How to network as a freelancer

When you're a freelancer – and an introvert – it's easy to go for days on end without any real human interaction. And despite kidding myself otherwise, posting jokes about looming deadlines on Twitter doesn’t count.

As much as the prospect of networking makes my stomach turn, it’s an unavoidable part of being a successful freelance journalist. So if you’re anything like me and would rather stay at home watching Love Island than go to a networking event, here are my top tips. Stay tuned til the end where there’s a bonus one for my fellow introverts.  

1. Be smart about online networking

I’m in a few Facebook and LinkedIn groups, which are great for finding publications to pitch. This piece I wrote about my grandfather ended up in the Paris Review because I’d seen a call for pitches in a Facebook group. Online groups can also be good places to test out ideas or ask questions; I find that the more specialised the group, the higher the quality of discussion. A word of caution though, don’t lull yourself into thinking that just because you’re sitting on Facebook chatting to your virtual network this is all you need to do in terms of networking. You do also need to get out there in the real world.

2. Duh, go to the right events

Don’t network just to tick a box. Go to events that are actually interesting to you, or where you have the potential to make good contacts. If you live in a major city, there will be established organisations known for their events (ONA, Hacks/Hackers, the Foreign Press Association etc). University journalism department also often run events, as do media organisations. Look at the attendee list and read the panel descriptions. There’s no point going to a bad event, you’d be better off going to the pub and bouncing story ideas off your mates.

3. Inside and outside networking

It's all very well and good having people to pitch to, but you also need ideas to pitch. So as a journalist, there are two different sorts of networking you should be doing: within the media industry and also within the industry you cover. I actually find the latter much easier because once a person at a tech conference finds out I'm a journalist, they want to tell me all about their startup. The trick here is to learn the art of extracting yourself from dead-end conversations. Answers on a postcard if you've figured out how to do that.

4. Take that editor relationship IRL   

As a former editor myself, I know they're busy and don't have time to meet with a constant stream of freelancers. The IRL stage of your relationship with an editor is going to take time to cultivate and will probably only happen with the ones you work with on a regular basis. If you do have a chance to meet with an editor, always always always have pitches prepared. Even if they’ve invited you for a coffee or lunch, they’re going to ask you if you have any ideas that could work for them and you have to come prepared for that.

5. Go horizontal

Don’t neglect the importance of building contacts at your level. Your peers are professional contacts. You don’t want to be that jerk who’s only interested in climbing the ladder and not helping anyone else up it. But the other reason to think like this is it's a small industry; chances are that the junior reporter you once shared a beat with will either go on to become an editor one day or know that editor you want to meet.

6. Report, don’t network

Here's that promised bonus tip for all you introverts out there. As just the thought of networking makes me want to vomit, when I go to events I don't actually think of it as networking. Instead, I treat it like a reporting trip. I’m here to find something out, be that who the right editor at a given publication is or if it’s a conference, insights into a particular issue. Turn the whole thing into an assignment and you’ll be surprised how much more you get out of it.