Networking is important for any kind of professional, but especially so for freelance writers - where getting the unadvertised "good gigs" is often about who you know.
You likely spend time networking whether intentially or not - keeping in touch with colleagues, posting on forums, commenting on blogs, joining social networks, etc. But have you bothered to set any networking objectives?
In other words, you should have a plan when it comes to building your professional network. You should have specific goals in mind, and you should plan objectives that will help you reach them.
Here are a few examples of goals you may have, and some objectives to get you there:
Goal: Include at least 10 area journalists in your network (for future PR purposes) by the end of the year.
Objective: Call, email, or send a letter introducing yourself to journalists related to your niche or specialty area (at a rate of 1 - 2 per week) - letting them know you're available for interviews should they need an expert source for future articles. After letting a little time pass (but not too much), send a pitch letter with a story idea.
Goal: Add at least 5 new colleagues to your regular network, who you would feel comfortable referring your own work to if you had an overflow (if you can't devote enough time to a client's project, or can't take it on, the best thing you can do to keep good will with the client is to refer someone who can).
Objectives: Do a search for competitors in your niche or specialty. Look for those who seem to be adequately qualified and in a similar rate range to you (clients won't be happy if you refer them to someone charging twice what they expected to pay you, and referring them to someone significantly cheaper means they have less of a reason to come back to you later). Then find ones who run their own blogs or who are otherwise actively networking. Get in touch and introduce yourself by commenting on their blog, sending them an email, etc. One of the great things about this business is that competitors are colleagues, and it's very possible to stay friendly without losing your competitive edge.
Take some time and map out your own networking goals and objectives, and you'll find that you can get more out of your network than you may have thought possible.
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