One of the things that I learned in the past ten years is that a strong network is the key to success. Now, re-read that sentence … I said “strong”. Not “vast”.

Yes, a vast network is the sign of being “connected” but it doesn’t necessarily mean those connections are solid, useful, or effective. It just means you hand out your business card a lot. A strong network can be vast, but it’s also filled with contacts that you have “relationships” with. Building relationships takes three things : time, communication, and respect.

When I had first started out taking my sideline job to a full-time business, I remember reaching out to this one brand. I was very green and very new to the whole scene, but I was trying my hardest. This particular contact, while responsive to my initial email, refused to meet me halfway on a couple of collaborations (like the guidelines of being a vendor at The Beauty Board which believe me, is not that taxing for a vendor) and in the end, the connection between us fizzled within a week or two of emails and calls. I was okay with that.

I never spoke or crossed paths with the company again. As in radio silence.

Fast forward about four years later, and I received a message from this same company that read along the lines of : “I’m so happy to see how much you have grown, perhaps now is the time for us to chat because I think I can use you for some ideas …”. I never responded to that message but received a follow-up call the following day where the person started with “I’m so proud of you …”.

While the idea that we could collaborate is very flattering, I have to say, pretending like four years didn’t pass and pretending that you had been there cheering on my growth every step of the way was … off-putting. Almost … insulting. I mean … now that I have grown, I’m worth your time to chat with?

You might think I’m being a bit of a sore sport, but here is how I see it : you cannot walk across a bridge that you haven’t built … or that is stable.

A network is built with so many different things : sharing ideas, supporting one another, developing collaborations, and passing along referrals … and this begins from the moment you meet and progresses as the years pass. It’s maintaining casual contact, whether via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or doing it the old fashion way: meeting for a cup of coffee … even if only twice a year. This is a good rule of thumb to follow, especially when you meet an interesting contact that you may not be able to collaborate with in the immediate future but perhaps, just maybe, down the road.

If you happen to be growing your freelance life in 2014, here’s a task to tackle as the clock strikes midnight: maximize and strengthen your contact list. It’s really simple to do :

  • Start by deleting old contacts or contacts that you don’t even recognize. They are just taking up space.
  • Update your regular contacts and fill their contact with as much information as possible. Use the “notes” section to jot down key events or strengths about that contact – birthdays, anniversaries, collaborations, media mentions, etc.
  • Identify contacts that are not regular but are not unrecognizable/old either. If you are interested in maintaining and building that relationship, make a note and remind yourself to do two things: extend a friendly “poke” to reestablish connection (invite to coffee, an email checking in just to say “hi”) and to check their social media profiles every now and then to comment, like, share, or even congratulate them on various successes.
  • For all new contacts, add them to your contact list as soon as possible, and stay in touch …

Failing to maintain a casual and respectful connection with a new contact, and then reaching out to them years later with a big request off the bat signals one thing, even if it isn’t your intention : you’re using them … and to your benefit only. And nobody likes that guy …

Anyway … I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I like writing up the Freelance 101 posts. My brain is filled with all the potential metaphors that I wanted to use today, so why not share?? To drill it home :

  • You can’t go 10% and expect the other person to go 90%.
  • Your network is like a garden. You need to tend to it everyday with water and sunlight and only then can you enjoy the fruits of your labour.
  • As they say, at least buy a girl a drink first … maybe even dinner!

Have a great week everyone!