same field. By expanding your network you will create relationships with other contractors, potential clients and related business resources, and you might even make a few friends.
Here are 10 tips to expand your network, and market yourself effectively, while still working efficiently every day.
1. Know Your Business and Market
How do you answer the question: what do you do for a living?
Most contractors know their talent and skills, but how well do they how that translates into real-world business terms? The essence of networking is demonstrating the value of any kind of experience that you have. In order to do that, you have to take some time and learn what others are doing to create value out of their skills in the business world.
When you know your business and market, you can target your networking efforts, and define yourself to fit client needs and expectations. You are selling yourself every time you network, and can adapt your message to every contact you have. There are some great hints here in this article that work just as well for networking.
2. Think Long Term, Act Short Term
Most of us will act on the urgent, and put off what is really important.
Networking is like planting seeds, and then waiting for them to sprout into something real and tangible. Planting a seed is never urgent, since tomorrow seems soon enough. But it is important to act regularly on your networking plan, and know that it will work over the long term.
Your networking efforts may take time to bear fruit, since you will be communicating using a variety of methods. You never know where the next client will come from, so you have to constantly act on the short term, while trusting in long term results.
3. Build Your Brand
Its tempting to think: I don’t have a brand, I am just offering services to those who need it.
But as a contractor, your brand or market identity is you, and should be cultivated. If you know your market, then you can create specific taglines and references to your services that are unique and compelling. For example, instead of saying you are a software developer, try: Software Specialist Serving High Tech Companies in Asia-Pacific.
4. Protect Your Brand
Your brand and service should have real, positive feedback from satisfied clients.
Once you establish your brand, don’t assume it will simply evolve on its own. Your talent and reputation is one of the best assets that you have as a contractor, and you should find ways to share client testimonials or feedback.
The opinion of others will carry great weight when a prospective client is deciding to hire you, so look for opportunities to have current clients comment on your social media and online profiles. Some contractors go so far as to put client feedback directly on their home page or media profile, so it is the first thing read by prospective clients.
5. Have An Online Marketing Plan
“I already have online marketing, I post on Facebook...”
The internet has really made networking so simple, but that also means there are a lot of players in the game. Using online marketing tools is a business of its own, and some people have made a career out of advising others on the best approaches. However, just using one method will not give you the edge that you need.
Your online marketing should rely on a variety of social media outlets and other professional websites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook as well as your own website. You can take a look at this article for ideas on how to use LinkedIn more effectively.
If you have a website for your business, be sure to post regular blogs and link to other sites so that your content is fresh and you have regular traffic. If you don’t have time to update your website content, consider paying someone to do it for you.
6. Establish Your Expertise
If you don’t talk about your talent, who will?
Yes, its ok to talk about yourself and point out your achievements and expertise. Humility is not really an asset when you are networking, and you should not be shy about establishing your ability and experience. There are ways to do this that don’t sound like you are over-impressed with your own credentials, and most people respect someone who can be straightforward about what they have to offer.
Don’t clutter up your profile or website with every detail, but rather identify the achievements, degrees, certifications and experience that will be most impressive and easy to understand.
7. Invest in Relationships
Networking is all about relationships.
The best business relationships also have elements of friendship, where you are always making an effort to communicate, understand and support the other person in their role. By investing time in getting to know your clients and others working in your field, you will have a better sense of how to work with them effectively. Most of us prefer to work with people that we like and appreciate, and you can often form long-lasting relationships through networking.
8. Manage Your Time Effectively
How does time management relate to networking?
Obviously, networking takes time, and you have to find a place for it in your work day. However, if you approach it as an interesting social opportunity rather than another task, you can fit it in easily in short time periods. It’s a simple matter to update your social media on a coffee break, or send a message to a new contact.
Even five-minute sessions that you spread throughout the day can really pay off if you are consistent about it. Also, it is rewarding to get responses and interest from your efforts, and gives you a sense that you are making progress.
Due to work demands, many people catch up on networking, message boards and social media over the weekend, which is not a bad way to spend an hour or two on your day off. You may find it easier to connect during off-work hours as well, such as in the evening.
9. Master a Professional Accomplishment Statement
Create an impressive statement that matches the short attention span of most people when networking.
One of the elements of networking is the ability to communicate your background succinctly, in a way that creates interest. Otherwise known as the “elevator speech” you should be able to convey your expertise and services in 2-3 minutes, without even thinking about it. Networking is not an interview – it is simply a way to create powerful images and impressions that your contacts will remember. How you say it will be just as important as the content.
10. Contribute to Industry Discussion and Professional Sites
Be an expert who contributes to the knowledge of others in your field.
While this can take a bit more time, becoming involved with your industry’s message boards and professional development sites will give you another context to advance your reputation. You can also learn what others are doing, how they describe and market their services, as well as insights to what kind of skills are in demand. If you contribute regularly, other members may give your leads and contacts that fit your talents, which is one way to leverage your networking efforts.
Get started networking today…
These 10 tips will get you started on networking to attract clients, add to your reputation and increase your pay, without distracting from your current client workload.