Monday, May 23, 2011

The Freelance Rules #3 - Stay Connected

One of the biggest shocks of moving from corporate life to a microbusiness was the status change that comes from no longer being a budget holder and instead being a service provider. Overnight, my position on the chain of influence slipped hugely and suddenly the people who'd been generous with their time, their interest and their lunch accounts when I'd been on the inside and putting work their way were far less willing to return my calls or even answer my emails.

Instead of being an opportunity for their business I was, to some, a threat, and to others simply not worth wasting their time. No longer a corporate decision maker, I was no longer worth any effort. What hit hardest was the change in relationship with former colleagues. Some stayed in touch, were supportive and, indeed, put some great work Leapfrog's way. For others, I was obviously tainted with redundancy, and I rapidly moved off a few people's Christmas Card lists.

Frankly that's an attitude that has baffled me over the past decade as I've watched myriad former colleagues move in and out of corporate roles, interiming and freelancing. I work in a small, incestuous and interconnected industry - and you tend to bump into people time and again, so surely it pays to keep up cordial working relationships when you can?

In truth, when I formed Leapfrog it didn't take me long to realise that I had to move on - and if I couldn't move my business connections with me, I had to find new ones. Too many fledgling microsbusinesses fail when they rely only on the people they've worked with before to provide their future success. It sounds like an absolute no-brainer - but you'd be surprised how many independents just end up picking up the slack from their old job as a 'consultant' - and never really make the break (I should know, it's what I did for nearly a year with Nationwide back in the early 90s).

You'll recognise your real friends from the corporate world by considering who you're still in contact with six months down the line after your last leaving 'do'.

Today, it has never been easier to build connections thanks to the plethora of social media abounding in the tekkywebisphere. But being 'linked'; being a facebook friend or following someone on Twitter doesn't establish a real connection. You have to work on those: to get your voice out there; to become a recognised voice in the right fora; to be seen in the right professional social media environments. Create the right net rep and it will help add credibility to your emerging business reputation. While it won't bring you work directly it might help open the odd door.

But the best connections remain real face to face ones. That's where the real work comes in. It's terribly easy when you're working on your own or perhaps as part of a two-some to get really isolated. It's good to let people know you're still out there. Steel yourself for the polite refusals, but ask the person you'd like to meet professionally out for a coffee, or just give them a call. Emails are very easy to ignore - and going that step further shows people you're willing to make an effort.

Think beyond business development too - work at building a network of people in associated services - or even people who could cover for you (or you for them) at some point down the line. You're not working in isolation, and the sooner you can build and contribute to a network of professional interest, the better you'll be placed to move onwards and, who knows, back up that influence chain again.


Sarah Lazenby said...

Well said, Mark. Having been both sides of the fence many times in my career I think people who don't return emails and calls are not just rude but very short sighted. What goes around, comes around!

VC Internet Media said...

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Vc Internet Media
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You have given some fine ideas and food for thought