Marketing advice for newbies: “Tap your personal and professional network to find work.” Um…how?

Ever go to a party with your friends or to a work event with your colleagues, and everything’s cool? You meet some new people, maybe exchange a couple phone numbers, you see that cutie in the corner fancies you.

And then he shows up.

We all know him when we see him–it’s “That Guy.”

You know, the one who has to make sure everyone has his business card and hears his 30-second elevator pitch for his new venture that can cure all diseases with such-and-such 100% natural formula that came from grandma’s elixir cabinet.

Oh, plus it cures male pattern baldness.

Then That Guy moseys his way around the room, making sure that every conversation gets exposed to his strongly-held views on something he knows nothing about but uses big words for anyway.

(“No, no, see…the economy could be easily set upright if the Federal Reserve allocated 0.5% more liquid assets in the blah blah blah”).

Of course, That Guy’s next move is spotting which women are obviously attached–yet significant others are not present.

So he proceeds to whip out every canned pick-up line, generic compliment, and “I’m the Alpha Male here so back off losers” body language trigger to make these ladies quiver with lust.

Don’t be That Guy. Nobody likes That Guy.

Nobody wants to hire That Guy either. See, I just so happened to stumble upon an incarnation of That Guy on Reddit this afternoon.

The original poster of this thread was asking about how to getting started freelancing right now, then build a small business off that in the long-run.

Not to be outdone by other commenters asking the same question (“How can I start getting clients and making an income off my skills, like, yesterday?“), That Guy jumped right in:


Um. Okay?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be “That Guy” (or gal…ladies, you’re not completely off the hook) who blasts off the same copied-and-pasted “if you know anyone who needs my services, please keep me in mind” sales pitch to 100’s of LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends, or email contacts.

Then promptly get called out for “spamming.” Not that I’ve ever done this. *whistles innocent, sprightly tune*

How is point #1 above a sustainable marketing strategy? How do you talk about yourself and your services in such a way that people are effin’ FIRED UP about telling literally everyone and their brother about you?

But maybe you don’t have a network in place.

Maybe you have a niche service that literally none of your friends, family, or acquaintances are interested in.

Maybe you are scared to death of coming across as scammy or lame when you talk about what you do.

Plus, cutting back on the quality of your service does not sound like a word-of-mouth marketing strategy to me.

Yay! I made $8,000 this month! I’m gonna cut corners now, and business is gonna rolllllllllll in…” said no real business owner. Ever.

This is what bothers me about the conventional advice that’s spouted off about freelancing, entrepreneurship, and building a sustainable self-employed income.

This type of advice ASSUMES that networking is a strategy that’ll get you a butt-load of clients to take your pick from. It ASSUMES that clients will do word-of-mouth marketing for you without you having to teach them how. Maybe worst of all, this type of armchair-quarterback advice ASSUMES that marketing is easy (i.e., tell enough people about what you do and you’re bound to make an easy living).

But is it?

Before you take me for Grumpy Granny of the Day, I’ve got 2 recent victories to share, plus 1 challenge.

I should preface these 2 victories with this–I am not some ivory tower genius with 5 MBA’s, a thousand marketing textbooks memorized, and an ego the size of the Hindenburg prior to crash-and-burn. What I’m going to share with you, I’ve learned in the trenches of trial-and-error, what works and what doesn’t, and embarrassing disaster after embarrassing disaster–followed by CRUSH-IT wins.


seriously, does this spaced-out klutz look like The God of Marketing or something? Puh-leeze


How would you like to sit down in a room of strangers, tell a story about what you do (NOT pitch your services–this is key), and 60 seconds later 3 different people are scrambling for their smartphones to set an appointment with you…to hire you? (happened to me a few weeks ago, resulted in nearly $9k in revenue)

Or, how would you like to be lounging in a sauna (again, complete strangers), ask a series of targeted draw-out-interest questions to people about their lives and businesses, and 3 hours later you have a captive audience of a dozen people hanging on your every word as you tell a story about what you do.

People are begging you for your business card, and someone’s already saying they decided to hire you on the spot. (also happened to me, resulted in $8k in revenue)

I say this not to brag…okay, maybe a little. I felt happier than a middle-aged unemployed hardware engineer whose first Tinder match is a Brazilian supermodel (let the hate mail begin!).

Again, I say–you don’t have to be That Guy. The point of these stories is that you don’t have to “pitch” your services, “tap” your network (again…how, exactly?), or “tone down” your quality just to find more people who’ll drool with desire to hire you.

In fact, it IS simple when you realize that networking is not a strategy to get more clients–it’s a way you carry out your strategy of getting more clients. Spot the difference?

This isn’t a knock on networking. Heck, I attend 2-3 networking events per week. But my goal is not to “find clients” when I go (used to be though…I sucked at it). Instead, my goal is to tell emotionally compelling stories about my services that connect directly to the interests, challenges, and pain points of my listener. I want my conversation partners–even if they’re not a prospect at all–to feel like I “get” them.

That’s my goal. And it just so happens that I get very, very good projects through it.

So now my challenge to you. It’s more of a question, really:

  • What have you hated about your experiences with networking in the past? And what’s 1 thing you could do in the future to make people “drool with desire” for your services when you talk to them about your business?

Share your voice. Post in the comments below, and I’ll give your question my best [Tequila] shot.

14 comments on “Marketing advice for newbies: “Tap your personal and professional network to find work.” Um…how?

  1. Hello,
    I am in a situation where networking physically to people is not a possibility.

    How would you use this strategy online?

    I understand the idea of having an emotionally compelling message, but it seems to me that the quality of face to face interaction is not the same when we are 1 in a million online.

    Thank you

    • Hey Nour,

      What is your current business model / service you offer? Are you a freelancer?

      The next step I suggest will depend on what you do / are wanting to do to earn income.

      • Hi Joshua,
        I am a freelancer. I specialize in a CMS called Concrete5.
        So far, I was just doing the usual freelancing thing and developing a few plugins on the side.

        I started to change things and want to offer a 3 part service:
        – a website in a week for soloproneur who want to launch quickly
        – custom tools and applications for solopreneurs whose business is growing and need to automate their processes and leave excel behind
        – a support and maintenance system based a bit on what wpcurve does

        My problem is I don’t live in the same country my clients are in. I work a lot with clients from the US, UK, and other countries and I live in North Africa. Meeting them face to face is not going to happen. The best I can do is Skype.

        I try to be active in forums for coding and development issues. I offer a few free plugins and offer great support. Thanks to that, I made a few connexions but it always seems so superficial and nothing to really rely on.

        • Hey Nour,

          Three quick questions for you:

          (1) What have you done to validate your new service package idea? Has that target market indicated to you that they are in desperate need of those three services?

          (2) Have you looked into groups on LinkedIn where members of your target market gather? There are dozens of international as well as US and UK-based groups for solopreneurs, freelancers, consultants, coaches, and independent professionals. Those might be great places to share valuable articles or reports on topics they’re desperate to learn more about (launching websites quickly, automating processes, building systems). The third section of The Ultimate Guide to Charging What You’re Worth shows how to use such articles as emotionally compelling lead magnets–even over the internet.

          (3) Why not partner with other freelancers and business owners like you who are targeting US and UK-based solopreneurs who need support in developing their businesses? Not only would you have a mastermind for mutual accountability, but you would be able to refer any clients you get to one another (assuming these partners of yours have complementary, not competitive services). Plus, you could share what remote networking strategies are working. A win for one person is a win for everyone.

          Do any of these ideas seem worth pursuing to you? Love to hear what you decide on.

          • Hey Joshua,
            1) I haven’t done any direct validation (asking people directly). BUT… I am already working a lot with clients needing custom tools for their business so I can say that part is validated. I see a lot of people posting small job ads because they need someone to change a color, or make a menu transparent or deal with a plugin not behaving… Usually small jobs that look overwhelming to non-technical users. Now would they be ready to pay a monthly fee, I don’t know. However I am pretty sure that, rather than having to look for someone new every time and be forced to trust a stranger, they would be more comfortable having someone reliable to go to. I hear a lot of horror stories and usually people prefer having one “web-guy”. The website in week idea is not that novel or extravagant that it requires validation I think. I might be wrong but in any case, if it doesn’t attract attention, no big deal, there’s no extra investment. I just think these 3 services go well together.

            2) I am in several linkedIn groups for both developers and my target market. Frankly a lot of those groups generate so much noise, it’s hard to pay attention to any of it. They are good, however to try to make individual contacts. I haven’t tried to post group information yet though.

            3) I have started talking with others, specifically designers with little coding skills outside of html/css. Nothing is decided yet, but I have taken those steps.

            All those ideas definitely add value and that’s why I’m already going that way. My point I guess is that the process of face to face, closer type of contact making is already a time and energy consuming one. When it has to be done remotely, it’s daunting.

          • Hey Nour,

            To jump back to your initial concern of remote networking, a colleague of mine (Bushra Azhar) lives and works in Saudi Arabia…but her clients are all over the USA, UK, and Europe. To quote her on how she networked with the “super-connectors” and influencers who would put her in front of the eyeballs of future clients she says:

            I took the time to connect with these editors [of online communities she wanted to network with AND market to] on social media (in this case followed them on Twitter) and engaged with them (RT’d and @reply to some of their best content) and read up on their most recent stuff. And that means that I was coming from a place of genuine interest and appreciation and they had my name somewhere in their memory files. It is easier for us to open and respond to emails that come from familiar names and if you have taken the time to connect, your name will light up the good feelings in the subconscious (they may not consciously remember you but your name will send out positive vibes because they associate it with positive feelings of validation & appreciation).

            I’m a total fanboy of Bushra; she CRUSHES it in the networking world. But she doesn’t “network” in the traditional way. Bushra uses a go-to-the-source type of outreach that builds power-player relationships one at a time. It’s like what marketing guru Harvey Mackay always said, “Build your network before you need it.”

            To your (1) answer, hey…if you’ve got people willing AND able to pay for that service package, sounds like you know the next step. 🙂

            For (2), how have you gone about making these individual connections in LinkedIn groups? What do you say to the people you cold-email?

            For (3), even a couple steps forward are worth it! Something about a journey of a thousand miles starting with a single step…

            Anyway, let me know if you’ve got any other questions or feedback! Peace

  2. Tequila shot, pleeaasseeee.

    About a month ago, I went to a local Chamber of Commerce business thing. Just your typical, people standing behind tables in a small room thing. It was so weird. I didn’t bring any business cards or have any materials printed because I thought, “Oh, I’ll just TALK to people!!!”

    I tried to talk to a few people at their booths, but all they wanted to do was give me their pitch. I forgot why I was there.

    It was just.. awkward. I had no idea what to do. So I left after 10 minutes and got Chinese food.

    I don’t have much trouble finding clients online – maybe not the exact ones I want, yet – but in person… I can be very bashful, I just end up running away!

    • Make that 2 shots.

      I actually just got back from a COC event *exactly* like the one described. Very few business owners there, mostly just sales people, account executives, etc. Definitely not an intentional networking experience.

      However, I am a member of a truly intentional group where the purpose is not to do business with other members. Rather, the collective goal is to build “know like and trust” relationships so that we can refer people in our own networks to each other.

      Are there any such events in your part of the world?

      • Ooh, I’m glad to hear it wasn’t just me being a social failure, lol!

        I’m in California, so there must be. I might be going to a female entrepreneur “doggy playdate in the park” thing next month, so I have high hopes for that being more of a proper networking experience.

        • Even an extrovert with the fewest personal boundaries would find such “networking” to be frustrating.

          I just checked out your website….looks like you’re finding a niche for yourself 🙂 Who are the “target markets” that you’re serving now / wanting to connect with in the future?

          • I’ve got enough clients in different industries to keep me busy, but in the meantime, I’m trying to move into writing for dog-related businesses. So I recently started my own dog blog, both to share my knowledge on dogs and to attract the right clients!

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