Originally published October 17, 2018 on The Original BritishPandaChick blog. I made tweaks to the original post so it would work for Code Newbie.
This is the last lesson in Skillcrush 300 about networking. The last thing you need to know about networking is building relationships with the potential clients and peers you meet. I've dived into this a little bit in some of my previous networking posts, but the main goal in the other lessons was to show you how and where to meet people to grow your network.
Today's topic is going to focus on growing the relationship with the people you are adding to your network in order to get the maximum benefits that come from networking. This lesson is reviewing all of the tips Skillcrush gives their students on bonding with all the new connections you've been making. These are tips many freelancers use including ones who work at Skillcrush. By the end of this post, you'll know the secrets to talk to people in your network, the best way to reach out to your top leads, and how to start a conversation with other people in your network.
Growing Your Network
Up to this point, all the networking lessons in Skillcrush 300 have been about growing your network by meeting new people and discover how to help each other. Now it is time for the next step which is all about building and maintaining these relationships with all the people you've met online or through in-person networking events.
Building lasting relationships with your connections is going to be similar to how you created some of the most important relationships in your life so it means putting in work and effort to make them work. It also feels scary and intimidating, but Skillcrush and I both know you can do this. As a matter of fact, you will find the more you do this, the better and faster you'll be at building relationships.
When it comes to building relationships with your brand new connections, think of this step as gardening at some of the famous estates and homes throughout the world. Famous locations like Buckingham Palace are constantly working on maintaining the palace gardens just like a freelancer tries to maintain and grow the relationships with people in his/her support network. These gardeners aren't just planting new seeds.
The gardeners constantly check on every plant in the queen's gardens to weed and water the plants just so the gardens stay picture-perfect all year round. This is the same approach freelancers do with members of their networks. They check in with each other and help each other when it is needed in order to stay top of mind with each other.
As you begin building relationships, Skillcrush encourages students to see each new relationship as an opportunity to practice.
Each freelancer has a different approach to building relationships so what works for one person might not work for another. Building relationships is a learning experience that will help you figure out what methods work the best and let you try new ones that can help strengthen relationships you have with clients and other freelancers. Each connection isn't just an opportunity to experiment with different methods and techniques.
Networking is all about connecting with other people. This doesn't mean attending networking events you can find and afford on your own. It is also a way to help build your confidence in yourself and in the skills you are offering.
Start a conversation!
In order to build a relationship with your brand new connections, you have to start reaching out to your new connections. This can feel awkward especially if you are reaching out to someone you don't know very well.
You might feel just like Cady from Mean Girls on her first few days of high school. Below is a clip from Mean Girls which shows what happened to Cady on her first day especially when she is trying to decide where to sit in the cafeteria.
Cady's first day shows that her uncertainty over where to sit is how we all feel when we are unsure where to start when it comes to reaching out to the new connections we make from networking.
Skillcrush and I both agree that the best way to reaching out to members of your network is just simply putting yourself out there. This is similar to The Biggest Loser workout DVDs where Bob and Jillian remind viewers to just keep moving during the workouts. Just diving right is already one building block to strengthening the relationship you have with one of your connections.
You don't have to worry about saying the right thing.
As a matter of fact, you can never go wrong with just saying "Hello" or "Thank you" to someone. Initiating conversations is going to be different depending on what kind of event you are attending. Many in-person events often have networking as part of their scheduled events so it is expected people attending do this at these events.
If you are attending an in-person event, Skillcrush suggests walking up to someone and introducing yourself. Chances are the person you talk to will be glad that you did. You can even walk up to people and ask them to join their conversation. This is common at networking events.
Online conversations are much easier to begin since many platforms allow you to send private messages or reply to people's posts.
Twitter allows users to retweet other people's tweets. Many developers do this during Twitter chats to show the conversation happening on the weekly topic. Although it is tempting to just hit the like button on another's person post, I encourage you to write a thoughtful reply back to what your connections might have said. This can be a thank you to someone who shared an amazing resource that helped you or adding to comment to someone's post.
Tips to Talking to Your Connections
Skillcrush puts together a list of tips other freelancers have used when talking to potential clients or professionals for their support networks. These are tips that can help you not only help you start building a connection with members of your network but can also make you confident as you talk to them.
1. When in doubt, keep things simple.
If things aren't simple, it can be easy to psyche yourself out and forget what you are trying to do. Therefore you want to make things as easy as possible for the person you are reaching out to. This might look like a short e-mail letting them know a resource that might help them or just a quick message on social media congratulating them on a work anniversary.
2. Think about others before yourself.
Networking works the best when people try helping each other. So use your conversations with your connections as ways to learn more about them.
Freelancers suggest writing little notes about each of your connections in a notebook or on the back of their business cards. You can even open a note in your phone's notepad app and write a couple of details about each of your connections there. This will help you remember these details for later. Experienced freelancers will reference these details later when they contact them and starting conversations with them.
3. Come prepared.
This tip is especially important for attending in-person and online events. Before you attend, you will want to make sure you have your elevator pitch ready and have practiced it a couple of times. If it is a casual event or an online event, prepare some short statements instead that let people know clearly who you are and what you do. Some freelancers will even prepare business cards for this event or resumes if they are attending career or job fairs.
Remember the spreadsheet I mention during the fast track formula post?
As you continue networking, make sure to keep this spreadsheet updated by adding any new leads you learn about. Leads can be people that could eventually hire you someday so it is important to keep in touch since you never know when they might need your services. You can use this spreadsheet not just to keep contact information about your leads.
This is a great place to put any details about your leads. When you write them e-mails later, you can use details to help you write a personalized message.
4. Engage with others.
Skillcrush encourages students to be active members of the conversation. This means not only being a good listening to learn about the people but also helping conversation continue. A great way to do this is just by asking questions. These can be questions about the event both of you are attending or on something they might have brought up during the conversation.
5. Act generously.
Experienced freelancers swear by this tip since giving to others is how they got to where they are now. It is also a great way to stay top of mind with people in your network. When members of your network come with a reasonable favor, say yes!
Skillcrush defines a reasonable favor as any task that would take less than 15 minutes to do. If you haven't gotten any favors, you can still be generous by supporting other people's work or finding ways to help them with issues they might be facing. This might be sending them a resource to help them to just sending them a message telling them good luck on something they might be doing.
6. Manners matter.
As you keep networking, you'll find yourself in many situations. If you find yourself in a conversation at any networking event that starts to feel uncomfortable or off, just politely excuse yourself and leave the conversation. Listen and follow your instincts in these situations. You don't need to stay in a conversation that isn't going anywhere or makes you feel uncomfortable.
The Importance of Following Up with Your Connections
This is a habit Skillcrush encourages all their students to start developing since it is the key to strong relationships with clients and other freelancers. You need to always follow up with clients and other professionals as quickly and regularly as you can. You will want to follow up with others in the following situations:
- meeting someone at an event
- completing work
- you refer someone someone has referred you
If you are following up with a client, it is best to follow up immediately after you complete a project in order to see if your client needs more help, has questions, or just to see if the project is working the way they want. This also a great time to ask for feedback from your clients as well as get referrals and testimonials.
If you are following up with a peer, Skillcrush suggests students follow up in 48 hours. You can do this with an e-mail, tweet, or message on a platform you both use. You can also google their contact information if you don't have their contact information. Skillcrush recommends students use a form of contact the other person would like you to use or what is on their business card if they have given you one.
The only thing you need to be careful with when following up with clients and peers is not going overboard. This doesn't just mean following up on one platform once. It also means not following them on every social media platform you both are one.
Instead Skillcrush recommends limiting yourself to following them on one or two sites to start with. I recommend at least connecting with them at least on LinkedIn since it is a professional site.
Writing the Perfect Message
The last section of today's post is about writing out your first e-mail to connect with your top leads. Top leads are the ones that are the most likely to hire you or need your services. Skillcrush recommends starting with the leads you have talked to recently at an in-person event or an online event. Although your messages will vary for each person, there are a few things you can to do all your messages that can help you connect with potential clients or freelancers.
First, keep your message short and easy to read. There are tons of e-mails that come into everyone's inbox every day so make sure these messages are something people can read easily. As you write your message, you want to sound as friendly as possible.
This is where you can use all the details you wrote down about each of your connections. You can ask them questions about how their day is going or how their trip might have gone if they mentioned it at their last event. Skillcrush provides students with a template to use in order to write the perfect message, but they encourage students to customize their e-mails as long as these additions are direct and short.
Remember people will read messages quickly on social media and in e-mail so you will want to make things as clear as possible so your leads know what to do to help you. Finally, don't forget to proofread and spell-check your message before you click send.
That's a wrap on networking in Skillcrush 300! You now know how to start building relationships with other freelances and top leads for freelance projects. This post has some tips to help you start from reaching out to your connections to following up with them. I have even reviewed some of Skillcrush's tips for writing the perfect message to one's professional freelancers use to talk to other people in their networks.