Every time I blink, another networking event hits my inbox or Twitter feed. Maybe it’s the start-up culture of Boston, maybe it’s my penchant for joining mailing lists, or maybe it’s the season, but business cards are flying these days. I’m sure you’ve had “It’s all about who you know” drilled into your head since college, but forging business connections is tricky, especially when you’re talking about networking for writers, who tend to be solitary creatures. As a follow-up to Skyword’s attendance at BlogWorld in NYC, I thought I’d tackle the topic of boosting your freelance writing prospects the one-on-one way.
Two years ago, I moved from DC to Boston, leaving behind my family and my best friend, whom I’ve known since middle school. I felt a little guilty, like I was abandoning her, so when she told me she was having a hard time making new friends, I jumped at the chance to help out.
Me: “You should join Meetup! I bet you could meet some cool people that way. Or how about Yelp? They’re always posting fun local events.”
BFF: “I can’t just walk up to a group of strangers and make conversation. It doesn’t come naturally to me like it does to you.”
I want to call a time-out on that statement in the style of Saved by the Bell, because I think it’s a huge roadblock, whether you’re talking about networking for writers or would-be friend-makers. If you feel the same way as my best friend, read on, because this is crucial:
1. Don’t assume everyone was born for social networking.
I know that Americans tend to be a pretty confident bunch, but I doubt that many people can stroll into a room not caring what others think about them. Most people will wonder, “How do I look?” “Are people going to care about what I have to say?” Unless you’re Ryan Gosling, you’ll probably have some doubt about your approach. Networking for writers is tough, but that might be the best thing about the exercise: You’re all in the same boat.
So if you see someone standing alone, don’t assume she’s too cool to talk to you; assume she feels just as awkward as you do, and say hi. She’s there for the same reason you are.
2. Know your strengths.
Do you specialize in a particular freelance writing topic? Are you a social connector? Maybe you have some unique interests or awesome stories to share. Think about what it is you offer that makes you stand out, and run with it. Sometimes all it takes is enthusiasm; when I’m really into something, I will babble about it to everyone and their grandmother. I could be talking about the Game of Thrones books, my shiny new job at Skyword, or an awesome used bookstore, but my eyes will light up just the same. People can tell when you’re genuinely into something, and they’ll respond to it.
3. Practice, practice, practice.
Make sure your business cards are readily accessible (not especially easy if the event involves cocktails), have a friend judge your handshake, and, above all else, be ready to listen. You can have the best elevator speech of all time in your back pocket, but if you start a monologue, you’re likely to lose your audience. Practice asking questions that can’t easily be answered with a yes/no response; this will draw your conversation out so you can learn more about what others are looking for and doing.
Ready to join the offline writing community? Stay tuned to @skywriting for updates on networking events in your area.
Juliana Casale is one of those obnoxious people who love to network. You can find her working 9-? as a Writer Recruiter at Skyword, or dropping 140-character wisdom as @attackofthetext on Twitter.