By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Networking Member, NAIWE Board of Experts
Ah, networking — an eternal topic for independent writers and editors.
I’ve been procrastinating about writing this column because it felt as if I had said everything about networking there was to say. Then two things happened: I received a new ongoing writing project through networking, and I started an entirely new venture that will require networking in new ways and new communities. Networking suddenly felt fresh!
The writing gig came from a Facebook group colleague and happened because I’ve been active and helpful in that group; the essence of networking. That networking connection was a handy shortcut for my colleague: It meant they knew enough about me to trust that I could do the work without having to request writing samples or go through other time-consuming common aspects of fitting freelancer to project. It’s proof that networking … works.
The new venture involves creating art (glass and clay), and planning to use networking to create visibility similar to my established presence in writing, editing and proofreading groups. That will mean identifying groups or organizations to join, finding the appropriate way to promote my work without being too blatantly “salesy,” and — most importantly — looking for ways to both learn about this new activity and share helpful tips and resources, because networking is a two-way street: It only works if you give as much as you take.
I’m reveling in the new opportunity to exercise my writing chops and the new kinds of projects I’ll be doing. One is the result of networking, while the other will require networking for it to succeed — the full spectrum. While I reflect on both, here are a few insights about networking in general that I hope colleagues will find useful.
A constant perspective
No matter what kind of publishing work you do, networking is key to its success. Of course, training and skill come first — but none of that matters if no one knows who you are and what you can do. Networking makes that happen.
Networking essentially means connecting with people you can learn with and from. New jobs/projects are often, even usually, a result of skilled networking, but self-gain shouldn’t be the goal. Becoming known for skills and colleagiality should be the goal.
The traditional process is to build your network by joining professional organizations like NAIWE or ones specific to an industry you write about or edit in. Nowadays, it includes joining relevant groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., as well as keeping in touch with former employers and co-workers.
It takes more than just joining up, though, for networking to do its job. Being not just a member, but an active, visible, helpful member, of an organization or group is vital to networking success, especially in these increasingly digital and post- (we hope) Covid days. You can join every professional association and collegial online group there is, but if you don’t contribute, you’ve wasted most of that investment, whether it’s money spent to join or hours spent online every day. Networking is not passive.
Overcoming that reluctance
Most of us agree, or ruefully admit, that networking is important to our business efforts, but not everyone is a poster child for extroverts like I am, so not all of us enjoy doing it. Keep in mind that you can do a lot of effective networking these days without meeting people in person, whether your hesitation is based on being an introvert or continuing to be concerned about health. Platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as the discussion lists or forums of associations, make it possible to share insights, successes, advice and requests for help without ever leaving home.
As professional events come back to in-person life and online efforts continue to be important, it might help to think about some new angles for your networking activities. And it could help overcome any reluctance to think about how networking is likely to improve your reputation and expand your writing or editing business. You could even reward yourself for new efforts; chocolate always works for me.
Ask some questions
You might think that asking questions — whether about your craft or having an independent writing or editing business — makes you look foolish. On the contrary: Asking questions makes you look smart enough to seek professional, collegial advice rather than bumbling around and making business-damaging mistakes. It also creates the opportunity to share answers with colleagues, and maybe even incorporate their responses (with credit, of course) in any blog posts or articles you might write.
You could ask the one vital question that several colleagues have wanted to post, but been afraid to. Bringing it up and making it possible to share the answers makes you a valuable networking connection.
Provide some answers
Of course, you want to look for answers in obvious places (Google, LinkedIn and Facebook groups, etc.) before asking colleagues for help, but even that could be the basis of networking.
Once you have those answers, or figure something out on your own, apply them to your networking activities by sharing them as widely as possible. Consider writing a blog post or article about that process. Show colleagues how you solved a problem or answered a knotty question, so they can expand their knowledge and skillset. You’ll be a star!
Do some good
Networking can be a factor in providing community service and supporting causes you believe in: By volunteering or otherwise supporting a cause, you gain visibility with an organization’s board members, staff, and even clients or audiences.
If you write an article or edit a project for a nonprofit organization on a pro bono basis, ask that your contact info and a (brief) bio be included. If you donate goods to a nonprofit, write about why and what you hope will be the result of the donation. If you endow a scholarship, send a press release to appropriate outlets.
Whatever it involves, pro bono work makes us feel good while doing good, and can bring good karma (as well as practical results) to our lives and businesses. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for and receiving business success by doing good. It’s all part of both promoting your business and building your network of contacts that might hire you as a result — of either seeing what you do or sharing your commitment to that cause or organization.
Do it now!
Other than recognizing networking as a two-way process, accepting its value in enhancing your writing or editing business is key to success. If you’re an introvert, grit your teeth and get to it, even if only in one forum, organization or platform (the more you try, the more comfortable you should become with the process). If you’re an extrovert, keep your flag flying.
Either way, I wish you success in getting your name and business out to new audiences and clients.
Let us know how you approach networking and what has worked for you and your writing/editing business.
Ruth E. Thaler-Carter is known as the “Queen of Networking” for her many years of active membership in various writing- and editing-related professional associations and online groups, contributions to publications; and creating and hosting Communication Central’s “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference, now co-hosted with NAIWE. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com.