When you work in an office, you have a built-in network. You interact with people in your industry everyday, who understand what you go through and can help you move forward in your career. Whether through meetings, conferences, or business trips, your professional life has built-in networking opportunities.
But if you’re one of the millions of self-employed workers, networking can be a little trickier. Instead of regularly interacting with a variety of people in your industry, you have to seek out them out and figure out how to create a relationship when you do.
If you’re self-employed and wondering how to network with other people in your industry, don’t give up. We have a few ideas to help you get started.
Make Smart Use of Social Media
If you run your own business, you probably have at least one professional social media account (and probably more!). But if you only use these accounts to interact with potential customers, selling your products and services, you are doing yourself and your business a huge disservice.
You know who else is on social media? Other entrepreneurs looking for a community. People in your industry who are doing what you are doing. Influencers and potential mentors who can offer you advice and show you the ropes.
Instead of just using your social media accounts to promote your business, use it to interact with people in your industry. Participate in Twitter chats or comment on Facebook posts. Send someone a pin that you think they’ll find interesting. Share someone’s blog post on LinkedIn. Business accounts on social media are for more than just selling — they’re also for making professional connections within your industry.
Find an In-Person Community
Of course, if your only community is online, you’re going to get pretty lonely. (And possibly never change our of your pajamas.) That’s why it’s important to become part of an in-person community too.
You can join an existing community, or start one of your own, with sites like Meetup that help you find groups of business owners near where you live. The Self-Employment Resource Network provides community support and networking opportunities specifically to individuals who are self-employed and disabled. Or you can join your local Chamber of Commerce, which will have many events designed specifically for the self-employed.
Remember, don’t just join a community and leave it at that. Attend events, introduce yourself, and interact. You’ll be amazed how quickly in-person connections can begin to affect your business.
Create an Accountability Group
Are there a few entrepreneurs who you really admire or want connect with? Do you need a source of advice, a bit of motivation, or someone that you can bounce ideas off who isn’t your best friend or your cat? Try forming a weekly accountability group.
An accountability group can be anything from a weekly email chain to a private Facebook group. You can send the other members a brief update of your wins, goals, and questions from the week, or regularly check in to ask for advice and provide feedback. Whatever form it takes, it allows you to interact more personally with people who understand what you’re going through and can help keep you on track to achieve your goals while you do the same for them.
Look for Business That Complement Yours
If you’re a web designer, odds are your clients are also going to need a copywriter or a social media strategist. If you run a clothing boutique, your customers are probably going to go out and look for shoes and accessories too.
One of the best types of networking you can do is with people who own other businesses within your industry. Your businesses don’t compete with each other, but they do encounter similar obstacles and challenges, which makes it easy for you to advise and help each other along the way. Best of all, once you get to know each other’s work, you can each help the other expand your services and client base: offering complementary services, referring clients, or creating promotions together. This not only gives you a supportive community of fellow business owners, it also adds a huge amount of value to each of your businesses.
Are you self-employed? Do you find yourself going it alone… or have you created a network to help you and support your business?