Networking plays an important role when you’re a freelance trainer.
Working for yourself can be isolating, even if you’re someone who’s happy with their own company. We all need to find ways to connect with a wider community. Networking is a powerful way to find peers, supporters and referrals.
You’re not alone if the thought of networking brings you out in a cold sweat though.
I’ve put this guide together as a ‘how-to’ guide for successful, enjoyable networking (yes, it is possible!).
With this advice, I hope you’ll be able to build a strong, thriving network that helps you take your freelance training business from strength to strength.
Why freelance trainers need a support network
Any freelancer who works alone needs a support network. It’s vital to have people you can call on to talk about your feelings, experiences and ideas.
Although your friends and family will play an important role, it helps to have a circle of trainers you can turn to. These people will understand the highs and lows of freelance training and may be able to offer unique insights into the challenges you’re facing. You’ll also be able to share your successes with each other and generally be mutual cheerleaders.
Where to find support
There are a huge number of networking options out there. Different things work for different people so it’s up to you how to create your own support network.
Opportunities for networking and support can be found on- and offline. You could find a mentor, join a small mentoring group, go to a networking group, or network on social media. The choice is yours.
Why not try the following?
- Ask people in your existing network for recommendations – you could always ask local contacts what’s happening in your area
- Look for LinkedIn groups for trainers or for people who work in your niche/industry (if you can’t find a suitable group, you could always create one)
- Take part in a networking Twitter hour/Twitter chat
- Look out for event mentions on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter
- Join a Facebook group for trainers
- Google ‘networking events’ for your local area
- Check out the following websites:
- Attend your next Trainer Talk Local session
You might find the following blogs helpful for more ideas:
What you need to know about effective networking
The number one secret of effective networking is having a plan.
There’s no point going to a networking event if you don’t know what you want to achieve from it. Also, steer clear if you’re not likely to be able to connect with potential clients. Instead, it’s best to research where your target market is likely to network.
In my experience, it’s better to spend £200 on a ticket for a conference aimed at your sector than to spend £10 a week networking at a local breakfast meeting where no-one needs trainers.
If you’re not sure where to start, you could always ask the people in your existing network.
When I was first starting out, I sent out emails to people I knew from my in-house training days asking for their networking recommendations. Even if they didn’t live locally, they often knew someone who knew someone who knew what was happening nearby.
Try revisiting your networking plan every six months to monitor whether the networking you’re doing is serving your goals.
Failing to plan can suck hours of your time and a lot of your money. For some freelance trainers, networking in the wrong places can even ruin their business.
Networking confidence boosters
I realise that finding networking opportunities is just the beginning.
If you’re new to networking or you’ve had a bad experience in the past, you might be holding back.
It’s possible to take the stress out of networking by doing one or two small things every day to grow your circle of support and contacts. If you’re not ready to attend an event, try:
- Meeting a trainer friend or client for coffee
- Commenting on someone’s blog post
- Calling one of your clients for a catch-up
- Spending 30 minutes on Twitter responding to Tweets relevant to your industry
- Connecting two people in your network who share a similar audience
If you’re planning to attend a networking event, there are nine ways you can feel happier and more confident about doing it:
- Take some business cards with you to hand to people you meet.
- Ditch the pitch – You don’t have to talk endlessly about your business. Instead, try to come up with a simple sentence that explains what you do (mine would be something like, “I help freelance trainers to grow successful and profitable businesses”) and ask the people you meet about their businesses too.
- Identify your ideal client so you can spot anyone who’s a good fit for your business.
- Arrive early so you have time to relax and observe people as they come in.
- Listen at least as much as you talk, preferably more.
- Be passionate about what you do (and accept that you won’t click with everyone).
- Go with a view to giving, not receiving. As much as you would like the support and benefits of connecting with other trainers and business owners, you should be happy to give these things too.
- Follow up with the people who give you their business cards.
A quick tip for following up
While we’re on the subject of following up with people you meet at a networking event, I’ve always found it works well to email new contacts within 24 hours. A quick email like this can be a great ice breaker beyond the event:
It was so nice to meet you at the Trainer Talk event yesterday. I hope you enjoy your holiday – I’m not at all jealous of all that sunshine!
We started talking yesterday about our shared audience – I’d love to continue that conversation when you’re back at work. Are you free to meet for coffee on <insert date>?
I’d also suggest connecting with your new contacts on LinkedIn. Remember to personalise your connection request by reminding them where you met.
Why your network should include other trainers
Freelancers can be secretive creatures who worry about sharing too much about their business with their competitors.
Personally, I’m a big advocate for freelance trainers getting together and networking.
You don’t need to share every fact, figure and client associated with your business with those in your network but you can be open to giving and receiving support.
Several times during my freelancing career, I’ve landed work from a trainer friend being asked if they can offer a particular service. When it’s not been something they cover, they’ve been able to say to their clients, “No, but I know someone who does offer that. Would you like me to put you in touch?”
I’ve been able to do the same, putting my clients in touch with trainers who specialise in a specific niche.
In addition, if your diary is too full to meet a client’s needs or the training is too far away from home, you can always point them in the direction of someone in your network.
Having other trainers you know and trust is a great way to build a pipeline for referrals and collaboration.
Asking your network for help
As we’ve seen, your wider network can fulfil a number of roles in your professional life. It’s potentially the biggest source of opportunities, mentors, coaches, referrals, influencers, colleagues and peers.
Knowing this, it’s likely that you will need to reach out to your network for help at some point.
To ensure that you receive a resounding ‘yes’, whatever your request, try the following tips:
- Maintain an ongoing relationship – people don’t like to feel used so make sure that you stay in touch regularly, even when you don’t need anything
- Forewarn people that you might need their help
- Personalise your request
- Be specific about what you need
- Highlight what’s in it for them
- Ask if they need help with anything
- Keep your request professional
- Follow-up with how their support helped
- Say thank you
Experiment until you find the right networking opportunities for your needs
When I first became a freelance trainer, I spent A LOT of time networking. Every day seemed to bring a new group. It wasn’t always productive.
Eventually, I realised that I needed three different things from networking:
- The opportunity to connect with potential clients who would benefit from my training services
- Connections with other business owners about the mechanics of running a business
- A network of fellow freelance trainers who understood the specific challenges of finding and delivering training opportunities
I found the groups and activities that best suited these needs.
And, in the case of need three – to find a network of fellow freelance trainers, I set up my own group because I couldn’t find anything suitable out there already.
This is how Trainer Talk was born.
As soon as I became more selective about when, where, how and why I was going to network, it was transformative for my training business.
I know it can be for yours too.
Trainer Talk Local
If you’re looking for a networking session exclusively for trainers, then I’d love to see you at one of the Trainer Talk Local networking events. These are now taking place throughout the year at 12 locations around the UK.
Trainer Talk is a networking community for trainers with a main annual event, local meetings and a thriving online presence. It’s for people who ‘get’ the highs and lows of freelance training. The atmosphere is welcoming, fun and supportive. I am so excited to see it grow and hope you’ll become a part.