It’s not your fault! Why you don’t have a network of freelance consulting clients in place
When you are launching a freelance / consulting practice following corporate employment (or even when you’re looking for another full-time job), it is common to beat yourself up for not adequately networking in advance. I’ve heard many people vow that if they ever solve their current employment problem, they will consistently engage in live networking ever after.
As Scarlett O’Hara said right before intermission, “As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.”
But despite good intentions, many corporate employees are unable to develop a strong network of personal relationships, even if they expect to quit their job (or be terminated) in favor of freelancing and consulting.
I myself failed at meeting future clients when employed as a full-time financial writer for two mutual fund companies. I expected to freelance at some time in the future (and I continued to freelance on the side) so I looked for networking opportunities extending beyond the walls of my current employers. I couldn’t find much for the following reasons:
The financial communications field is structured intentionally to block networking by writers and other nonmanagerial personnel so as to prevent turnover. One of my directors had an organizational directory from the Investment Company Institute that she kept in her office away from casual perusal by staff; at the time, the print directory stated that it was not to be used for employment networking.
The time and schedule commitments of corporate employment make it difficult to commit to attendance at association meetings. I worked in a distant suburb, and I would have left work at perhaps 3:30 to make it through rush-hour traffic in time for pre-dinner networking in Chicago.
Specialized careers don’t have dedicated associations at the local level—you have to be available for expensive, time-consuming travel.
Since I left corporate employment, LinkedIn and other social media have come on line. Now you have to assume your boss and coworkers have access to everything you post. Discretion advised!
My solution upon returning to freelance was phoning for assignments, which worked quite well. While my previous employment gave me few leads, it taught me the work titles of those most likely to use my freelance services and helped me understand the industry’s structure. Although I had few opportunities to connect with professional contacts while employed, I had access to trade publications that had names, titles and other information I would use later.
I made a point of photocopying such information and taking it home to unpack and file every evening. (I also forwarded internet links and company emails to my personal email account.) I took home printed portfolio samples the very day they were delivered by the printer and saved electronic samples on my home computer. It’s too late to act on this when the job falls apart!
I predict that networking problems for employees will continue—and even worsen—in the future. While live business meetings in the upper corporate ranks may be picking up again as the economy revives, networking opportunities will continue to evaporate for lower ranking employees. Teleseminars and webinars save time and money for companies while conveniently isolating employees from beneficial connections.
Originally posted 8-10-15