When I was first considering launching my own business, networking was the last thing on my mind. I figured I would find a couple of steady clients and get things humming along without having to market myself or engage in much business networking.
Boy was I wrong.
My first clue was when my good friend Phuong, also a freelance writer, encouraged me to go out on my own and even introduced me to one of the editors who gave her steady work. I was stunned that another freelancer -- theoretically competition, even though we were friends -- would help me sign a client. But I wasted no time in pitching stories to this editor and happily started work on the first one.
Phuong, who's on my unofficial board of advisors, also encouraged me to join a business networking group with other freelance writers. Again, I was a little perplexed as to how we'd help each other when it seems we'd be competing, but I complied.
It wasn't too long before I saw the wisdom of her advice. My two business networking groups became an invaluable source of advice and a reality check for all the question that arise in the day-to-day of running your own shop, such as:
- How should I price this project? Am I charging too much or too little?
- Is this email tough enough on a client who's late in paying his invoice?
- What rights should I try to negotiate when I'm selling my creative works?
- How do you turn off the flow of work when your home is your office?
The other interesting thing that happened was that I started coming across possible assignments that I wasn't interested in -- either because of the topic or the pay -- and referring them to friends who needed the work or had such built-up expertise that they could knock stories out more quickly. When I started as a freelancer, I never would've dreamed that I would turn down assignments, but pretty soon I saw that the only way to achieve what you truly want is to decline opportunities that would take you on a detour.
Before long, I completed the virtuous cycle of business networking by referring Phuong -- the one who got me started in the first place -- to an editor of mine who wanted another writer with a slightly different expertise. I'm sure that she never considered that her good deed to get me rolling would turn into an opportunity for herself.
As for me, I think the odds are pretty good that one of the dozen colleagues I've referred to jobs, assignments or other opportunities will end up returning the favor over the course of our careers. The key is to work with good people that you like and can recommend without hesitation. (I've written before about the dangers of referring someone you don't know well.)
What about you? How has business networking helped you? Are there lines you draw when it comes to helping someone in the same field who could be considered a competitor?
Photo by futurestreet via Flickr.