Newish freelancers often ask me where they should focus their marketing efforts. I understand the question. With so many marketing options available, it can be hard to know where to start.
Additionally, people who’re in the “launch” or “build” stage of their business need strategies that will deliver results relatively soon. They may not have the luxury of waiting months or years for their marketing dividends to pay.
So when I get this question, my response is always the same: Tap your network.
Tapping your network is by far the most powerful (and underutilized!) method of drumming up new business.
Why is tapping your network so effective? Research shows that weak and dormant connections in our network are often more powerful than our stronger connections.
People with whom we have weak ties usually move in different circles and may have different perspectives. Which opens up new connections and possibilities.
Dormant ties have good potential because things have probably changed since we last connected with them. Where there weren’t opportunities before, there may be opportunities now.
Just as importantly, you can’t underestimate the power of serendipity. By putting yourself out there, you open the door for unexpected, wonderful – and can we say miraculous? – things to happen. I’ve heard enough of these stories to believe that sometimes unrecognized forces come into play when you allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Today, I’m going to illustrate the power of tapping your network by sharing the experiences of four freelancers who used their networks to find new business—often when they needed it most.
Tap Your Family
Saida Boujemaaoui struggled to find work as a health and fitness copywriter. But she resisted changing her niche to finance—an area where she had more experience.
I resisted doing what I knew I should do: change my niche to the one subject I had more experience in. I wasn’t happy working in Finance, and I couldn’t see myself writing in that niche—even though I loved my colleagues.
Eventually, Saida made the shift to a finance niche. Once she did, her husband introduced her to a connection in that field. The connection became a monthly retainer client and, as it turns out, wasn’t even in a finance-related company.
Since then, her husband referred her to another contact who has also turned into a client!
Sometimes it’s easy to look at family members and conclude they can’t possibly help us with our business. But you have to look beyond first-degree connections. As Saida can attest, sometimes you’ll find projects through second-, third- and even fourth-degree connections!
It’s not just about who your family members are. It’s about who do your family members know? And then, who do those connections know?
Saida concludes that it’s up to us to take the first step.
“I’m a vast believer in serendipity…,” she writes, “[but] I do believe you need to take the right actions yourself as well.”
Tap Your Colleagues
When Kit Brown-Hoekstra first started out, she had a strong network of supportive colleagues in the Society for Technical Communications.
As soon as she hung out her own freelance shingle, two of those colleagues used her as a subcontractor. Thanks to them, Kit’s business got off to a good start.
“For the first 12 years of my business, I never needed to market and was as busy as I wanted to be,” she writes.
Today, Kit continues to freelance in the technical writing space and provides consulting and training on internationalization, content strategy, usability, process improvement, content audits, project management, and technical writing/editing.
Tap Your Acquaintances
Lorena Bueno Lobl founded her freelance writing company in late 2016. She did some in-person networking to get her business up and running. It generated some work but not much.
The following spring, Lorena was driving home and routed through a different neighborhood to avoid construction traffic. She recognized a house that belongs to an acquaintance. The garage door was open (which was unusual in the middle of the day), so she pulled over and called the owner to make sure everything was okay.
The owner had come home to walk the dog. She and Lorena had a nice chat.
“Towards the end of the conversation, she asked what was keeping me busy, and I mentioned I was making my way as a freelance writer,” Lorena writes.
As it happens, the owner is creative director of her own marketing agency. She had recently lost her writer, so she and Lorena exchanged cards.
This year, almost half of Lorena’s projects came from the agency owner. She’s also gotten clients via word of mouth through the owner and her clients (while staying in accordance with their agreement).
Financially, the relationship hasn’t been a huge windfall, but it has broadened Lorena’s experience.
“It has exposed me to a number of industries in a ‘niche tryout’ and to see the variety of writing projects I can do for her and others.”
Is there anything more serendipitous than landing a client due to road construction and an open garage door?
Tap Your Friends
When Tennile Cooper first started out, she felt timid telling people about her new state of self-employment.
“The judgment, the awkward silence, the forced grins—I wanted to avoid it all,” she writes.
Thankfully, she overcame her reluctance. A family friend needed messaging help for her real estate business. She ended up becoming a long-standing retainer client.
Additionally, Tennile reached to a former supervisor for a recommendation, and that supervisor ended up hiring her to train staff for a social media campaign.
Through the process of tapping her network, Tennile came to realize that people want to help if you’re skilled at what you do.
“You just have to build up the audacity to ask,” she concludes.
More Areas to Tap
These real-life examples illustrate just some of the areas you can tap. There are many others, such as:
- Church groups
- Parent groups
- School groups
- Previous clients
- Anyone who’s inquired about your services
- Anyone who’s signed up for your newsletter or downloaded content from your site
- Other consultants you’ve worked with (e.g. graphic designer, web developer)
When You Need Work Fast, Look to Your Network
It’s natural to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you first reach out to your network. But as we’ve seen, often your connections are more than happy to help if you give them the opportunity.
And remember, you’re not necessarily asking them for work but asking them to consider who in their network might benefit from your services. Often, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
By tapping your network, you’re likely to uncover connections and opportunities you were entirely unaware of.
You simply have to open the door and invite serendipity to come in.