Do not expect work to come to you. It’s a competitive marketplace and you need to be proactive to secure the next contract. Being a project contractor or independent professional (IPro) is much like being a business. In addition to showcasing your point of difference it is important to network. It’s not something that should be undertaken sporadically, but rather embraced as part of your lifestyle.
Formal networking channels are those that bring groups of like-minded people together. Good examples are social media, conferences, associations and industry trade shows.
Events have been the mainstay of business networking for decades. They require the investment of a little time out of your working day or your evening but they provide an excellent opportunity to catch up with representatives from across your industry including friends, old colleagues, competitors, current clients and future prospects. The face-to-face contact gives you the chance to develop a closer rapport with the people you meet and to leave a positive impression.
Before heading off to any networking event, it’s a good idea to practice your elevator pitch. Make sure you can quickly describe who you are and what you specialise in so there’s no fumbling or uncertainty when you do meet a valuable contact.
Social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, and online forums may be far more recent tools for maintaining and developing contacts, but they can also be an extremely effective way of reaching new people and building your brand.
Moreover, just as it is wise for every IPro to carry out at least a little research on their future client organisations before accepting a contract role, clients are highly likely to Google you. By carefully managing your social networking strategy, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they are seeing information that confirms your value.
To make the most of social networks and the internet, here are a couple of suggestions to keep in mind:
- Never tweet or make posts purely to maintain profile. Your content has to be interesting if you don’t want to devalue your brand.
- Be consistent in your comments.
- Be genuine. Your comments reflect on you, so if you are going to ‘like’ or provide a recommendation for someone, do it because they deserve it.
- Seek recommendations from clients after each engagement.
- Don’t spend all day on the networks.
- Do seek opportunities to answer questions or provide input that demonstrates your knowledge and highlights your value.
- Above all, use the networks and forums to keep yourself informed of new ideas, changing trends and industry news.
It’s worth remembering that useful business contacts aren’t only found at industry functions. They have normal lives too. If you ever help out at a school fundraising event, you may just find yourself barbecuing alongside a senior bank executive. The person beside you as you collect your child from family day care could be a logistics expert. And a woman on the equipment next to you at the gym could be the chief information officer of a telecommunications organisation. Wherever people gather—whether it’s for social, sporting, educational, political or any other kind of reason—it pays to make a good impression.
When you’re an IPro working in a specific market, the world can seem very small and your current contacts may not always be in a position to provide you with the next job. Isolation almost inevitably leads to a lack of work. If you want your career to grow, you need visibility, renewal and networking. So make sure you get out there, engage with others and promote your brand.
You now know the best way to market yourself and the importance of building your reputation and creating a network of allies. But when the time comes to interview for the next role often you’ll only have five minutes for an interviewer to decide your future. What is it in those first five minutes that will set you a part from the pack?
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