I received a call recently from a headhunter looking for someone with very specific writing skills. She recalled my name from the SPJ Cleveland Pro chapter and thought she’d pick my brain for possible candidates before advertising the position.
We talked at length about the culture of the organization doing the hiring, the specific kinds of writing required and whether the company would consider contract arrangements.
As it turns out, I knew a couple of people who fit the bill and connected her to them.
As a result, she and I decided to meet for coffee to talk about how our various networks of creative collaborators could work together on future projects. During our conversation we discovered a number of ways.
And a second follow-up meeting already has been scheduled with another person I met briefly through a volunteer project.
The lesson: Opportunities for networking exist everywhere. It’s simply a matter of taking a phone call, a conversation, a request for help or an inquiry and turning it over in your mind to see if you can make a connection.
Networking is really about making connections between people, ideas and resources. And through your vast networks — social, professional or personal — you engage in the great give and take with the potential to help others — and help you!
Just remember to give as much as you take.
E-mail, of course, makes forging these connections both easy and efficient. Its ease allows you to:
• Bring more people into the conversation or network that you believe may expand the connection
• Share resources or links that may stimulate that conversation
•Bounce ideas off of others to expand your point of view
What you convey through e-mail, even if it’s a simple request for information, is really a reflection of how you think and write. So use it well because you never know what will float in over the transom.
A place to hang your hat — and laptop
E-mail will never replace face-to-face contact, the best and only way to engage in the water-cooler synergies that are helpful to your creativity.
Freelance writers often work in isolation, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they must lead a solitary existence. On the contrary: It is a freelance writer’s lifeblood to get out of the home office and into the world.
I’m fortunate to work with a few designers with great studio space who don’t mind if I bring my laptop and cell phone and work from their office. When I’ve been consumed with writing or researching and need a change of scenery, I head to one of my “satellite” offices and find interaction with human beings invigorating. Sometimes I’m there because we’re working collaboratively. Sometimes we share coffee and chat about dream projects. And other times, it’s simply a place to hang my hat and laptop.
What’s important is the interaction and connection with others. Journalists by their nature are not joiners, but there are opportunities for expanding your network when you get involved with a volunteer project — SPJ, your church, school or community event.
If you’re going to volunteer your time and talent, make sure it’s for something you believe in and among people with whom you can work effectively. It’s hard enough to work with those to whom you don’t relate when you’re getting paid.
After helping earlier this year with the International Children’s Games in Cleveland, I received a call about a wrap-up book project. Although it’s a nonpaying project, it’s also an opportunity for me to bring together a group of terrific creative people — writers, designers, photographers and a publisher — for a high-profile project. They key is making sure you recruit enough people to share the workload. And nurturing and expanding your network on a regular basis is crucial to this effort.
Virtual freelance community
The point of making these connections is to eventually bring you paying work. And that’s why engaging in many different types of networking is important to your success.
Over the long haul, you want to be perceived as a person who can get things done — writing a story, editing a project, finding a resource, linking to others.
Mediabistro has created — and continues to expand — a virtual freelance community on its Web site (www.mediabistro.com). If you haven’t looked at the site, you should.
“I’m a former freelancer, and everything up there is what I wished I had,” said Laurel Touby, founder and cyberhostess of Mediabistro.
Two years ago she decided to create a Freelance Marketplace database.
“I wanted to do it right and to make it useful to editors and assigning managers in addition to freelancers themselves,” she said.
Touby knows that people are searching her site and its offerings.
“We have 280,000 people around the world registered on our site,” she said.
Most of the editors in Manhattan look to Mediabistro for qualified, experienced writers, she said.
In fact, Touby called on her wide network when she was developing and launching Freelance Marketplace.
“I sent a very personal note and said, ’I need you,’ ” she said. “I was able to get this kind of support because Mediabistro has been doing this for 10 years and we’ve formed these relationships.”
She launched Freelance Marketplace recently to 200 assigning and senior editors in Manhattan from media outlets including, Fitness, Glamour, O, iVillage, Sports Illustrated, New York Post, Scholastic, Vanity Fair, Women’s Wear Daily, Business Week, Conde Nast and Farrar Strauss Giroux.
And she plans to host similar editor launches throughout the country to say: “We’re actively getting editors to our launches and to our site.”
And that means opportunities for writers.
She said that freelancers can often be intimidated when posting to such a site, but they shouldn’t.
“Editors are looking for something specific, and they may want someone in a local market, not always the same old, same old from New York City,” she said.
The bottom line is that none of this works unless you are more than just mildly interested in people and if you aren’t afraid of initiating a conversation, even though it’s just outside your comfort zone.
Because it’s when we push and stretch ourselves just beyond the comfortable that some of our most amazing connections occur.
Wendy Hoke is a Cleveland-based writer and editor. She serves as co-chair of SPJ’s National Freelance Committee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her online Weblog, Creative Ink, can be found at www.creativeink.blogspot.com