31 Days of Freelancing: Going Local

What I’m listening to: Blunderbuss by Jack White

One more week of work. Unless, of course, you’re taking it easy next week. Or this month. Whatever your pleasure is (I hope).

Since it’s Friday, your mind might not be on freelancing or work of any sort. But maybe you feel a little pang of guilt not doing anything. I usually do, even when I’ve met my monthly goal and have earned the time away.

So let’s work on expanding the network a bit.

December 16: Build a Local Network

If you live anywhere beyond a major metropolitan area, it may seem a little counterproductive to build a local network. I argue that it’s not — your clients right now come from any number of locations. For example, this year I worked for clients located in places like Wisconsin, Honolulu, Long Island, Colorado, Indiana, Tampa, and right here in Pennsylvania. Some of those places were small towns, too.

Freelance writer, your next client could be living right next to you. Click To Tweet

I say that because I’ve reached out to potential clients were are, quite literally, walking distance from my neighborhood. And I’ve worked with clients who ended up being one town over.

Local networks matter more than you realize.

So let’s expand on yours.

Before we do, I’d like to address something a writer I know was once told. She was told she needed to network locally ONLY. That her clients were going to come from where she lived, not from a national reach.

I call bullshit.

See, this writer lives is a rather small town in a sparsely populated state. Yes, she could get some clients there, no doubt. But for her specialty, there wouldn’t be many. Unless she was intending to generalize and take a lot less work (and money) than she’s used to, that advice was useless.

Still, even in cases where you’re one of 1,300 in the local area, there are businesses and connections, possibly to people who aren’t in your area. A friend of a friend of a friend could well need a writer with exactly your skills.

A word about networking: The goal is to build relationships, not sell, sell, sell. So don’t go into any networking event with the notion that you’re going to land clients. You may, but that isn’t what it’s for. It’s to establish relationships and get to know key influencers. The idea is to get into the habit of telling everyone you meet you’re a writer and what your specialty is.

So let’s assume you live in a town about the size of my hometown (the aforementioned 1,300 in population). Here are some ways to build a local network, even in a place that small:

  • The Chamber of Commerce: Most towns have them. And most business people join them. Join and attend the events.
  • Meetup: If your Chamber is lacking/nonexistent, or if the closest one is simply too far away, check out Meetup.com to see who is meeting where about what. No business networking events happening? Create one.
  • Business associations: My small town had an association for the region, and businesses from neighboring areas were members. These expanded networks are great places to learn about your region and get to know the people who are shaping both the politics and business environments.
  • Religious affiliations: If you belong to a church, attend the church events. Church goers both own businesses and work for a living. Get to know those people who already share one thing in common with you.
  • Form partnerships: Your town has a printer. Does your printer get requests for writing? Probably. Not everyone knows how to write a brochure. Partner with your printer and work out a referral arrangement — each of you keeps 10 percent of business you refer to each other. Look for those types of partnerships in other businesses (and in local government — hello, newsletters!).
  • Day care/school/kids’ events: Parents are also business owners and employees, so strike up conversations. Participate in events and volunteer when you can.
  • Be a joiner: Join those local groups. Attend meetings and events. Be seen volunteering or participating regularly, and make sure they know what you do for a living.
  • Form your own business networking group: Why not a coffee chat group on a Saturday, or an evening meet-and-greet for the local businesses? Find creative ways to bring people together for networking, such as a Business Bingo Tournament or a Quizzo night at the local restaurant.
  • Host a seminar: You, freelance writer, have skills to share. Why not hold a seminar on how to write a good real estate ad or how to put together a resume, a newsletter, or an advertising mailer? Or teach a local business how to write more effective emails. Hold your seminar at the local library, restaurant, or onsite.

Writers, how large is your local network?

What is the ratio between your local clients and national? 

What other ways can you build a local network?

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