People often ask me how I find clients. Despite all my work building a company web site that showcases my expertise, blogging to create in-bound leads and trying to build repeatable work in a specific niche; most of my work has come from referrals through people I already know. My network.

OK. I want to find my own clients. How do I get my own network?

First we need to have a talk about the word “networking”. Does it make you think of some sleazy insurance salesman entering a room and “making it rain” with their business card? Does it remind you of someone who circled whatever event you were at, introduced themselves and made just-enough-small-talk so they could find out if you could help them and then quickly moved on the next person? I don’t blame you.

Networking is a terrible word

But I use it anyway. A better term would be Creating Connections since that’s what you actually want to do. But if we used that term no one would know what we’re talking about.

Let define what my network is. My network consists of people who:

  • Know who I am
  • Know what I do
  • Believe I’m capable of helping people they introduce me to

Am able to help?

This is a two pronged approach. They must think that you’re

  • Competent (this goes without saying)
  • Not a jerk. If you don’t come across as like-able or easy to work with. The people you talk to won’t recommend you to someone they know.

What do you do?

If your answer is “everything”, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. I get it. You do lots of things and don’t want to be pinned down. That was me too. I was proud of being the person who could pick up any technology quickly and get something shipped. It served me well, until it didn’t.

If you say you do everything, people will remember nothing

If you rattle off a list of things, the people you’re talking with to won’t remember any of them when they hear of an opportunity you could help with. The irony is, if you tell them something specific, they’ll think of you when they hear anything close.

I do Native iOS development. Oh, do you do Android? Xamarin? React Native? Any backend?

Create a quick sentence that describes what you do

  • I’m an independent Rails dev
  • I do DevOps on AWS
  • I do content marketing

A single “and” might be acceptable (e.g. I do Python development and machine learning training) but anything more will cloud your message. People won’t remember.

Even better if you can drill it down even further

  • I do security audits for mid-sized financial institutions
  • I do web pages for veterinarians
  • I help startups with $500k revenue on-board sales teams

As a side note, it probably feels odd drilling down everything you do into a very brief sentence. It’s normal to feel that way. Don’t think of it as a treatise on your entire being. It’s a beginning of a conversation. You’ll fill in the details somewhere down the road.

So now that I can explain what I do, how do I build a network?

Meet people. Find out what they do. Tell them what you do. Find a way to keep in touch. Keep in touch.

Thanks Captain Obvious. I thought you were going to provide something useful

Hold your horses. We’ll talk about how to actually get out and meet people in a future post. Stay tuned