Freelance Designer’s Guide to Networking – Part 4: Mutual Benefit

This is the fourth and final part in the networking series. If you missed the previous posts you can find them here:

What is the purpose of professional networking? We all know we’re supposed to network in order to grow our business, but if we’re all focused on our own interests, networking simply won’t be effective.

A successful networker knows that this effort has a positive impact on business; however, he or she also knows that others are benefiting from the relationships, and mutual benefit is critical to the long-term success of the network. If someone is not getting anything out of it, they’re eventually going to stop putting in the effort.

Keys to Mutual Benefit:

Good Fit – Designers, developers, SEOs, marketers, and copywriters all have a natural opportunity to work together on projects and to refer clients to one another. Having strong relationships with others in these types of positions is something that every designer should strive for. It will be more likely to have positive results for your own business, but it will also help you to provide a more complete service for clients. If you don’t provide SEO services, for example, you’ll at least have someone trustworthy that you can refer them to if they need those services.

A good fit doesn’t necessarily come just from others in related fields. Maybe you have a friend or a contact who does consulting or planning work for new business as they are being formed (such as assistance with a business plan). These services don’t have anything to do with web design, but that person is likely to interact with a lot of businesses that need a website to be developed or redesigned. Additionally, you may have some clients of your own that could use help with the other person’s services.

Trust – Building a strong network is more than just knowing someone who provides a specific service and referring clients to each other. In order for the relationship to be successful there will have to be mutual trust. After all, if you’re sending clients to someone else and recommending their services, you should have confidence that they will take care of your clients and do a good job from them. Without trust the relationship won’t be able to go very far. When networking, look for others that you’re confident you would want to work with yourself if you were in the client’s position. Even having fewer of these strong relationships will be better than having a lot of contacts without much trust.

Genuine Interest – An ideal networking partner will have a strong interest in your success and well being, and vice versa. If someone is only looking out for their own interests, this will not occur. Having a commitment to make everyone stronger will result in a more successful and more beneficial networking relationship.

Stage of Business – While it is possible to develop connections with others in various stages of business, it can be helpful if others in your network are in a similar stage as you. For example, if you’re just getting started as a designer and you’re looking to build a relationship with someone who provides social media marketing services, it may be helpful if you find someone else who is also trying to establish themselves at this time.

If you’re attempting to build a relationship with someone who is an established leader in the industry, they probably already know plenty of designers that they have worked with in the past, and you’re unlikely to see much opportunity to work together. However, someone who is just getting started as a social media marketing consultant may not have established relationships with designers. Additionally, someone who is at your stage of business will probably have rates that reasonable for your clients. If you’re a new designer and your rates are fairly low, you probably won’t have many clients that are going to be willing or able to pay for the marketing or consulting services of one of the most experienced individuals in the industry, but they probably will be able to afford someone who is just getting started. Of course, you still need to be careful to find someone that you trust and someone that your clients will like.

Finding Opportunities for Mutual Benefit:

What clients do you turn away?

Do you commonly get inquiries for services that you don’t provide? If so, do you simply tell these people that you don’t provide the services, or do you refer them to someone specific who can help them? If you’re just sending them away without a recommendation you have a significant opportunity to build a relationship with other service providers. Take some time to find people that could help your clients out and get in touch with them. If there seems to be a good fit, tell them that you’ll send potential clients their way when you cannot help them yourself.

Think of your freelance business as a larger corporation.

As a freelancer you’re limited to the services that you can provide yourself (or those that you’re going to outsource). But take some time to think about how you would expand your business if it was a larger corporation. What other products or services would you provide? These are the things that would likely be a natural fit for you, and there should be plenty of opportunity for network development in these areas.

Do you currently have contacts with others who provide these products and services? If not, make the effort to develop relationships with people in these areas. When you have established a strong network, you’ll still be a freelancer, but you’ll have a much wider spectrum of products and services to assist clients with. You could simply refer clients to others in your network, or you could work out some type of outsourcing agreement if you wanted to.

Look at your clients overall needs.

Your clients obviously need web design services, but what else do they typically need? Maybe you see a lot of clients who could use business cards or stationary. Maybe they need someone who specializes in logo design. Whatever the case may be, if many of your clients share the same needs, you should make an effort to build strong contacts in those areas.

How can you help those who already help you?

Knowing that networking is all about mutual benefit, maybe you have some current contacts who are helping you in one way or another, but you may not have been able to do much for them in return. Since you’ve already got someone who is willing to help you, it would be a shame to lose that person from your network because you never gave back. Take a look at their situation and see what you can do to make it a mutually beneficial relationship that will last for the long-term.

What’s Your Experience?

In your networking efforts, how have you found mutual benefit to be key, and what have you done to develop mutually beneficial relationships?

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. October 25, 2008

    Very interesting, it was a joy to follow You through all those four guide parts – appreciated, thanks!

  2. October 29, 2008

    Great article and write up. As a freelancer I definitely understand how networking is very important but at the same time it’s difficult to make time to meet new clients, follow up with inquires, etc. However, if you do make time to fit that into your daily or weekly schedule it’s something that will really benefit you.

  3. February 1, 2011

    Great series. I’ve been on your blog all afternoon! Can’t get enough. I am working on starting up my own studio with a partner and have found that much of your advice is applicable to small business in addition to freelancers.

    As with most people who have already began the freelance journey, I am looking more for specifics and resources than generalities. I find reading the comments to your posts almost just as valuable as the posts themselves for this purpose.

    Incredible job with you posts! Thanks so much for sharing. In the interest of networking, if there’s any favor you need from please, don’t hesitate to ask 🙂

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