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How to build your post-career break network as a nervous freelancer

A common route to return to
work following a career break is by working as a freelancer, offering your
specific skills to companies or individuals on a project basis. I took the
freelance route when I first started building my executive coaching practice
following my career break and being quite shy and reluctant to ‘sell’ myself, I
found the process of networking to find clients intimidating. Mary Jane
Boholst, a self-described ‘shy, introverted, geeky freelancer’ shares her
expertise on how it’s possible to build your network despite your fears.

If you are like most introverts or you are just unused to talking
about yourself as a professional then the idea of networking to get clients or
jobs as a freelancer can be a daunting one.
There are a great many problems that arise, the most pressing of
which are where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them. We’ll tackle
those one by one in a moment.
What you offer
Before we do I want to make networking less daunting by sharing
something that helped me to overcome the scary task of actually going
networking to get clients and connections when I decided to take the leap into self-employment
from my job.
This is something that I teach during my talks and seminars, which
attendees and clients alike tell me makes such a difference to how they feel
about networking and it’s:
Your service is a gift!
Now whether you are an employee or a freelancer, whatever it is that
you do as a job or a career, it makes a difference to the people you provide it
That makes it, and you, a gift.
Whether you are an artist who brings a slice of beauty to everyone
who sees your art, or a digital media professional who advises growing
businesses on how to make the most of the social media channels or a business
consultant who can carry out research and analysis and present recommendations,
the service you provide is a gift that others need.
If you don’t know what your gift is then take some time to get clear
on that first! Photography, cooking, interior design, counselling, coding,
editing, copyrighting – take your pick! (I highly recommend choosing something
you are passionate about doing.)
Once you know you are offering something special to the people you meet,
where should you meet them?
Where to find potential
If you are a freelancer or new to business then it is going to save
you time (and money) to think about who you would love to work with.
Who are the people who you think would benefit the most from your
gift and who you would love to share your gift with?
Companies, individuals, busy professionals, couples, techies,
creatives – the list is endless!
When you know who you are looking for it becomes easier to find them
and talk to them.
The best way of finding who you are looking for is to think about
places they would go and be at those places. If you struggle to find events
eventbrite and meetup have great events that you can go to meet people
with various interests. For more corporate/ professional individuals,
Internations could be a great way for you to meet people.
Each of these sites has a search facility so you can search for the
people, interests and topics that you, and your people, enjoy.
What to say
When you are at events meeting people, there are several steps to
having a great conversation and making sure it is effective.
Firstly, keep in mind that you are offering people something that is
a gift!
This will help you to feel less salesy when approaching people and
starting conversations.
Then I find it is useful to start the conversation by asking a
question like what’s your name? Or what brings you here?
Actually I find that curiosity is the key to having great conversations:
the more that you are interested in the people that you meet, the more they
respond positively and the less self-conscious you’ll feel because you are
focusing on the other person.
It also means that you listen to what people say, and who doesn’t
want to feel heard?
When it comes to what you ask questions about, the key is to find
out if you can help or support the people you meet in some way.
If you can help them with your product or service then you can ask
them if they are interested in hearing more about it, before telling them more about
If not then you can give them a referral to a resource or
opportunity/event that might help them move toward their goals. Then you can
still ask them to be open to sharing about your work too, once you are done.
Networking and building a network is a long term strategy and game
plan, so if the first few people you meet are not your clients, still be open
to speaking with them because they may be able to get you one step closer to an
investor, referral, potential client, event or opportunity.
If you are introverted, shy and geeky, like me, then you could find
it especially useful to be curious and listen because it doesn’t require you to
be extroverted and someone you are not.
In fact I know that networking works best when you are being
yourself, because it is something my clients say to me all the time and
something I discovered for myself when I discovered how to build my network
If you want more support to do this then please get
in touch
with me!
Mary Jane Boholst is the
founder of Conscious Cocoon helping women in tech and shy introverted business
owners to step out from behind their computer screens, speak up, speak out and
share their expertise. Find out more here.
For other posts on freelancing see:
Freelancing as a return-to-work option
Posted by Katerina