Advice

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If you don’t spend 20% of your time networking then you are…

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..In short, you’re either very lucky or you’re not being very wise. Because I’ve now heard from at least three different sources that in order to keep the money rolling in, us freelancers need to spend 20% of our waking hours (or rather, “working hours”, but the terms might be interchangeable) devoting ourselves to networking.

I don’t know where I first heard that statistic, but I know one of them is a chap who’s been copywriting since the 1980s and who now runs a very successful copywriting agency. If you think 20% sounds like a lot, then you’re not alone. I thought it was too. But since I gave up full-time work earlier this year – having previously been part-time employed and part-time freelancing for many years – it’s a rule of thumb that I’ve come to understand and act upon more and more.

It could be you versus the 20-something newbie

At the risk of stating the massively obvious, freelancing isn’t secure. If you’re relying on a couple of regular clients to keep you in beer money (and mortgage money), then you’re playing a very risky game. What if they suddenly don’t need you anymore? What if they decide to hire a 20-something to write the copy full time for a fraction of your experienced (and justified) rate? No, granted, it’s unlikely to be as good as your finely-honed output, but maybe the marketing manager thinks s/he can whip it into better shape. Believe me, it happens.

There are countless clichés and metaphors I can use here. But “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is probably one of the most appropriate.

So with the 20% mantra ringing in my ears, I decided to get out there and put it into practice.

My first port of call was the local business association which advertises weekly in the local paper. Held in a nearby pub, it’s a breakfast meeting where local businesses ply their trade. Or more accurately, they stand up and deliver some patter about what they do. It’s the same format at BNI – Business Network International, where I’ve been an invited guest a few times.

But don’t be fooled that it’s just a load of people standing around drinking coffee and handing out business cards that they’ll never look at again. The patter I nonchalantly referred to earlier is actually a 60-second elevator pitch, telling fellow local business owners what they can offer, and what sort of companies they’d like to work with. Go over the 60 seconds and the timekeeper with the bell dings you into silence.

Now that I’ve been a number of times, I must admit that I’ve got considerably better at it. I’ve learnt which nuggets keep people interested, and which to cut out. It’s actually a really important skill to have. Who knows when you’ll be at a party and the mutual friend you’re chatting to actually turns out to be a potential client. It may well pay you dividends to be able to rattle off what you do very professionally even when you’re up to your ears in canapés and Babycham.

As for me, I’ve met several clients that way – from media agencies to law firms. So if the client list is looking a bit thin, my advice would be to seek out your local business network. You may be surprised how many people prefer to do business with someone they can get to know in the flesh rather than via LinkedIn or over email. Trust me, it’s worth getting up at 6am to give it a try. For one thing, at every meeting I’ve attended, the full English breakfast has been really good…

 

by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a copywriter, blogger and editor

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