I have a certain kind of love for articles that give out super positive, optimistic tips and tricks on how to build your own brand as a freelancer by making meaningful professional connections. I read all those wise, encouraging words and then I picture myself being all confident, handing out business cards in corporate events, chiming in oh-so-gracefully on conversations, introducing myself to influential people that may help me achieve all my secret dreams and goals. I feel all content about my imaginary social prowess and then I remember that I have terrible social anxiety, no business cards and an overt aversion to people in positions of actual or perceived authority. By now, you’re probably thinking why you should read any more of this nonsense penned by a socially inept weirdo. Well, your suspicions are right on the money. This is by no means a guide for those high-energy overachievers or even a guide at all; this is a shout-out to my peeps, the introverts who want to empower their game, but social circumstances make their palms sweaty, knees weak and arms heavy.
In a previous article in this here blog, I briefly mentioned that networking is overrated. A wildly unpopular opinion and a pretty convenient one, if you want to avoid networking events at all costs, like yours truly. First of all, allow me to explain what I meant by my statement: networking can be a powerful tool for your professional success and may work wonders for some people, but it does not necessarily mean that it’s the only way to get connections and attention from your peers. In my admittedly limited experience of attending conferences and other similar social functions, I have found that there is a clear division between the productive and the not-so-productive networkers. The former have a certain knack for it, a charisma in their presence that draws people to them instead of being pulled in by others, while the latter just run around all hyped up about everything and nothing, turning all conversations into a total cringefest. I highly doubt if any of these social butterflies ever progressed any further in their careers by clinging and trying to force any kind of interaction. Again, let’s not confuse them with the persistent yet charismatic people and what their dynamic presence can achieve. If you don’t know what these brilliant creatures look like, it’s because you haven’t seen one yet. They are meant to be few in number and magnificent. Not everyone is supposed to be good at live networking, can we please accept that and move on? Thank u, next.
OK, so now that we have established that networking is not for everyone, let’s see what you can do to be your own hype man or woman with creative tactics that do not involve face-to-face human interaction!
- Build a strong resume and let your body of work speak for itself.
Stating the obvious, but do not forget that your actual achievements are your number one tool. Constantly educate yourself, strive for long-standing professional relationships, pursue reputable clients. You can create a LinkedIn profile listing all your amazing talents using smart SEO techniques (don’t know what that is? Educate yourself!) and the people of the industry will come to YOU.
- Be active in social media, but in a meaningful way.
Let your personality and knowledge shine through in professional groups and conversations. You can follow certain people you admire, show interest in their posts or even ask for their opinion and/or guidance via private messaging. Be sure to do this in a polite, non-aggressive way. Also, try not to overshare or be a smart-ass: these people are still strangers.
- Create content.
If you have your own professional website, you can write blogs about things you consider yourself to be an expert in. Or just things you are passionate about. Your support system of e-friends will make sure to spread the good word and this may capture the attention of potential clients or people of certain influence.
Just like every other skill, networking needs honing and a dash of natural talent. But then again, this modern era-inflicted notion that we need to be perfect in all aspects of our professional lives, be risk takers and absolute troopers in everything we do is exhausting and unrealistic. You can still be successful by being a hard, knowledgeable worker with limited social skills. You can be an isolated, eccentric genius. You can be quiet and still accomplished. There are multiple ways to success.
However, if you feel that less qualified people always get ahead of you simply because they have connections (it happens), go out and try what they do so that you won’t kick yourself later in life. Maybe you are more skillful than what you give yourself credit for and you just need to practice your moves. Still, there is a big fat chance that you will feel awkward and silly while interacting with others in the hopes of creating this magical network of precious connections with mystical powers – patent pending.
Bringing my own quote into full circle (and being unintentionally narcissistic in the process), yes, I do believe that networking is overrated, but drinks with your fellow peers are not. Interactions are much more genuine when the conversation is light-hearted and not heavily invested into work-related stuff. Those after-event parties are what you should covet (most events are boring and repetitive anyway – that’s another hot take for another time). Even if you hate small talk, stick around and just observe. You will get the chance to pick out the people you can interact with and possibly help your professional plans. Or just collect all their embarrassing moments and feel good about yourself.
About the author:
Eleni Tsikogiannopoulou studied Translation at the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting of the Ionian University. She graduated in 2006 and has been working ever since as a professional translator and transcreator for translation and ad agencies from all over the world. When asked how she can call herself a translator if her only working languages are English and French, she says “I’m obligated by law.” She believes that it’s perfectly OK to be mediocre at times, what’s not OK is not recognizing mediocrity for what it is.