Originally published September 19, 2018 on The Original BritishPandaChick blog. I made tweaks to the original post so it would work for Code Newbie.
Lately, we've been talking about networking with the Skillcrush 300 lessons. The next lesson is expanding on networking even further by looking at how to form a professional support network. Professional support networks are very helpful for freelancers and solopreneurs. As I continue along my coding journey, I'm always working on growing and improving my professional network.
Although the last lesson had lots of great networking tips to help you in any networking situation, forming a professional support network gets its own lesson since you'll be building different kinds of relationships with your professionals than the ones you have with your clients. In this post, I will be concentrating on how to building a relationship with other professionals instead of how to meet them. I'll touch on a few ways to meet other professionals, but most of this post is going to be about why you need a professional network along with your career and how to start one.
So what does a professional support network look like?
Your professional support network is people who can help your career. Skillcrush's definition has the professional network is made up of your peers and people who do similar things as you do. However, professional support networks can look differently for every freelancer.
Some freelancers can expand this support network even further to have people who aren't in their industry but provide a skill that helps them with their online businesses. One of my favorite examples of a professional support network in action is Shannon Mattern. Shannon is a WordPress web designer and solopreneur.
Shannon often talks about her business in her online courses and blog posts. One of the reasons why her business is successful is due to members of her professional support network. This doesn't include talking to other developers and designers. She also talks about working with other professionals that can help grow her business.
Building a professional support network can sound intimidating, but it is much easier to do since you already have things in common with them.
These similarities can be common goals, issues, and even successes. I felt lots of impostor syndrome when I was starting to build my support network in tech, but it became easier once I began talking to other developers. The conversations I had with other developers in Twitter chats, webinars, and Facebook groups made me realized they were there to help and most importantly understand the struggles I was facing along my coding journey.
The most successful professional network are like personal relationships you have. A good relationship needs both parties to contribute to making it work. Remember the best freelancers focus more on giving to others than what they are getting.
This might take some research, time, and putting yourself out there but many freelancers (including the ones that teach at Skillcrush) swear by this. So instead of thinking about what you want to get from other professionals, concentrate on what you can contribute.
Why do you need a professional support network?
There are many reasons why freelancers have a professional support network, but the common three reasons freelancers often use their professional networks are problem-solving, profit, and friendship. If you still need some convincing, here's a list of benefits Skillcrush provides for students on why they need one for themselves.
Need help with tricky client issues or negotiations? Your support network is a great place for tips on what to do or say. Other professionals are more likely to understand the struggles and challenges you are facing since chances are they have been in the same situations as well. The advice professionals give you will be tested and tried solutions they have used themselves when they were facing the same struggles.
Professional support networks open the doors for great collaborations. Many freelancers use their networks to learn about projects. Experienced members of your network will be busy with their own projects and refer their clients to you.
If you have a professional network, your connections can give you access to their network by referring you to people who are working on certain projects. Freelancers have specific sets of skills and many will subcontract with others that have skills they lack. I know many freelancers who subcontract with them in order to gain freelancing experiencing.
Networking with other professionals don't have to be just all about solving problems and finding work. Having a great support network can be fun and just spending time with friends. Professional support networks are a great way to have rich conversations from talking about sharing ideas and strategies to just having a small talk over what is happening in everyone's week. Having other professionals as friends has plenty more perks including having someone to attend events with.
Finding Professionals at Events
There are plenty of ways to start networking with other professionals. Many of these ways were described in last week's post. Other professionals are doing the same things so you'll be bound to meet others at these events. These ways are great ways to letting others recognize you in these professionals spaces and giving them ways to keep you top of mind.
Connecting with other professionals might sound intimidating. Even more so if you are an introvert. In order to keep yourself from adding tons of pressure on yourself, Skillcrush encourages students to set some connection goals and keep these goals very simple.
Simple goals are going to make it easier for you to accomplish and feel more at ease. Plus completing simple can boost your confidence so you can step outside your comfort zone a little more each time. Simple connection goals look differently for everyone, but one of the easiest goals anyone can start with is just by focusing on what you have in common with others.
Instead of trying to talk to every single person in the room, you can set yourself a goal to talk to a specific number of people to see what similarities you have in common. You might chat with a few people at these events to see what similarities you have instead of trying to talk to every person in the room.
Remember your goal isn't to sell your services.
Instead, you need to concentrate on presenting yourself as a friend and even a potential partner to other freelancers. Networking is all about staying top of my mind and making yourself memorable to your connections. This is why giving to other freelancers is so important because it will help them remember you.
Another Skillcrush tip to help you connect with other professionals is the business card. These are especially important for in-person networking events and meetups. When you connect with others, ask them for a business card. Don't forget to bring your own business cards just in case other professionals ask for one as well.
Finally, Skillcrush recommends skipping your elevator pitch when it comes to connecting with other professionals. Instead, they encourage students to focus on what they are doing and how they can help others. This tip can be a bit controversial since some career experts suggest using this even among other professionals.
Therefore, I'm going to leave it up to you to decide. Your elevator pitch can work in some situations and in others it might be best to go with the casual approach so you can use your best judgment there.
How to start building a connection with other professionals?
Now that you have found some events to attend, the next step is building your connection with each of the professionals you reach out to. Doing so will allow you to grow your relationship with these connections over time while expanding your own network in your process.
In order to help their students begin building bonds with other freelancers, Skillcrush provides some tips on what they need to do to get started. Some of these tips include the following:
- Thank everyone that helps and supports you.
- Offer to help more than asking for help.
- Congratulate others on small victories and accomplishments others have made. These victories can look like finishing a project or getting a job.
- Inviting others to attend events you are going to.
- Sharing resources
Once you've started reaching out to other professionals, wait and see who responds back to you. This is where patience is going to come in. Some won't respond to your messages right away and that is normal since everyone is busy.
With this in mind, you can use this to your advantage and just keep your messages short and easy to read. Skillcrush recommends students match their message to the platform you are using so people can easily read it. If you are struggling to find other professionals to connect with, start making more contributions on different platforms.
Many Facebook groups, Twitter Chats, and Slack groups will have areas for new members to introduce themselves. These areas are very active and a great place for newbies to start. But if you don't know someone very well or know this person on a variety of platforms, feel free to send an e-mail.
Has anyone sent you a message?
If anyone sent you a message, don't forget to send them a response back. On specific platforms, you can see who follows you. You can follow them back or send them a quick message. This is why Twitter is popular for developers since people can follow each other, retweet comments, and have mini conversations within Twitter chat topics.
Finally, follow and reach out to professionals that inspire you. Don't be afraid to reach out to these individuals and let them know. Many appreciate these comments since it shows they are helping others.
During Twitter chats, I will often mention other professionals that I admire and many have either liked the tweets I wrote. Some have even responded back thanking me for what I wrote.
You are now ready to start growing your professional support network! This post shares some tips from Skillcrush 300's latest lesson on why a professional support network is important to have. I have even reviewed what you can do to start building your very own.
Skillcrush 300 has one more lesson on networking. Tomorrow's post is about improving the connections you've already made and maintaining these relationships in order to get the most from them. I'll even review ways to start reaching out to your top leads.