“Networking” is a red-letter word for many writers. Often, it invokes the image of a writers’ conference or cocktail event, with strangers standing around eating hors d’oeuvres and making small talk—which is a scenario many introverted writers want to run from (after all, there are reasons we work from home, right?).
But networking comes in all shapes and sizes, which is good, because it’s an essential ingredient for the success of any professional writing career.
The idea of networking is simple: You create and sustain as many relationships as you can in the hopes you’ll get some work from these relationships down the road. And it’s really not as scary as it sounds—networking is as simple as making friends!
Growing your writing community is never a bad idea: Not only do you need to connect with potential clients, you also need to connect with fellow writers who can encourage you by sharing advice and anecdotes.
Here are three creative networking methods you need to try, plus some advice on following up to make sure each one truly produces results.
This is an easy one because it’s natural. You meet someone new—maybe at a writing conference, or maybe just at a friend’s house or at the park with your kids—and they ask your name, where you’re from, and what you do.
When people asked me this question, I used to simply say, “I’m a professional writer,” or “I’m a freelance writer.” But after a couple of years of being met with blank stares, I realized I needed to create a mission statement that specifically describes what I do.
If you’re in need of a similar tagline, here’s where to start. Most importantly, make sure your tagline is specific, not vague—don’t leave anything to the imagination. (And don’t assume, as I did, that everyone knows what it’s like to be a professional writer. Several people have said to me, in these exact words, “Writing? You can make money doing that?”)
If you’re an author, include your genre; if you’re a freelance writer, mention what niches you write in; if you do a lot of editing work, explain what you edit.
“I write whimsical fantasy novels for middle-grade readers,” “I create content to help entrepreneurs market themselves,” or “I edit blog posts for a content company” is always better than “I’m a professional writer.”
Statements that specifically explain your career will stick in people’s minds and give them a solid idea of what it is you actually do all day, which could help your career down the road (say your friend knows you write about finance—they’ll think of you anytime they hear of a job involving financial writing). And it never hurts to add an example for the people who are especially clueless. For instance, you could follow up your tagline with, “I’m currently creating an email newsletter for a regional bakery chain,” or “I write training guides for technology companies.”
If you can, without making it too long, it’s also nice to incorporate something that gets across how passionate you are about your career. People might hear your mission statement and say, “So what?” Tell them your why—the purpose behind what you do.
This might sound something like, “I write grants for nonprofits because I want to use my skills to make the world a better place.” Or perhaps, “I write for pet food companies because I really love dogs.” People will remember you and your career if you convey how much you truly love what you do.
These days, when people ask what I do, I say, “I’m a happy, full-time freelance writer who creates content about fitness, nutrition, and education for companies, gyms, and schools. I also write novels in my spare time because I’m a storyteller at heart.”
And don’t forget to always carry business cards to follow up! I keep some in my purse and some in my car. It may seem strange to give a business card to someone you view as a new friend, not necessarily a work contact, but it’s OK. The whole point of this article is that work contacts can be friends, and friends could be potential work contacts—in many cases, there isn’t a big distinction.
No one outside the writing industry has ever looked askance at me when I handed them my business card; I always exchange phone numbers with new friends, anyway, so why not do it with a business card?
The bottom line is this: You don’t need to ask people to hire you, you simply need to have conversations about what you do. You never know what kinds of jobs a simple conversation could lead to in the future.
This applies to all areas of life, but especially networking—after all, nobody will want to hire you if you’re no fun to be around. Be authentic, kind, and giving, whether you’re conducting your networking in person or from the other side of a screen.
Yes, introverts, social media marketing is OK! Remote networking can be effective, but only if you do it the right way.
I’ve grown my LinkedIn following quite a bit by reading blog posts online (actually reading them, not just skimming them) and then sending the author a message saying something like, “I really enjoyed your recent post on ABC website. Your point regarding social media marketing was something I’d never thought of before, but after reading your article, I absolutely plan to put it into practice. Would you like to connect?”
They always respond with enthusiasm, and through these connections, I’ve gotten more than one good client. The trick, whether you’re on LinkedIn or somewhere else, is to never approach someone unless you can think of a personal connection the two of you share. As you market yourself and your writing business, you aren’t looking for a follow and follow-back scenario; instead, you’re trying to cultivate authentic relationships and keep things genuine.
Supporting the work of fellow writers is incredibly important, too. Even if you can’t afford to buy their book or use their services, sharing their articles on social media or sending them a quick email telling them what a great job they’re doing can be equally as encouraging.
For a long time, I struggled to find a writing community. But through joining Facebook writer groups, attending a couple of local writing conferences, and enrolling in an excellent freelance writing course, I finally feel I am surrounded with a strong community of fellow authors and freelance writers.
We attend author signings and book festivals together, we ask each other’s advice about freelance rates on Slack, and we beta read each other’s novels. I’ve realized how meaningful the support of my writer friends truly is, and I’ve tried my best to reciprocate the favor.
If you don’t have a writing community, find one as soon as possible—I don’t know how I survived so long without my accountability buddy, who texts me encouraging Minion GIFs before meetings with prospective clients.
And as you think about creating relationships, don’t limit yourself to only writers. Create relationships with anybody who could potentially point you toward work in the future. For instance, I freelance quite a bit about fitness, so I try to cultivate relationships with fitness professionals—whether that’s through joining a LinkedIn group or having an in-person conversation.
I also write about education, which is one reason I’m grateful for my part-time job as the site coordinator of a nonprofit that tutors kids who are members of the refugee community. Not only does it offer me a chance to get out of the house (even as an introvert, sometimes working from home can get lonely), but it helps me keep an eye on what’s trending in the school system and gives me important connections—many teachers and parents in my county know I’m a writer, which could lead to writing opportunities one day.
And if I ever need a source for an education article, I have a dozen already in the contacts on my phone. Networking with other writers is important, but if you write in different industries, you should network within those industries as well.
My business cards are half white and half purple, which may seem like a strange choice. My website incorporates plenty of purple, too—again, it’s an unorthodox design. But there is a method to my madness: The cover of my book, a middle-grade historical fiction story, is purple. My goal is for people to think of me when they see the color purple in any context.
If I said “golden arches,” said “just do it,” or showed you a picture of a little blue bird, what would you think of? I’m guessing your knee-jerk reactions would be McDonald’s, Nike, and Twitter. That’s because these companies have great branding—they’ve pulled together strong logos, slogans, and designs to help you instantly recognize their brand.
So how do you put this into practice with your writing business? First, with your mission statement, which we discussed above. This is your “why.”
Next, with your style: color, overall aesthetic, and any other creative touches that set you and your business apart. For me, of course, this is the color purple.
And finally, it never hurts to have a trademark: any objects that make people think of you.
For instance, maybe all of your blog readers know you’re a coffee addict who can’t go a day without five cups. As a result, they think of you whenever they pass their local coffee shop. Any way you can stick in people’s minds is great, because if they remember what you do, they’ll remember you for job opportunities that may come up down the road.
When I began focusing on networking, my career really took off. Surrounding myself with a community of fellow writers as well as industry professionals—whether I found these people on LinkedIn, at a writers’ conference, or at my nonprofit job—did wonders for my career, and the writing gigs began to roll in. I realized networking was essential, and more than that, it was actually kind of fun.
Networking might seem hard. Networking might seem scary. Networking might even seem impossible.
But in reality, it’s as simple as having conversations, making friends, and then making sure they remember you. Doing these three simple things will skyrocket your writing business to new heights.
Hailey Hudson is a full-time freelance writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. When she isn't working, she's coaching fastpitch softball, writing her latest YA novel, or snuggling with her beagle puppy, Sophie. Learn more at Hailey's website or by following her Instagram @haileyh412.