Writing may be a solo activity, but that doesn’t mean you have to operate in a vacuum. When you work from home, it’s important to build a supportive community of like-minded souls because, frankly sometimes you want to get away from your home office and mingle, seek out new environments and meet new people. Or maybe you just want to get reacquainted with people you used to work with.
Networking is important for self-employed writers for several reasons. Meeting new people can inspire you to experiment with new ideas or learn best (or better) practices than the ones you’ve been using. Networking can broaden your sphere of friends and business contacts who can lend you a hand when you are overloaded with deadlines or provide moral support during difficult stretches.
Networking provides a change of scenery too, a chance to check out the new restaurant or office space that you heard so much about. A change of scenery and seeing new faces can reset your brain and open it up to new experiences and new possibilities. Most important, networking saves your sanity, so you don’t go stir crazy staring at a computer screen all day, or worse, staring at four walls.
So where can you go to build your network? Who should be part of your community, your support system, and a source of potential business? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Start with your family and closest friends. They know you best and understand your career goals. Ask them for business advice or introductions to managers at their place of work.
2. Reach out to past clients, employers and co-workers. If you left previous employers on good terms, reach out to them. When they move on to other businesses, stay in touch. They may be just the contact person you need to gain an introduction to the right manager and the right opportunity at their new company.
3. Attend workshops and classes. Pay attention to your professional development. Not only will you keep up with the latest trends and practices for your industry, you get to meet professionals from other companies and other parts of the country to add to your contact list. Be sure to follow up with them after the class and every few months, even if it’s just to say hello. Invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn.
4. Consider joining social groups. Sites like Meetup.com or other local social organizations can help you connect with like-minded individuals. Whether you have an interest in skiing, dining out or book clubs, participating in social clubs helps you to reach out to people beyond your industry. What brings you together as a common interest could result in a valuable business connection.
5. Volunteer for a cause close to your heart. When you become involved with a charitable cause, you not only show off your softer side, but you also showcase your leadership and creative thinking skills. Like the social networks, volunteering draws people from different backgrounds to a common cause. Use that common bond to build a strong relationship with fellow volunteers.
6. Seek out role models. These are experienced professionals in your industry who have risen in the ranks and gained industry respect. Because of their stature in the field, you value their opinion and would like to connect with them more closely. They can be someone you have worked with previously or someone you know through an online community. For example, if you’re an aspiring writer, you may want to connect with a published author whose work you have always admired.
Once you’ve connected with these individuals, experts suggest the following tips for maintaining relationships with them.
Tip #1: Remember personal stuff about your connection, such as birthdays and work anniversaries. Offer congratulations for their promotions or new jobs. Those little notes, whether handwritten, text or social media, can make people feel special. They will remember the fact that you remembered them.
Tip #2: Offer your expertise. Remember building a network isn’t about what you get from your connections but what you give to them, suggests experts at the Enterprisers Project. Act as a sounding board for colleagues on work projects. Offer suggestions or advice if colleagues are feeling discouraged or need support. Offering your expertise helps you form stronger bonds with colleagues and team members.
Tip #3: Remember to follow up. If you’ve met someone for coffee and chatted with them at a conference, be sure to send them a note of thanks. The experts at Flexjobs say that this advice is especially helpful if you are applying for a freelance gig. After you’ve met with the potential client, be sure to follow up on a timely basis. You will want to stand out against the competition. Following up shows your attention to detail and that you pay attention to small stuff. That can be important in a growing business relationship.
Keep these tips in mind and know that you have plenty of sources to draw from to build your network. Networking can be a challenge, especially for the shy stay-at-home types, but it’s a necessary evil if you want to stay in business for yourself.