الأحد، 23 ديسمبر 2012

Networking to boost your business

 You've heard of networking but aren't interested, because you think you can do it all by yourself? That's a shame – it means you are missing out on one of the major keys to success for self-employed small business owners.

Especially for freelancers, networking is a very efficient self-marketing and client acquisition tool with a pleasant side effect: a social network. It's all about giving and taking. You make contact with other people, build relationships, establish trust, exchange information or even work on projects together or recommend one another to clients. After a while, this may even lead to personal friendships.

The most important rule is that you have to give and take in equal measures. Those who always just ask others for help without returning the favour will quickly find themselves alone again. The same rings true for your professional skills: if you rely on getting orders based on your likeable personality and large circle of acquaintances alone without delivering the top results you promise, your networking strategy is destined to fail.

By the same token, qualifications and skills alone are not enough either. It's fantastic that you have a top university degree and deliver excellent translations. But what good does that do if nobody knows that you exist and clients can't find you? This is where a network comes in handy: its purpose is to get you in touch with potential clients, on the one hand, and to expand your own product and service portfolio on the other. You will meet colleagues with different skill sets and specialisations. That means once you have established solid relationships, you may be able to accept orders in areas you don't specialise in and subcontract them to someone you trust.

Being part of a network also means that if your acquaintances need a translation, they will first of all think of you rather than approaching a service provider they do not know. Perhaps they are even asked for a recommendation by one of their network partners and will pass your details on to potential new clients.

It is also advisable to network with professionals in other industries. This will expand your horizon and show you that other occupations also face the same issues that come with self-employment – and of course it may also lead you to potential clients who may require your service, for example, to have their website translated or their company presentation edited. Of course, you may even be able to benefit from an exchange of services: a web developer you meet may want to have his website translated and will redesign your own website in return.

The good news is that networking is usually free and can be initiated anywhere and at any time. When you go to your next barbecue, make sure you take along some business cards, strike up a conversation at your next workshop, attend a conference, ... You just need to be open and enjoy interacting with others.

How you approach the development of your network is mainly down to your own interests. You could perhaps join a professional association (e.g. AUSIT, IAPTI, etc.) or join open networks with access for all professions. Or you may be interested in women's networks or regional networks. And don't forget the wealth of professional networks on the Internet such as LinkedIn and Proz.com. Whichever option you choose, you should ensure that you participate regularly and contribute something to the network. You cannot establish any solid relationships if you only pop in here and there every once in a while. Take part in online forum discussions, attend a workshop, go to regular coffee mornings to get chatting to colleagues, pass on your experience if someone needs help.

Give it a try. You won't have to invest anything other than your time – and you'll be surprised how much you'll get back.

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