Having a business network is an important aspect of being self-employed, whether as a contractor, freelancer or if you run your own small business. Not only will having a strong personal network help you gain new business, but it will also provide support when it comes to those tasks or projects you need an extra helping hand with.
If you’re not particularly motivated about making contacts, set yourself a monthly or yearly target (i.e. to get X number of deals from new business contacts every month, or even a softer goal such as make six new contacts every month). This will help you keep focused on why you need a strong and varied network, and how beneficial it can be for your business.
Practice your introductory elevator pitch beforehand, but keep it short; who you are, what you do and how you help. Stock up on business cards too, including all your contact details (website, phone, email and social media if you have them) and pack at least a third more than you think you’ll need.
Developing your personal network is time-consuming, but worth it. Remember, it’s not just about quantity – make sure you surround yourself with relevant and useful contacts. Inspired? Here are some great ideas to help you grow your personal contractor network:
Everyone knows how effective LinkedIn can be for building your business connections, but you can also use Twitter as an easy networking platform. There are often ‘chats’ you can join in to discuss your industry or share your expertise; make sure you have your contact details on your Twitter profile so people can easily find you online.
Alternatively, you can use Twitter to follow companies you feel would benefit from your services. At best, they’ll follow back and you’ll be on their radar. At worst, you get to see what they’re up to and how their business is progressing; you never know when this information might come in handy.
Entering yourself into an award, particularly off the back of a significant project or achievement, might not seem like an obvious way of gaining new contacts, but award ceremonies provide a great opportunity to meet new contacts. The prospect of being shortlisted or even winning an accolade is an added bonus, and gives an ideal conversation starter.
Go to conferences
As the majority of people at conferences are usually by themselves, they provide the perfect opportunity to strike up conversation whilst waiting for the next event. One benefit of striking up conversation before or after a conference talk is that you’re likely to have something in common with the person you’re sitting next to – even if it’s just a passing interest in the presentation.
Asking your previous clients for recommendations can help boost your network – if they post about you on social media or on their website, you get to piggyback onto their audience. Not only does this make you more recognisable, but endorsements show that you’re a trusted professional. It’s a win-win.
Speak at conferences
Why not go one step further and put yourself forward to speak at a relevant conference? Not only does this mean you get to showcase your expertise, but you can also provoke conversation by including a Q&A or inviting people to keep in touch with you afterwards (by email, social media or even just at the conference centre cafÃ©).
Friends and family
People you already know can be your best advocate; you just need to ensure they actually know what you do as a business. Encourage friends and family to drop you in on conversations with anyone and everyone, and make sure you’re easy to find online for when a follow up search is made.
Visit trade events
You don’t necessarily need to invest in a trade stand, but it’s worth signing up as a delegate to relevant trade events. Either pick a handful of those most relevant to your industry, or if your work can be cross-sector (e.g. marketing or law) create a list of target verticals every year and attend the top events for those industries. Do you research beforehand so you can approach the most relevant exhibition stands; you’ll impress if you know a bit about the company’s operations and direction for growth.
Having a blog on your business website is beneficial for a range of reasons; you get to demonstrate your expertise, provide topical commentary on relevant current affairs and you can also show some of your personality. Blogging can also be a useful tool for developing a network; encourage conversation via the comments and make sure you respond to them insightfully. If you can, build a cross-channel community around your blog using social media to start debates.
Join a networking group
It might be an obvious one, but networking groups are still a valuable method of making new contacts. Generally, they come under two categories; either industry-specific or local business meet ups. Either way, they’re useful for expanding your professional network – you never know when a business might need you.
Set up a networking group
No networking group in your area, or none catering for your industry? Why not set one up? It’s the perfect excuse to reach out to other businesses to see if they want to join; just remember to include your contact and business details in your email signature.
Don’t be put off by a networking group for businesses the same as yours; they could present freelance or consulting opportunities in the future. Plus, setting up your own makes you the contact point for other businesses looking for recommendations within your industry – which is where some shameless self-promotion doesn’t go amiss.
Networking groups don’t have to be boring, either. You could meet at the local pub or even hire out the bowling alley. Anywhere that doesn’t drown out conversation and has plenty of food and drink to hand.
Chances are, there’s a charity around that would benefit hugely from your skillset. It will get your name out there, showcase your skills and vastly increase the number of people you interact outside of your usual professional sphere. Plus, it’ll make you feel good too.
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