Networking Tip: Take on a “Designated Role”

Freelancer writers come in all stripes and sizes. We have different backgrounds. Different work experiences. And different motivations for doing the work we do.

But one thing the vast majority of us have in common is a distaste for (or outright fear of) networking.

Which is a problem, given that networking (when done well) is a fruitful way of finding new clients. But in reality, many freelancers would prefer to have their wisdom teeth pulled rather than attend another networking event.

Why do so many of us dislike networking? Two main reasons:

  1. The whole process feels uncomfortable and takes a lot of effort. First, you have to identify which organizations to target. Then you have to research their events, dress up, find your business cards, rehearse your elevator pitch and get to the venue. And, most importantly, you have to summon the courage to put yourself out there—all of which is exhausting!
  2. Even with your best efforts, there’s no guarantee you’ll make any helpful connections.

Fortunately, there’s a strategy you can employ that will alleviate your feelings of discomfort AND yield better networking results.

And that strategy is to take on a “designated role.”

What is a Designated Role?

I’ve unknowingly been using this technique since the late 1990s. But I first came across the term “designated role” in the work of marketing coach Marcia Yudkin. Essentially, it means networking by getting involved in an organization. And here, “getting involved” means much more than showing up for meetings and events.

Taking on a designated role means volunteering in a defined capacity. It could be sitting on a committee or joining a board. It could be setting up an event, greeting attendees, coordinating speakers or acting as an MC.

Basically, it’s volunteering in a meaningful way and in a set role.

In other words, when you have a designated role, you’re now supposed to be there. You have a job to do. You’re supposed to be the greeter. Or the organizer. Or the planner.

And somehow this takes away most of the pressure and anxiety of being at the event.

My Experience in a Designated Role

I developed a new appreciation of this strategy when I became a member of the TAG (Technology Association of Georgia) Marketing Society’s board and volunteered to serve as chair and advisor to the annual Tech Marketing Awards two years in a row, as well as to help plan and put together events throughout the year.

Like many of you, I’ve never enjoyed (or been particularly good at) “working a room.” But once I had a designated role with this organization, I had a new reason for being there.

I wasn’t there just to collect business cards and make small talk over bagels. I had a job to do! For me, this change totally shifted the dynamics of the room. It gave me a purpose and put me at ease.

I still got to meet people and build relationships, of course. But this became a byproduct of my designated role, rather than my primary objective.

People could sense that I was giving my time out of a heartfelt desire to make a real difference—not out of a desire to promote my business. And I felt more comfortable because I had a designated job to do—I had a specific role in the event. As a result, the connections I made were stronger and more authentic.

And because I had chosen this organization strategically (high-tech is my target market), I ended up working with peers who could potentially hire me or refer me to others. In fact, this role helped me land a significant amount of work, both directly and indirectly.

Real Relationships Don’t Happen Over Doughnuts

Frankly, you can’t expect to really get to know prospects over coffee and doughnuts at the occasional meet-and-greet.

If you truly want to develop meaningful relationships—and if you want to do that in a way that’s more comfortable and sustainable—find an organization in your target market … and look for a designated role you can fill.

  • Thank you for this great idea, Ed. This feels more comfortable and authentic than any other event networking strategy that I have heard. I’ve always hated the superficial and contrived motivations that I encounter at these kinds of events. I am going to try what you have suggested.

    • Thanks, Nathan! Glad to hear it resonated with you.

  • Marian Liza Mientus

    Dear Ed, thank you so much for giving us this strategy. I really appreciate it. It is a “comfortable” way to meet prospective clients, and a big change from “cold calling”, whether in person or by written inquiry. Steve Slaunwhite once suggested that we position ourselves as the local B2B copywriter, and prospect locally. Your “designated role” method is a great way to do this. I will try it and let you know the results. I’m excited! God Bless You! Hope all is well with Jennifer and the children. Hi, to Jennifer!

    • Thanks, Marian! Hope all is well with you, too. 🙂

  • Lynn

    And this is exactly why I recently took a part time, low paid position at a local chamber of commerce. I’ve gone the volunteer route before, and it definitely worked. This time I’m taking a slightly longer term approach, and very excited to see what happens!

  • “Fortunately, there’s a strategy you can employ that will alleviate your feelings of discomfort AND get yield better networking results.”

    A tiny typo in the above sentence.

    It’s great to volunteer for organizations. I do for one, but now that I read this from you, I’ll do this for more organizations.

    I recently read from a marketer that you cannot attract or get great clients fast. That, the best clients are the ones that slowly and gently end up at your doorstep, NOT the ones you beat over the head and drag back home.

    You don’t go GET clients. That’s the wrong energy completely. And it’s a terrible way to go into things, as pursuer. You attract clients, pure and simple.

    • Thanks for catching that typo, Raspal! And I like your perspective above.