Why is networking important when you’re self-employed


It’s often seen as an essential part of working for yourself, but why is networking important when you’re self-employed? Especially when many people choose to move into freelancing or consulting to focus on their work, rather than office politics and dealing with people?

Networking can take many different forms, but the basic principle is fairly obvious. The more contacts you have in your area or industry, the greater chance that new opportunities and projects are likely to be mentioned to you.

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The different approaches to self-employed networking

A big benefit of freelancing or starting a business in the digital age is that you can build an extensive network of contacts online. This is particularly valuable if you’re not keen on meeting people offline, or it’s challenging for you to be able to attend events and conferences.

Whether you use email or social networking to build your social network, you’re able to keep in regular contact with people around the world to grow awareness of your business. The growing acceptance of remote working means you can make friends and work with clients for years without ever needing to meet offline.

Email newsletters and social media also enable you to reach more people with each communication, potentially scaling up your network much more quickly than interacting with one person at a time. Plus, there are a range of online events to help you meet relevant potential contacts, whether that’s through IPSE, joining a Facebook or LinkedIn group, or taking part in a chat on X by following a relevant hashtag.

But there are still benefits to meeting people in the real world. The history of human evolution means trust can be built much more quickly in-person, and it can lead to more serendipity and chance interactions that you might not have found online. There are also a large number of business owners who won’t feel comfortable hiring a freelancer without having the opportunity to speak with them in ‘real’ life.

How you interact with people will be more important than whether you choose to build your network online, offline, or through a combination of the two. While it’s good to have confidence in yourself and your business, being too self-promotional is likely to turn people away from chatting with you. But being an attentive listener, asking questions likely to encourage conversation, and being helpful can quickly build a strong relationship.

You don’t have to be the loudest person in the room, or achieve a huge social media audience, to get enormous value from your network. And large opportunities and projects can often come from unexpected places, and the people you least expect.

For more advice on getting started, we have dedicated guides on how to meet new people when you work remotely, and specific networking advice for self-employed introverts.


The power of the network effect and weak ties

Even before the internet, the power of the “network effect” impacted businesses and services. It refers to the principle that when more people use a product or service, it becomes more valuable. And if large numbers of people have a telephone or internet access, those services instantly become more useful than if only a handful of people are using them.

This is generally applied to large economies of scale, such as social networks and big data-based projects. The more people that use Facebook, Amazon, or Uber, the better the service can become due to the amount of content and data that will be shared, and it enables stronger relationships to be formed.

But you can apply something similar within your own network. If someone benefits from knowing you and your business, they’re more likely to mention you to others. That could be from directly working with you, from offering them help and advice, or by introducing them to someone else in your network who could be good for them to know.

Every person you can build a positive relationship with could potentially mention you to hundreds of their own contacts.

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And while it’s likely you’re particularly close to your family and best friends, studies have shown that more jobs and opportunities often come from ‘weak ties.’ These are the people you have less frequent interactions with, and was first studied in the 1970s. Essentially, those individuals in your inner circle are likely to already have lots of shared contacts and information with you, so it’s those in your outer circle that will bring you new opportunities.

This lifts some of the pressure to make every new business acquaintance into a lifelong friend. You don’t need to immediately close a sale or establish a collaboration to benefit from bumping into people occasionally and infrequently.


It’s a cost-effective marketing and research tool

Many self-employed business owners are time-rich and cash-poor, especially when starting out. And building a valuable network can take sustained efforts over long periods. But there are a lot of free events, meetups and social networks which can be incredibly useful.

It can be easy to waste time and effort on networking, particularly if you find social interaction mentally or physically draining. Setting yourself simple and realistic objectives can help to ensure you get value from attending events, whether that’s to introduce yourself to a specific number of people, finding the answer to a particular problem, or researching the needs of potential clients or customers.

Setting time limits can prevent you from spending hours chatting on LinkedIn, and reduce the potential stress of attending an event full of strangers. Both of which can make it more likely that you’ll maintain the momentum needed to build your network, rather than burning out if you don’t see results from your first attempts.

It’s also worthwhile to craft and practice an elevator pitch for your business, particularly when you’re introducing yourself at an event. One of the most common questions will be ‘So what do you do?” and having a succinct and memorable answer helps to keep you in the memory of the people you meet.

People generally have to be exposed to a brand somewhere between five and seven times to start recognising and remembering it. But we tend to remember people, faces, and the things we discuss much more readily than logos. So, while it may take more than one introduction to bring someone into your professional network, it’s still likely to be quicker than targeting them with advertising.


Additional benefits of networking when you’re self-employed

Beyond the direct potential of securing work, there are various additional benefits of networking when you’re self-employed.

Whether you’re introducing yourself to people individually, or volunteering to present and speak on stage, networking can help you build your confidence and communication skills. Online networking can also help your writing, and provide you with content for future blog posts or articles.

It’s also an antidote to the common self-employed challenges of loneliness and isolation. Committing to regular networking encourages you to interact with other people on a regular basis. Events focused on the self-employed (for example, our IPSE events) mean you’ll have shared experience with other attendees, making it easier to find common ground to talk about. And increasing the chances of finding potential colleagues and collaborations for the future.

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You can even find your network itself becomes a source of revenue. If you’re regularly recommending freelancers to clients, then it may be an opportunity to charge a referral fee. Or you may build a community which becomes valuable as a membership group or professional organisation (like IPSE itself).

And while you may be approaching networking with work in mind, it’s not impossible that it can result in making new friends, or discovering opportunities outside the professional sphere to take up new hobbies or pursue existing interests. Other attendees may share your love of sport, music, arts and crafts or other pastimes.  





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