The power of vertical networking.

networking for freelancersA while back I was interviewed for a book on networking. My first response was, “Hey, I don’t network. I hate that stuff.”

In other words, you won’t catch me dead shaking hands and passing out business cards at a local Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting. Nor do I cold call. Nor do I wander around conferences with my hand thrust out saying, “Hi, my name is Nick Usborne.” It’s just not part of my character.

I guess that was my view of “networking”.

But as I started writing, answering each of the interview questions, I realized that I network as much as the next person. I just go about it a different way.

The more I think about it, we all network, one way or another. If you think this doesn’t apply to you, just make a quick mental tally of the people you know in your industry. People you have worked with, exchanged emails with, met somewhere.

Have a look at your address book. If you have more than the names of your personal friends and family, you’re already networking.

Why this is important

Whether you are employed right now or a freelancer, networking is essential to your future. Nothing happens without knowing other people. None of us advance in our careers in blissful isolation.

We get a job offer because someone knows about us. We pick up a new client for our freelance business because someone referred us to someone else. We are asked to write articles because an editor or webmaster read something else we had written.

Every step forward we take can usually be traced back to knowing someone.

Different Networking strokes for different folks

Some people seem born to walk up to strangers and introduce themselves. If that sounds like you, then you already know how to expand your current network of contacts.

But if, like me, you’re not an outgoing person who loves to get out and meet people, you need to find other ways.

For me, my network has grown almost entirely through people contacting me after reading an article I have written, reading one of my books, or listening to me speak at an event.

In other words, I network by making myself visible through writing and speaking.

My network grows as more and more people get in touch with me.

A key to successful networking is to reach high or wide

Whenever I am offered a speaking or writing project that I feel might be “beyond’ me, I jump at it. Why? By stretching myself I not only get my name and talents exposed to a new audience, but I also get in front of an audience that is a little higher up on the food chain.

Let me explain. If I was asked to speak at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting, I would find myself in front of a group of local business people. For me, that’s not a good audience.

But a few years ago, when I was invited to do a half-day seminar for the senior editors of one of the world’s most famous websites, I jumped at it. Why? Because I would get to stand up in front of some very influential people in the online industry.

The higher I aim, the more influential and better connected my network becomes.

Whatever method works for you, don’t confine your network just to “people like you”. Try to expand your network vertically, to include people who are more successful, more influential and better connected than you.

At the same time, you can also reach out horizontally. A few weeks ago I was invited to attend an industry event that was way off to the side of my core business. My first instinct was to say no. But I said yes. As a result I met some very interesting and influential people. And now I’m thinking, “This may not be central to what I’m doing today, but I bet I can build something based on this new group of people I now know.”

For me the key to powerful networking is reach high and wide, and connect with the kind of people who really could make a difference to your career.

Get out of your comfort zone and scare yourself a bit by extending your reach.



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