As with many professions, freelance journalism can be about who you know, not what you know. As a term, ‘networking’ comes with negative connotations and gives the idea of obsequiousness. But in reality, it’s an essential aspect of the freelance world, and one that all aspiring freelance journalists should be prepared to engage in. Networking doesn’t have to be mean constantly selling yourself or ‘sucking up’ as the saying goes. There’s a networking etiquette that will help make you known to editors and improve your chances of being hired in an unimposing manner.
Never say no to an invitation.
Whether it’s a party, a wedding, a dinner party or (most importantly) a media event of some sort, always accept the invite. You never know who you will meet! Make a conscious effort to talk to people you don’t know everywhere – even if it’s not at an event, but just on the airplane, in a shopping line or at a sporting event.
Don’t try to sell yourself, listen instead!
Rather than trying to sell yourself straight away, learn to be a good listener and ask questions. Inquire after their work, life and career with sincerity. This way, they’re more likely to enjoy the conversation and remember you in the future.
Stay in contact.
Even if there is no immediate job prospect, if you meet someone you like and would potentially be interested in writing for/with, stay in touch. This is important as you don’t want to approach or contact someone only when you want something in particular.
Carry your details on you.
Always have a business card or some other form of information about yourself on you, and don’t be afraid to give it out. It can’t hurt, and the worst that can happen is that they don’t call.
Follow leads, however small.
Even if a lead is not overly promising, it’s worthwhile cultivating a relationship with that person and following up potential business leads. Even if nothing comes off, they’ll remember you for next time.
Explore new networking avenues.
In the online age, there are a number of new networking avenues different to traditional face to face interaction. New online sites for freelance journalists, for example and online discussion groups are a great place to meet other writers and editors. Also, join every networking club and association in the journalism field.
Networking is an essential element to successful freelance writing; however it is essential that you have quality written work and journalism skills to put on the market. General writing courses are a good place to start, or alternatively take specific journalism courses that cater to your area of interest to improve your writing skills. There’s no substitute for quality writing, paired with polished networking skills!