Once I’d decided that I wanted to work for myself I realised that I would have to convince people that they should pay me to do what I’m good at. This felt about as comfortable as running down the street naked.
As I’ve mentioned before, talking about myself in any kind of positive way sets off the ultimate squirm-fest in my stomach. I have been known to physically curl up when talking about my achievements (not the greatest interview technique). So the thought of getting out there and ‘networking’ with potential clients was enough to set off a minor panic attack.
This felt like a pretty hefty barrier to achieving success in my new venture. Everyone I had spoken to about freelance life had said that the way to get work is through your current contacts. You have to stay in touch with people who know you and know your work. Now, I love chatting to people and catching up over a coffee. This felt doable. But selling to those people who I have worked with, respect and admire. That felt positively grubby.
It was a chat on the phone to a very wise ex-colleague that helped me to make the shift. “I never sell” she said, “I listen”. OK. Listening I can do. It was such great advice. Listen to what’s bothering people. What’s difficult for them. What’s getting in their way. Show that you understand their challenges and offer up ideas for what might help. Not in a salesy, hire me, kind of way. In a, I’m a problem-solver, this is what might help you kind of way. All the while you are planting the seeds that you are someone who knows what they are talking about. Who understands their world. And who cares about making that world better.
All of this really resonated with me. I could actually imagine having those kinds of conversations. But what about the ‘working my contacts’ bit of this. These people aren’t faceless ‘contacts’. They are my friends, colleagues, peers. As I said, I admire these people. I respect them. The last thing I wanted anyone in my phone book to feel was ‘used’ in some way. So I avoided setting up these meetings. Great strategy! I procrastinated. I dallied. And I moved not an inch towards my goal.
Finally, after a little panic about never working again (ok a huge panic that I’m a little embarrassed about looking back) I ‘cheated’ and announced my change of direction on LinkedIn. It was a hell of a lot easier to sound confident from a keyboard. I took too long to draft that post and my finger hovered over the submit button for longer still. But when I finally took a deep breath and put it out there, the response was incredible. Almost immediately I had three people contact me to set up a meeting. I was on cloud nine! I’d taken action and it was leading somewhere. I learnt so much from those early conversations. Some of which were excruciating because I just didn’t have a clue what I was about but I learnt something new every time. And it gave me the confidence to contact more people. Arrange more meetings. And I soon realised that I was loving these conversations.
That’s when the light bulb moment came. I wasn’t ‘networking’ in the sense that I feared. I wasn’t ‘working my contacts’ in a calculated way. I was connecting with people I want to work with. People who inspire me. Who I respect deeply. Who I know I can learn from. And who, I hope, I can help achieve their ambitious goals. I now relish the ‘networking’ element of my business. I know it means that I get to sit down with the incredible people I’m lucky enough to be connected with. It means I get to hear what’s exciting them, worrying them, driving them. It means I get to share the same about my new world with them. And every now and then, when the stars align, we realise that there is an opportunity for us to do something together. That I can help. And then the work comes. And it doesn’t feel ‘grubby’ or calculated at all. It feels right.
If, like me, the sales element of self-employment has been something that has held you back, remember, the joy of working for yourself is, you get to choose. You get to decide. Which means you can work with people who get the best from you, always. It really is the most wonderfully liberating realisation.