Yesterday, we hosted our #ConnectChat, featuring Minda Zetlin, president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), a group of about 1,400 professional freelance nonfiction writers. Minda is a regular contributor to Inc. and is the author/co-author of six books. You can find more about Minda at mindazetlin.com. During the chat, she shared some networking secrets for freelance writers.
Not to worry if you weren’t able to make yesterday’s chat, here is a recap:
Why is it so important for freelancers to network?
Freelance writers are actually small businesses and as with any business, it's easier to get work with a personal connection. These days it's really important as most editors, like most people, don't have time to even open all the emails they get!
Who are some important people for freelancers to network with?
First and most obvious, it's great to network with people who can give you work. Editors and corporate clients, etc. Next, it's great to network with other freelance writers. I've gotten lots of great work by doing this. (ASJA is a big help!) It's also important to network with professionals and experts in your topic fields. For me, for instance, it’s tech execs. Finally, it's great for freelance writers to network with PR people as well. I've found it very handy.
How can organizations like ASJA help freelancers network?
ASJA is about 1,400 successful professional freelance writers. We share everything from what markets pay to whom to pitch. Knowing which publications or clients are looking for writers and which treat writers badly gives you a definite edge. We also organize events where writers get to meet clients. The next one is in Chicago in November with corporate/custom clients. You can learn more here: www.asja.org
Speaking of events, how important are industry events and conferences for networking?
Industry events are great! I've gotten so much work from meeting editors at ASJA conferences and other events. Also events in a particular industry are useful, such as (again, in my case) tech conferences. Editors may be there.
What if you can’t attend a conference (whether for monetary, location or other reasons)?
These days there are lots of alternatives if you can't get to a conference. Most are webcast, streamed or tweeted. Then there are so many ways to connect with people through social media, etc. Try this strategy: Look at the program then after the conference connect with the speakers through social media, watching a video of talks. It is still a connection. Just as a fig leaf is better than naked, a small bit of connection is better than none.
Sometimes I find it helpful, sometimes I find it completely cryptic when attendees tweet real-time highlights at conferences. It depends on the tweeter. But hashtags are a good way to stay connected.
I think recaps and tweets and all those things are great, but nothing like being at the event itself.
I agree with you about that. But for those who can't get there in-person, there are decent options.
How does someone choose which events or conferences to attend?
Choosing an event can be complex. I tend to look at who the speakers are first. I also look at all the topics at a conference to get a feel for its focus, and get a sense of who the audience will be. And I network among people I know to see if anyone has been to the event and can report about it. Again, ASJA helps!
Besides business cards, what should freelancers take with them to industry conferences?
Besides business cards, bring a recording device and camera or camera phone for research. And, a copy of any publication you write for regularly in that industry.
One important conference networking tip: If you give your card to someone write something on it first! Such as a reminder of where you met or what you talked about. This will really help people remember you and pay attention.
How about those writing only for online publications?
Then you obviously can't bring the publication, but if you have a tablet you can show it.
How about for writers' conferences?
Bring copies of any books you've published, and ideas ready to pitch for editors there. Also, you should have a good website up and ready before you go showing samples of your work and who you are.
What do you think are essential components of a writer's website?
Components of a writer's website should be bio, samples or links to samples of work, and contact. I like a photo too.
What's the difference between “networking" and "meeting people", i.e., how do you "do" networking?
You can network with people you already know, for one thing. And you can meet a 5-year-old but not network.
When you say "network with", what do you mean? How would I go about "networking with" you?
I define networking as making a personal connection for mutual business benefit. So, if you and I meet at an event and you start asking me what I do and I say I write for Inc.com, it may turn out you have a business I could write about for Inc.com. Or it may turn out you need a white paper for your business, and I write those.
How has social media changed networking?
Social media makes it possible to network with people without meeting them or even speaking to them. There are so many ways to do it: comment on blog posts, retweet something they tweeted, share a post, share a link, "likes."
I think you can connect with more like-minded people easier from your computer and you can connect with people at events more easily, too. It makes less difficult for you to introduce yourself: "Hey, I really like your tweets/posts/etc."
You can also follow some fellow journalists you met at conferences or Fellowships on Twitter, and then get and share story ideas with them.
What’s the best way to introduce yourself to someone?
Introducing yourself to a stranger can be tricky, but it is always good to know about what they do. For example: "Liked your blog post about XX."
So that's one way social media has changed networking. It gives you an "in" to start a conversation.
Yes, social media is a big help for first contact. But also knowing what someone's published, etc., is good. Different people have different approaches. I like to be laid-back but also tell people fairly early how they can help me. I also always, always want to explore how I can help them. Some of my best networking happens because I helped others.
What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when networking?
Probably the most important networking tip is the last thing I mentioned: Look for ways to help as much as be helped. Once I introduced a writer to an editor looking for international coverage. It didn't pan out but he remembered and got me a lucrative job. It's not karma, it's that if you go out of your way to help people, they will remember that and pay back when they can.
Any tips for turning social media contacts into face-to-face meetings, i.e., real relationships?
The easiest way is to find out where they'll be (such as what conference) and go introduce yourself. But if they're local to you, or you'll be visiting where they are, you can suggest meeting too. You saying, "I'll be in your neighborhood on Thursday, can I buy you a cup of coffee," is sometimes really powerful.
How different is networking on social media from networking in real life?
It is quite different. In real life you have more time and it's easier to make a personal connection. So, in social media you find a way to connect quickly and being personal but not intrusive. It takes finesse.
What are most people doing wrong when it comes to networking? What’s a big “don’t”?
A big "don't" when networking is to only think of your needs rather than what the needs of the other person. Another error is thinking your contacts owe you -- anything, a response, an intro, etc. If you're reaching out the person who responds is choosing to do you a favor. They may choose not to. That's OK. You move on to someone else.
Another "don't" is introducing yourself by saying: Hi, I went to Harvard; Hi, I worked at McKinsey; Hi, I went to Wharton. Name-dropping is usually easily recognized as such.
In addition, I've prepared a handout document with some tips for networking and some useful links. You can get the handout by sending me a message on Twitter to @MindaZetlin with your email address, or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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