Networking to the Last Drop

I like to say I was thrown into the deep end of the freelance writing pool. Without warning, about five years ago I got laid off from my full-time job managing the editorial department of a small publisher of niche trade journals. I was lucky enough to receive a decent severance and unemployment carried me for a while, but eventually I was left to my own devices to sustain myself and my family.

Although all of my contacts who I communicated with on a regular basis were busy dropping my name and keeping an eye out for me, and through various online freelance listings and forums I was able to find some “one-off” projects, a steady gig still eluded me. I knew it was time to start some deeper networking and searching for people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in a while, people who probably didn’t even know about my situation.

I went through the first round of names with no success other than the usual “great to hear from you, I’ll definitely let you know if anything comes up” type of responses. Then a name suddenly entered my brain. A person I had not seen in at least five years but who had excellent industry experience and contacts. I had known him socially (through mutual friends) more than professionally, but we were in the same line of work and people he knew well first-hand could vouch for my professional abilities.

The Internet to the Rescue

I found my old acquaintance on an online business networking site and with no expectations, sent a message saying hello and mentioning my situation. The almost immediate response startled me: Beyond the usual “hey so good to hear from you,” my long-lost contact was now an executive editor with a major publisher of online trade newsletters and had an immediate opening for a weekly freelance contributor at a very respectable wage. As long as he and his editors liked my sample submission, I’d be in.

They did, and I was. Although my tenure at this publication lasted a little less than a year due to budget cuts, it opened me to a lot of other work from people who saw my byline and liked my writing. In addition, after my tenure ended, I almost immediately picked up another steady gig contributing to another online trade publication, based on my previous work. And when that dried up, I had made enough of a name for myself that other, similar publications were contacting me with assignments.

Take Your Opportunities, Make Them Count

All this steady freelance writing work came to me as a result of one single message sent in desperation to a “contact” I had not had any contact with in several years, and after months of mostly fruitless searching through people with whom I had been in much closer touch. From this experience, I offer two key takeaways to any other freelance writers who find themselves frustrated with their networking efforts.

First, don’t be afraid to contact someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while, even if “a while” can be counted in years. You never know who remembers you or who has a need you are uniquely qualified to fill. Especially in this age of pervasive social media, it is quite easy to find almost anyone you have ever had any involvement with, professionally or personally. And of course you need to be easily found on all the major social media networks yourself.

Second, once networking brings you an opportunity, make the very most of it. The initial opportunity I received through this contact led to numerous other opportunities because I worked hard and made a name for myself. Simply doing a good job is a form of networking. And if you have a byline, that networking will reach numerous people you never even knew existed.

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