While journalism requires a certain willingness to talk to strangers and interview sources, many writers are introverts who’d rather not spend their downtime schmoozing. But, especially for freelancers who don’t have the camaraderie of a newsroom, networking is an important part of the job. It can help you connect with editors looking to hire someone with your expertise, other writers who might be able to refer you, or sources who might help inspire your next story idea.
Here’s how to start networking, even if you’d rather hide behind your laptop.
Choose the Event Wisely
I’m not a morning person, so you won’t find me at a 7am networking breakfast. Instead, I attend lunches, afternoon coworking sessions, happy hours, or evening panels.
Choose the setting and time of day that works for you; otherwise, you won’t be your best self. If you’re intimidated by large groups, perhaps invite a couple of other writers to meet you at a coffee shop, bar, or for a walking meeting to talk shop.
Journalists have a clear advantage in keeping the conversation flowing, because we’re natural questioners. Show a genuine interest in another person’s professional projects, hobbies, or next vacation by asking smart questions, and you can avoid awkward small talk about the food or the weather.
People who are especially skilled at getting others to open up often ask open-ended questions like “what current project are most excited about?” Ghostwriter and author John Peragine shares more networking tips in this Writer’s Digest piece.
Walking up to a stranger at a luncheon or happy hour can be intimidating. But if you volunteer at the event or even organize your own event, you have a built-in reason to interact with people. Getting involved also gives you some extra professional cred. For several years, I hosted MediaBistro happy hours when I lived in Boston, and I now organize semi-regular coworking sessions at coffee shops around Austin, Texas.
Business cards may seem passé but they’re a great way to stay in touch with people you meet at conferences or other events. After a conference or networking event, I take the stack of cards I’ve collected and send personalized LinkedIn invites to each new contact.
I try to send emails or InMails every few months to keep the conversation going. For instance, I noticed that a writer I met at the ASJA conference earlier this year had a short piece published in the New York Times, so I sent her a congratulatory message.
You can find opportunities to network locally through your local chapter of the Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists, or other industry associations. Business writers might also get value from attending Chamber of Commerce meetings or Women in Business events.
Coworking spaces also tend to host events that are sometimes open to non-members. Local Meetup groups and local or national conferences are also great places to make connections. If you can’t find the kind of event or networking group you want to attend, why not create it yourself?