Freelance Designer’s Guide to Networking – Part 1: The Role of Networking

Today we’re going to start a four-part series that will continue over the next several weeks on networking for freelance designers. Developing and maintaining a strong network can be one of the most productive things you do as a freelancer, even though it will not directly bring in any money for your business. Your network has the ability to improve your business in just about any way you can imagine, and today we’ll start the series by taking a deeper look at the role of networking.

The Role of Networking for Freelance Designers

I’m sure you’ve read plenty of times that you should network with other professionals, but what can you really accomplish with a network? Why spend time networking when you could be designing a website for a client with that time?

Personal Interaction

In a profession that can be quiet, isolated and sometimes lonely, dedicating time to networking will help you to get more personal interaction in your work.

Find New Clients

Probably the most compelling reason for most freelancers to network, it can lead to more work. Most of the time when we go out of our way to meet someone else (in a professional setting) we’re at least partially motivated by hoping that there’s something in it for us in terms of finding some new business.

Generate Referral Business

Good referrals are incredibly valuable. Not only will you not have to spend the time and money that might be otherwise needed for finding work, but referrals from solid sources will be better to work with. They’ll immediately have more respect for you based solely on the positive recommendation from their friend, and hopefully those in your network are referring the type of clients that they enjoy doing business with themselves.

Collaborative Opportunities

One of the benefits that has surprised me about my own networking efforts is the number and quality of opportunities that have arisen unexpectedly. You never know who is looking for someone to work with on a particular project, and if they know and trust you, you may find that collaborative opportunities are finding you.

Learn More About the Industry

Networking can also be a great learning opportunity. If you’re able to get to know some other designers that have strengths in areas where you are weak, you may be able to pick up some new things that can help you in your own work. For example, if you’re new to freelancing and you struggle with the financial and business aspect, you may be fortunate to get to know someone who has successfully been freelancing for years and willing to share some advice from experience.

Better Service to Clients

You’ll no doubt come across many situations where clients are in need of services that you don’t provide. If you have a strong network of professionals in various related fields, you should be able to help out those clients even if it is just by getting them in touch with someone who does offer the services that they need.

Develop Stronger Interpersonal Skills

Although freelance designers spend a great deal of time working on their own, interpersonal and communication skills are still critical. For areas like customer service, initial consultation with clients and for selling your services to potential clients, interpersonal skills can make all the difference. By dedicating time to network with other professionals you’ll improve these skills just by getting more time and experience with communication.

Increased Stability

Freelancing isn’t always the most stable career. However, you can somewhat protect yourself against serious down times by building a strong network. Developing solid referral sources will help to insure that you’ll always have some new leads coming in. Additionally, with strong contacts you’ll have somewhere to turn if need be. Maybe you know other freelancers or owners of small design firms that might be interested in outsourcing some work to you.

Keys to Networking

Mutual Benefit

When it comes to networking, most of us are motivated by what we have to gain for ourselves; however, this will never work very well without the existence of mutual benefit. Networking is a two-way street, and if we expect to get something out of it, we have to also be willing to put something in that will help others. Make and effort to look for ways that you can help others and you’ll find that it all winds up coming back around and benefiting everyone.

Open Communication

Nothing is more important to networking than communication. In order to get to know others, the services they provide, and how you can work together, there needs to be open communication. Whether that communication is face-to-face, over the phone, or online, you must make time to cultivate relationships.


Most freelance designers are extremely busy. If networking isn’t made a priority it will often be overlooked and will get no time. Commit to making networking a priority and find some time for it in your schedule.

Genuine Interest

I’m sure we’ve all met people who we could tell were only interested in their own well-being and really didn’t care about anyone else. For your network to really develop into a strong asset for your business you must have a genuine interest in the others in your network and what you can do to help them. Once you get to know someone and you can relate to them better, it’s natural to have more of an interest in the success of their business.

What Role Does Networking Have for You?

How does your network affect your career? Do you make an effort to develop relationships with others for mutual benefit?

For more, read:

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. Mike Rouche
    October 2, 2008


    I agree, good referrals are incredibly valuable and it is even more imperative that networking relationships are mutually beneficial. There are some great niche sites out there that focus on small business networking and one that I have found to be most beneficial is called Referral Key.

    This tool allows you to build your trusted network as well as manage your referrals, so you know that each relationship is mutually beneficial. You can also create promotional campaigns and it allows consumers to rate and view the quality of your services. The basic membership is free, so I highly suggest checking it out.

    ~Mike R.

  2. Steven Snell
    October 2, 2008

    Thanks for the comment. I’m not familiar with referral key, but one of the upcoming posts is specifically focused on online networking for designers.

  3. October 3, 2008

    Networking for me is doubly difficult as I live in a country where I don’t speak the language as well as I should. I have however built up a small network and am working on expanding it.

  4. October 9, 2008

    Great post. Its nice to see someone talk about networking that doesn’t involve facebook and linked in.

    I sure dont do enough of this type of networking

  5. October 10, 2008

    Face to Face networking rather than Facebook to Facebook communication is vital. All of my best, repeat business comes from people who I have met personally in business meetings or social interactions. Referrals to new opportunities from these people are the key to developing a long term business.

    I have tried online networking, I have also experimented with online auctions and government tenders to no avail. Our type of business is done between people, if you can solve someone’s problem and put them at ease about your solution you get the business – every time!

    I went through a phase of concentrating each and everyday on the work in hand and failed to get out and expand my network. Guess what, business really slowed up, some clients went bust, others moved on and hey presto I was living on my credit cards.

    Look for networking opportunities, they are out there. Whether its a formal networking organisation like BNI or more casual conferences, seminars and exhibitions you need to polish up your social skills and pass around your business cards to keep your business alive.

    Sean – even if you don’t speak the language – go out and try to interact, people will remember you.

  6. Pingback: Freelance Designer’s Guide to Networking - Part 2: Networking Online

  7. Steven Snell
    October 12, 2008

    I agree that face-to-face generally produces the highest quality of relationships with others in your network. I have been able to make some valuable connections though online. In general it’s a different type of connection than you would get face-to-face, but still has some value.

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  9. February 10, 2009

    Great post, look forward to more.

  10. August 8, 2010

    The Role of Networking.

  11. Alicia Young
    June 14, 2011

    I have actually read about a great referral marketing,, and I really think you’ll be interested with this as well…

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