When was the last time you met in person with a client or prospect? That long, huh?
Like many freelancers, web designers understand the importance of networking. And in this digital age, most of us tend to do our networking online. It’s faster. It’s easier. But it’s not always the best choice.
The Internet is filled with advice on how to network online. There’s a good reason for that. There are at least half a dozen excellent social media tools available that can help you with networking. Each social site has its own set of rules and standards, so there’s room for plenty of articles offering advice.
In the rush to join the social networking crowd, many of us have neglected an old school networking technique that still works–face-to-face networking. If you rely only on virtual networking, you may be missing out on some great opportunities.
This post is for those freelance web designers who want more from networking. I’ll discuss the importance of face-to-face networking. I’ll even provide a few tips on how (and where) to get started with face-to-face networking.
If you liked this post, you may also like Are You Overlooking These 5 Proven Methods for Networking Online?.
The Importance of Face-to-Face Networking
Face to face networking is important. Even the U.S. Small Business Administration thinks so. Read their tips on how to effectively network in person in this helpful post from Rieva Lesonsky, The Power of Face-to-Face Networking.
Some of the advantages you get from face-to-face networking include:
- Putting a face and voice with a name. Even online, profiles with faces are more effective than those with generic images or logos.
- Inspires trust more easily. Despite the popularity of online networking, many professionals still prefer to meet the people they do business with in person.
- Relationships can go deeper. There’s a greater likelihood that you can develop a closer friendship with someone located close to you.
- Holds attention better. How many times have you tuned out on a virtual contact? If you were talking to that person face-to-face, tuning out in the middle of a conversation would be rude.
Another huge benefit of face-to-face communication is being able to observe someone’s body language or hear someone’s tone of voice. In fact, being able to see body language is such a big benefit that it merits its own section.
The Body Language Bonus
Despite its popularity, online communication is often misunderstood. That’s partly because most of the time we can’t see or hear each other when we communicate through the Internet.
For example, the guy in the image above has his arms crossed. That’s a signal that he disagrees with whatever is being said to him. However, it’s a signal that can’t be seen online.
Here are some more examples:
- A client could write a note or post that appears to be neutral, when in fact they’re very upset. And you might not even realize that something is wrong.
- You could make a comment online in jest and accidentally offend someone because that person took your comment too seriously.
I learned about the problem with online communication early in my career when I sent a quick email to a colleague. My sentences were short because I was busy. Unfortunately, my colleague felt that my sentences were too terse. He actually thought I was angry. It took a long time for me to convince him otherwise.
Such misunderstandings occur less often in face-to-face communication. That’s because there’s a whole layer of communication that we miss when we communicate online–body language. (That missing layer is just one reason why it’s so important to be careful about what you say online.)
If understanding body language isn’t your forte, don’t worry. There are plenty of good guides out there. Here’s a helpful one to get you started (with pictures) from Adam Dachis on Lifehacker, How to Read Body Language to Reveal the Underlying Truth in Almost Any Situation.
The bottom line is that you can’t read someone’s body language or hear someone’s tone of voice when you communicate online. You do get that chance when you communicate face-to-face. And that’s a communication bonus.
Social Release & Change of Scenery
Even if you mostly prefer to be alone, you probably want social interactions once in a while.
Loneliness is often cited as a major problem for freelancers. If you’ve come to freelance web design from a traditional office environment, making the sudden adjustment from working with others in an office environment to working alone from home can be quite a challenge. It takes a while to get used to not having anyone around.
Also, after a while, if you work from home, you can start to feel cooped up. Your home office, no matter how well it is set up, can start to fill a bit like a prison.
If you’re starting to feel lonely or are tired of being at home, that’s a sign that it’s time for you to get out and go somewhere. Meeting a colleague for lunch or working from the local coffee shop (where you can network with other freelancers) can provide a much-needed break.
Face-to-Face Networking Opportunities
Freelance web designers miss many opportunities for face-to-face networking. Here are some popular ways to connect with colleagues and prospects in real life:
- Know where your clients are located. You may be surprised to realize that a few of them are located in your own city.
- Go to a Meetup. Meetup has been connecting people since 2002 and it’s still a good way to find others in your area who have similar interests.
- Go to school. Not everyone in school is there for a degree. Many are taking courses just because they are interested in a particular topic. School can be a great place to meet someone with similar interests.
- Workout, or go to the golf course. For years business people have enjoyed getting together over a game of golf. Today’s business conversations may also occur at your local gym. And of course, exercise also keeps you healthy.
- Join a professional organization. AIGA, the organization for designers, has local chapters in many U.S. cities. Meet others at a meeting or at a conference.
- Volunteer. If you have a cause that you are passionate about, think about spending an hour or two a week as a volunteer. Volunteer activities are a great way to meet others.