As a freelancer, you’ll definitely be networking at some point. However, I know from experience that you’ll also be met with a few blank stares when you tell people what you do! Although Virtual Assistance is becoming better known, to some people you may just as well have said you were a quantum cat herder. Here’s how to explain what you do when networking.
How to network as a Virtual Assistant
1) It takes time – if you expect immediate results then you’re heading for disappointment as the point of networking is to build relationships and not to frantically swap business cards.
People do business with people they know and people they like, so if they don’t feel like they know you then they probably won’t refer you. And if they don’t understand what you do then they certainly won’t hire you.
2) Know what it is you do – try to explain to people what it is you actually do. Once I start to outline the kinds of tasks I do for what types of people, that’s when I see the light bulb going on in their head. So explain that you do tasks for people who don’t have the time, ability or inclination to do them themselves and why that benefits your clients in terms of freeing them up to get on with doing what they do best.
If you give examples of the types of tasks you do (or can do) for people they suddenly understand how you can help them. Tailor the example tasks to the types of things they’re likely to want as well – you’ll should know what those will be if you’ve been listening to them!
Never say “it’s complicated.”
I used to sometimes mention that VAs are becoming more popular since Tim Ferris talked about using them in his book ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ – people are often intrigued by that idea and it’s a good way to get them chatting about what you do.
3) They’re just people – although you might be nervous approaching a group of strangers, it highly likely they feel the same way. I discovered the best approach is to just walk up to a group of people talking and just listen in. They’ll usually acknowledge you and bring you in to the conversation after a couple of minutes, but if they don’t then gently enquire what they’re discussing.
The same applies when someone joins your group – say hi and invite them to join in with your discussion.
4) Shut up for a minute – rather than trying to hand out as many business cards as you can, try to get a full understanding of what the other person actually does for a living. This way you get a feel for their business, see what problems they’re facing and how you might be able to make life easier for them. It’s about them not you!
5) Go for quality over quantity – it’s much better to gather quality leads by having in-depth chats, building a good rapport and getting yourself known than dashing around and leaving a lasting impression on nobody. Focus on getting to properly know three or four people per event instead of trying to cover the entire room.
6) You have to give to receive – if you never give out any leads then you probably won’t get any back. But if you freely offer advice and share your knowledge then you’re much more likely to be known, trusted, respected and then referred or hired.
You’ll be seen as knowing your stuff, helpful, full of good advice and seen as a useful person to know.
7) Don’t judge on appearances – a really common mistake is reading a job title on a name badge and thinking that person will ‘be of no use’ to you. Even if they don’t directly need your services, they may know someone who does and I’ve known many random conversations lead to collaborations and work.
8) Follow up – when you get back to your office or home, enter any business cards into your email address book with a note of where and when you met them, then check to see if they’re on LinkedIn or Twitter and connect with them.
A personalised follow-up email with a referral, advice or a coffee invite means they’re much more likely to remember you, and connecting with them on Social Media means you can build a professional relationship even if you don’t see them again for ages. Arranging to meet for coffee is a really good idea as you have their sole attention and get to build a proper relationship.
I allocate Friday afternoons to meetings as they can really eat into your work time.
9) You get better with time – networking is like most things – the more you do it the better you get. Just throw yourself in there, enjoy it, and set about educating the world about Virtual Assistants!
10) Review – going to a networking event takes time out of your day so don’t turn up to every event in town. See which ones are held where, ask around for reviews, try a few and then assess how you did. If you have a niche then not all events are going to be valuable to you anyway.
11) You don’t always need to network – I actually don’t go to any networking meetings any more. I used to in the past and I did get a few small clients from them but I now have a tried and tested method to get new clients that’s so successful that I don’t need to do anything else. In fact, this method gets me a new client every single time I use it.
Resources and action
* Download my free networking info sheet to hand out or leave on the welcome table at events. You can also use it as a follow-up info email to send to people you met at the event to summarise what you do.
* Read my article on how to write an elevator pitch so you can summarise what you do, for whom and to what end. People won’t hire you if they don’t know why they should!