Last week we discussed the social aspect of social networking: the act of presenting yourself as more than just the sum of your business or skillset. Charming prospects into trusting your character is where all business in a face-to-face environment begins.
But how do you actually translate those social interactions into meaningful work down the road? There’s no golden rule that’s going to convince prospects to take a chance on your work, but there are proven and reliable skills to develop in your enterprise to ensure you’re always generating interest for your work.
How to Talk Business
Even the most social and competent freelance IT talent can fall short at what *should* be the most obvious part of generating business: actually talking about it. There’s a misconception among people looking for work that talking about work is taboo, or that it “gets in the way” of successful agreements.
For whatever reason, most people feel insecure talking about business. But if you’re attending industry mixers for the purpose of shoring up work, you’d best get comfortable talking about the parts of business that matter.
Identify Potential Needs – This is a skill that could probably fill an entire book if you wanted to get into explicit detail about it. Identifying the needs of a speaker is a science and an art all in one. As we discussed last week.
And Again, Tell Stories – It can’t be overemphasized how effectively a good antidote can be in capturing the attention of those around you. When it comes to your work, talking about yourself is tantamount to bragging, but talking about the things you’ve done can get people interested in you — if you know how to spin the story. As we discussed last week, focus on interesting developments and challenges in your line of work that can both demonstrate your competence and give people a means to relate to your personality and what you can offer them.
Exchange Cards – And Make Sure to Write More Down
Not everyone needs a business card to market themselves, but anyone can make use of them. Business cards get passed between associates looking for business about as often as handshakes — with the majority of cards ending up lost in the recipient’s wallet, car, or anywhere in between.
Exchanging business cards may be a formality of any business, but there’s ways you can make the exchange a little more impactful for those you’re speaking with.
Write on their card – Context is everything, and gathering ten different cards at a mixer won’t help you remember which one you told about your web design business come a month later. As soon as you collect a card from someone worth following up on, begin writing on it. Write a little about what kind of work the two of you talked about, any claims or services you offered, or even just a small tidbit about your conversation to help them remember who you were.
This not only helps you continue interrupted connections at a later date, finding business cards marked up with your own notes will motivate you to follow up on your leads a lot sooner.
Write on your card – A good business card is a simple and economic way for others to know who you are and how best to reach out for you. Anything else put on a card should be based on the context, which means it’s fine to write a little extra when you give them out. Like writing on other’s cards, write enough about what you talk about with others on the card to help jog their memory.
You want them to remember what about your meeting was interesting enough that they’d be willing to exchange cards, and what specific elements you touched on that might be important to follow up on. Include tidbits from your conversation, or unique information about yourself that people can easily refer to when they pull your card out in the coming days.
Follow Up on Contacts Within the Week
It goes without saying that you should follow up on potential opportunities as soon as possible. In fact, many people get the impression that pursuing potential leads so soon after meeting them is considered too aggressive or rude. In fact, the opposite is largely the case: most people’s interest is piqued for a certain period of time, which gradually wanes over time. Wait too long, and you’ll find your attempts at reaching out are met with lukewarm response.
Even if your connections don’t turn into immediately business, don’t feel shy following up with your potential leads as soon as possible. Making yourself available for work or consultation early on gives potential employers a chance to reflect on a more recent conversation than you (as opposed to a distant one) and better associate what they remember of you with what they need.
However, that isn’t to say you should immediately email prospects the moment they leave the room. Casually market yourself, which is to say try to follow up within a few days so you come off as someone offering a service rather than someone aggressively soliciting.
Keep a Diverse Network – Don’t Keep a Large One
Maintaining a strong network of contacts, prospects, and employers is essential for any freelancing knowledge worker to ensure that they have a steady stream of business. But a good network isn’t like a social network: it doesn’t depend on the sheer number of connections that can be traced to you.
The best professional networks consist of a great diversity of work backgrounds, skills, and technical experience — not an abundance of potential connections. A small network of close associates are easier to follow up on, refer to, and always remain valuable and feeling valued at all times. After all, people like to feel important, and having their connection be reduced to “just another face in the crowd” is no way to make valuable connections.