Learning to love networking as a freelance journalist

Unless you’re an extrovert, I’m pretty sure the idea of networking sends a lot of people somewhere on the spectrum of panic. Going alone, being ready to talk about yourself and building rapport with strangers (if you talk to anyone at all) brings back memories of standing with my back to the wall at the school disco making friends with my Appletise.

But last night, that all changed. I networked. I laughed. I learned. I have a pocketful of business cards and several new women to follow and admire on Twitter. I was at FJ&Co’s female freelance networking event, and it was brilliant. It turns out all the other events I’d ever tried to network at before just hadn’t been for me. I’d been to conferences and events on behalf of whatever company I was working at, representing other interests outside of my own, trying to chat to suits and finding no common ground. And because it was difficult, I chalked these fruitless attempts at elbowing my way into corporate conversations as networking not working.

At The Ace Hotel’s Miranda Bar, however, I felt like I found my professional tribe. It was the easiest bit of networking I’d ever done, and I had so much fun it barely felt like networking at all. The great thing about having some event specifics from the outset (female, freelance journalist) meant there was plenty in common from the outset, and it helped break the ice before I’d even got to the bar.

Freelancing can feel like a closed-off, secretive world, and something that everyone knows how to do except you. But it’s not so. Everyone I spoke to was ready to share their tips, victories, uncertainties, woes and even their contacts without a shade of competitiveness. Ideas were sparked and collaborations talked about. We all had each other’s back and I gained so much just out of those three hours. A few of the women I’d spoken to said they’d felt reluctant to come alone, or had been worried how the evening would pan out. But by the end we were sharing in-jokes and swapping business cards.

Freelancing is a new step for me, so events like this are crucial to stepping outside of yourself and essentially finding colleagues. If you’re keen to find your own tribe of freelance journalists then I highly recommend you follow FJ&Co on Twitter for more informal meet-ups like this one, and Q&A panels with other freelancers. I’ve already signed up to the feature writing panel on 19 June – I hope to meet you there.