As I’ve said on many previous occasions, networking can be a really effective way to establish and strengthen in-person relationships with prospective clients and referral partners. I’ve done a lot of networking over the years, and I’m planning on doing even more in the future. But this type of self-promotion doesn’t always come naturally or easily to writers, many of whom would prefer to hide behind their keyboards rather than initiate conversations with a bunch of strangers. But the return on the investment can be substantial -- if you’re doing it right. Here are some networking pointers aimed at you writers in the crowd, although they'll also work for just about anyone else.
1. Paint a Clear Picture
As a writer, you already know the importance of painting a vivid picture in the mind's eye. Say “I’m a writer” to someone, and you could set off all sorts of speculations about what might mean -- none of them specific enough to evoke a sharp image of what you actually do. This will cause you to get either no referrals at all or referrals you can’t use. If you focus on a specific type of writing, describe it as clearly and succinctly as possible: “I write Web and print marketing content for businesses” will ensure that you don’t receive technical writing referrals, for example. If there’s a particular industry or business size you concentrate on, clarify that as well. Even if you don't limit yourself to one kind of writing or client, choose some memorable, easy-to-understand specifics for the purposes of this particular event. You want those you meet to be able to tell others precisely what you provide, and for whom.
2. Describe Your Ideal Client or Partner
Once again, specifics matter, and that's where your skill at employing just the right words at the right time comes into play. Whether you’re offering your writing services directly to the person in front of you or asking that person for referrals to great networking partners, use your gift with words as precisely as possible. “I’m looking for introductions to marketing coordinators at small technology companies” is a much more helpful statement than “I want to talk to anybody who needs marketing content.” If you really want to narrow it down, ask if your conversation partner has a direct or indirect connection to a specific individual at a company you’re trying to crack. Don't be afraid of pigeonholing yourself too much -- you may get fewer referrals, but they'll be better ones.
3. Follow Up
I’m convinced that one of the reasons writers don’t find networking effective for them is because they go home from the event, put their accumulated business cards in a drawer, get back to their writing -- and forget all about what just transpired. You can’t wait for the people you conversed with to take the initiative and follow up with you; you absolutely must contact them shortly after the event, provide them with additional information about your services, schedule a second meeting, and do everything you can to send qualified referrals in their direction. Focus on cultivating relationships instead of making sales (farming versus hunting). Only then will the long-term benefits of networking pay off for your writing business. So good luck -- and happy networking!