Freelance designers get so used to being online all day that it’s easy to forget about the opportunities available for networking offline. While online networking certainly has some advantages in terms of convenience, time commitment, and the lack of geographic limitations, the contacts that you make and the relationships that are developed will typically be stronger, and often more profitable, with offline networking.
Networking online presents plenty of opportunities (as I covered last week in part 2), but you’re more likely to meet people who become casual acquaintances than those who will become strong collaborative partners in terms of sending and receiving referrals, and possibly even working together. While you can certainly develop these types of connections online, they will probably make up a small percentage of the people that you would consider as being in your online network.
Offline networking has the advantage of personal, face-to-face interaction. You’ll actually be able to get to know those in your network and stronger connections are typically made this way.
Although offline networking brings these benefits, it also comes with some limitations. First, you’ll face significant geographical restrictions, unless you’re willing and able to do a lot of traveling. Second, you’ll likely have to spend more time with offline networking since it doesn’t have the instant conveniences of online networking. If that time can be well-spent, your business will be better off; however, if those connects don’t pan out, you will have wasted more time than you would have with online networking.
Some Possibilities for Offline Networking:
Chamber of Commerce Events
Getting involved with local a chamber of commerce can provide all kinds of networking opportunities. Members of the chamber are interested in getting to know other professionals in the area, so there are very few barriers to networking at chamber events. In fact, many chambers set up monthly business card exchanges where attendants will come solely to network with others. This is a great way to get connected quickly in your local area.
Local Business Groups
Aside from chamber events, there may be other local business groups that meet in your area. If you’re not aware of any business groups you can do a Google search, ask other professionals that you know in the area, check local websites (such as newspaper sites), or ask someone at the chamber, they’re usually well-connected. An example of a group that I participated in a few years ago was a Young Professionals Network that was organized by a few young entrepreneurs in the area and met several times a year.
Conferences and Seminars
Throughout each year there are countless conferences and seminars for a variety of different topics that would be applicable to freelance designers. Some focus on design and others on doing business online, SEO, or blogging. Of course, if you live near a major city there’s a better chance of a large conference or convention coming to your area. Otherwise, you could travel to one in another city or find smaller seminars in your local area.
Set Up Appointments with Other Professionals
You don’t necessarily have to wait for events to do some offline networking. Most likely there are plenty of professionals in your area that you could meet with to discuss doing business together. Maybe you would be interested in meeting with someone who provides related services, SEO for example, to talk about referring clients to each other. Or maybe you would like to actively pursue new design projects. For example, you could meet with the owner of a local real estate business to discuss the possibility of developing websites for their individual agents.
Reasons to Network Offline:
No matter how much online networking you do, it still lacks the personal touch of networking face-to-face. We all like to do business with people we know, and you can do a better job of getting to truly know others through offline networking.
Build a Stronger Local Business
One of the great things about being a freelance designer is that you can work with clients all over the world. However, that opportunity often leads us to overlook opportunities in our local area. With other designers focusing on clients throughout the world, the local market may be much easier for you to establish your business. Take for instance search results. Ranking well for “web designer” is extremely difficult, but ranking well for “Philadelphia web designer” will be much more attainable. (For more see Search Engine Optimization for Local Business Results.) Becoming well-connected with other professionals in your area will help you to establish a reputation as being a leading service provider locally.
Variety in Your Work
Offline networking gives you the chance to get out of the office and away from your computer and get some much needed personal interaction. Online networking won’t provide you with the same opportunities to diversify your work.
Some Action Points for Getting Started with Offline Networking:
1. Join your local chamber of commerce and attend some events.
2. Follow up with the most promising connections that you make at these events.
3. Develop a list of local professionals to contact about your services or about the possibility of collaborative partnership.
4. Work your way through the list and meet with those who are interested.
5. Keep an eye out for conferences in your area or for those that you would like to attend in other cities.