Before I went freelance, I took one of those hokey quizzes. “Are You Ready to be Out On Your Own?” For the most part, I “passed.” Self-starter? Check. Organized? Check. Good with change? 1/2 a check. But then, the kicker: Are you good at networking?
To be honest, I didn’t really know what it meant. I went to school for the arts, where networking seemed much more subtle and nebulous. I’ve attended a handful of industry events and I’m usually the one standing in a corner with a muffin in my hand, waiting anxiously for the next panel to start. Networking, it turns out, can be nearly impossible for an introvert.
Professional development resources always tell you to reach out boldly but sincerely, with good intentions. I thought that was an oxymoron. How do you self-promote without being selfish? I sent out lots and lots of query letters during my first month freelancing, expressing my interest in working for brands I liked. A few responded, but for the most part, there was a lot of silence. I didn’t think I was doing it right. Then, I had a revelation that now seems like a bit of a no-brainer.
You don’t network with businesses. You network with people.
People with passion for their projects, interests outside of work, individual quirks and communication preferences. Now, networking I don’t get. But people, I get. People, I like. So I’ve started approaching my relationships with that in mind. It’s nice to send an email to a business I admire or a person whose interests align with mine, without expecting anything in return. I follow local businesses on social media, I subscribe to newsletters. I’m trying to be less strategic and more sincere. To me, it’s not about a broad sense of self marketing, but about building relationships that last beyond the span of time it takes to eat a conference-subsidized muffin. And that seems like a skill worth working on.