How selfless networking can boost your design career

Freelancers know that relationships are everything. They can get you leads or be a support network when you're in the depths of a lull. People are always asking for tips about how best to develop these relationships, and that conversation nearly always devolves into tricks for becoming a better networker.

Whipping yourself into a frenzy working a room isn't the best use of your time and energy. You build relationships by giving: help, information, and, eventually, shared work. I call it Love Banking.

Often when people think of networking, they focus on, "What can I get?" That leads either to obnoxious networking or anxiety-ridden encounters where you feel you failed if you come away with 'nothing'. Change your mindset to, "What can I give?" and start building up your Love Bank account.

Spread the love

Let's say you've just taken on a big-ticket client and are feeling overwhelmed with work. How about subcontracting? Hack that gig into smaller pieces and contract a fellow freelancer to do portions under your supervision. Get someone good at time-consuming tasks, or someone starting out who needs experience.

Make sure your agreement specifies that you're the intermediary with the client and they can't go around you to be hired directly, and remember to talk to your accountant in order to make sure you comply with tax requirements. Of course, you'd never subcontract to someone you don't trust. You build trust through relationships. You build relationships by giving.

After some robust giving, you can start to ask for help, advice and so on. It is, in fact, a virtuous circle. These relationships aren't business transactions so much as the outgrowth of how you choose to live your life, working and playing with people you enjoy and care about.

Creative contact

There are a few unwritten rules for Love Banking. The first is that people really don't appreciate those who expect a 'get' for every 'give'. What's more, when someone gives you something - such as a lead, an introduction or a tip - you shouldn't ask for more. Build your relationships by practicing creative (not creepy) contact.

Don't be one of those 'only-calls-when- they-want-something' networkers; send over an article or video clip your contact might be interested in, congratulate them on something, or ask them a question that shows you value their opinion. Finally, the words 'thank you' have limitless power. Especially when someone gives you work leads, thank them and let them know what happened, even if it didn't quite work out this time.

Reciprocity is most powerful when the gift is unexpected and costs the giver something in time, energy or other resources. It's doing a good deed not because you have to, but because you want to. It's Love Theory in action: build your Love Bank account, and your relationships will compound in value over time.

Words: Sara Horowicz

Sara is the founder and executive director of the Freelancers Union, an organisation that focuses on creative, cooperative, market-based solutions to pressing social problems, with over 170,00 members across the USA.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 218.

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