Monday, March 31, 2008

All networked out...

One of my biggest complaints about freelancing is the constant search for new work. Sometimes, all the stars align and work just flows in. People just email or call and ask me to take on projects. For a couple years, one big project just followed another. Well, feast or famine as a freelancer means that sometimes we all have to go back into work-hunt mode. I call it trolling for work.

I spent a lot of time last quarter trolling for work, because my well had gone pretty dry. It did pay off, and now I've got a good number of projects to keep me busy for the short term. But it's meant a lot of networking. And for fear of growing complacent with the work I have and finding myself back in the same situation again in a couple months, I've done more networking this past month than I'd like. I feel like I'm constantly running out to a breakfast or lunch meeting, or having coffee with someone. Last week was perhaps the worst -- I had three breakfasts, two lunches and an afternoon coffee, all while I was on a couple deadlines. My family is of course none too pleased with the running out part too, since it leaves a burden on my partner to get the kids off to school when I leave at 6:30 am to get downtown for a networking event.

I've tried to be smart in choosing what events to attend. I only go if the topic and/or speaker interests me, and I look for opportunities to meet new people who might be in positions to recommend me for work. So I don't go to very many business-card exchange groups, you know, where there's one person from each profession all looking for business from each other. I've found over the years that while these are great ways to meet people, they don't put me in touch with people who make decisions about the kind of work I do. Instead I look for board of trade events, or associations in industries for whom I'd like to do more work. Last week I went to a presentation about marketing (met some interesting marketers, who might be good contacts for communications work down the road), a board of trade breakfast about media (met a lawyer whose clients might need my services, and a fellow communicator who I can help get involved in more professional development. But I also found myself at a couple events where I misjudged the crowd. At one breakfast, I felt like the oldest person in the room, with all these Gen Y types who are just starting their careers.

I'm not saying there's not value in every person you meet -- a contact isn't just one person, it's everyone they know. And I know networking isn't about meeting people who hire me, but rather about seeing how I can help them, or connect them with someone they need to meet, in order to show value and build karma. I know what I'm supposed to do at these events and I do it not too badly, I think. But it's tiring, and I've had a lot of it recently.

I guess that's why I'm considering leaving freelance life. Not that I don't love the fresh fruit and croissants, but sometimes it would be nice to do less of it.

BONUS FACT: When I'm at one of these lunch things at a downtown hotel, I always skip dessert. Instead, I ask a waiter if he can get me a plate of fresh fruit. I almost always get it, and it always looks and tastes great. Most of my table usually copies me once they see it.

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