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Networking is all about Helping Others

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Time and time again I have talked about how to network your way to another freelance writing gig. While this is something that I strongly believe in, keep this in mind: you must be willing to return the favor. In other words, you cannot consistently look for the next job while never wanting to help anybody else out.

During the last week of 2010 I had the chance to help somebody else, while furthering my career.

After a short phone conversation with a local personal injury attorney I realized that what he needed more than anything was a website. The content would have to come later. Although there was no guarantee of future writing work, I decided to help the client setup a website – free of charge. While I don’t suggest doing this, it was a way of giving back while hopefully setting myself up for future work.

Early this week I heard back from the law firm. Not only did they love the site and how it was performing, but they needed content to populate the pages as well as help setting up and managing a blog. Of course, they came to me first as I was the person who assisted them in establishing a web presence.

As you network don’t always think about yourself. Sometimes you need to look at the person across the table and ask what you can do for him or her.

5 thoughts on “Networking is all about Helping Others”

  1. Thanks for this post. Unless I’m volunteering for a charity, I tend to be a little gun-shy about working for free. I’ve gotten a little business out of doing so, but all too often it seems that a potential client thinks that if I haven’t charged them for one thing, I won’t charge them for anything else, either. Do you have any suggestions on handling that kind of situation, where you’ve provided assistance once and now the person expects it on demand?

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    • In my case if I’m going to do anything for free (which usually involves minor consulting and not writing) I let them know up front that I usually charge $xxx per hour for this service but I’ll give them what they’re looking for for free this once. For example, sometimes clients will want to launch a new site with the intention of having me write for it. So they ask me for branding ideas. I let them know the consulting rate but offer to give them a few thoughts or have a chat about it at no cost. But then if they want me to research actual available domain names for them to register, the fee applies. I’ve found that as long as you let them know the value of what they’re getting up front and make it clear that what you’re doing is the exception and not the rule, clients are pretty good about not asking for further freebies.And on the occasions where they do, you just have to be confident enough to say “no” and then outline another potential course of action for them.

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  2. I think you have to think of it as a type of gift giving. Ask yourself if you would be willing to give the person or business or organization in question the cost of the work you’re doing in cash, no strings attached and no expectations of anything in return. And if the answer is no, you shouldn’t be working for them for free.

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    • A lot of it depends on who you’re doing free work for and what kind of work that is. Giving your primary offered services away for free to an otherwise paying market you target is usually a bad idea. Giving those services away to a reputable nonprofit organization, on the other hand, can be good for business. Not only can it lead to referrals or give you portfolio pieces but you don’t devalue your work within your market, have word get around that you’re working for free with for-profit companies, and it’s simply good PR.

      Or another option is to offer prospects and clients a freebie of a related service or product (which is what Chris did — you can also use pre-made reports, templates, etc that they might find useful). This way you don’t devalue the main services you’re offering and advertising, but you still get the goodwill factor with the company or person.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with helping others, and it’s indeed a big part of networking. But remember that you can also help yourself to the poor house in the process. If you’re the type who isn’t good at saying “no,” you’re probably better off not putting yourself in a position where people might come back asking for additional freebies. You can always help people in other ways such as writing a guest post for their blog, answering their questions via social network sites, or even assisting them with more direct questions privately via email. Helping others doesn’t have to mean working for free.

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