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‘Networking’ is a word that often strikes fear into any freelancer or contractor. It immediately brings to mind awkward introductions, forced conversation, and thinly-veiled sales patter.

But with the right mindset networking can be useful, beneficial and, most importantly, profitable.

To help you get started, we’ve put together a selection of top tips. Have a read through, and before you know it, you’ll be on the road to networking nirvana.

1) Do your research
As with all areas of business, if you don’t do your research, you won’t get the most out of your situation. So, before you attend an event or informal group, do a little bit of digging on the setup. Who will be attending? What is the format of the event? Is there dedicated time to speak to other attendees?

Armed with your garnered information, you’ll be able to plan how you are going to approach the event. Being prepared will also help with nervousness, and you even can go so far as mentally noting those people it might be worth approaching on the day.

2) Have your elevator pitch rehearsed
Okay, preparing and rehearsing an elevator pitch might sound slightly cringey, but it needn’t be. All you need to think about is how you can best sell your skills to someone who knows nothing about what you do. Set yourself a time limit of around one minute (hence ‘elevator pitch’) and remember to keep it conversational.

Once you know what you want to say in your pitch, run it through in your head a few times before a networking event to keep the facts fresh. Even better is to speak it out loud to yourself. Sounds weird, but it works.

3) Go for quality over quantity
Once you’ve decided to jump into the world of networking, you might be tempted to sign up to every business brunch, SME coffee morning, and mentoring session going.

Although there is plenty of networking options out there, remember that your time is valuable. With that in mind, be sure only to attend the events that are potentially useful to you. Whether it’s meeting potential clients or picking up industry knowledge from like-minded professionals – laser-target your efforts for the best results.

4) Remember your business cards
In the digital age, something as old-school as a business card might feel a bit archaic. But in a networking setting, they really do still have a place.

Your business card doesn’t need to be flashily designed, just something that clearly and concisely lays out what you do and where you can be contacted. The most important thing, of course, is to make sure they’re in your bag to give out and not left in a desk drawer at home!

5) Break the ‘hello’ barrier
The most daunting part of any networking event is wandering over to a stranger and striking up a conversation. But, guess what? Once you’ve done it, you’ll wonder why you were so worried in the first place.

The trick to networking confidence is thinking of it as a marketing tactic. The end-goal is to generate new business for you or to gain further industry insight. It’s not like you need to find a new friend for life or romantic partner. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

6) Take your networking online
So far we’ve only covered face-to-face events. But no article about business networking would be complete without discussing online options. Social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook all offer awesome opportunities to network.

As we mentioned earlier, it is worth taking a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to your networking – and the online space is no different. It can be overwhelming, so start with a few LinkedIn groups to ease you in gently. By posting regularly and interacting with content, you’ll find yourself conversing with the right people in no time.

Now you’re all set to go out into the world of networking and grow your business. Just don’t forget those business cards!

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