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Freelancers are known for going it alone. Many work solo from a home office or “in the field,” traveling locally or afar to meet client needs.
But freelance work doesn’t always have to be a lonely business. Seminars, conferences, and similar events offer a chance to make connections and learn from like-minded professionals.
I’m a freelance content creator—my work includes writing, editing, photography, and graphic design. My experiences will help illustrate how to find useful seminars, leverage marketing opportunities, learn from the pros, and make and utilize networking connections at seminars.
Get on the Mailing List
First things first—you will need to research what conferences are available that cater to the field you work in. For example, I research writing and photography conferences. Sometimes I’ve also attended seminars focused on industries I’ve worked for, like travel or agriculture.
As you research available seminars, keep a list or spreadsheet of the event name, when and where it is held, and the website. Get on mailing lists—email and physical mail—for events you are interested in. I look forward to receiving a brochure in the mail reminding me of the local writer’s conference each year.
Focus your search on local events, perhaps those in your city, state, or within a certain distance from your vicinity. Also, look for large national events that may be held in a different city each year. You may even decide that it is worth it to travel occasionally for larger events.
Now that you’ve found your events, what will you do at them? Consider the following.
Make Your Stake
Large conferences often have row after row of booths that attendees can visit. Even smaller seminars may have tables available in the hall or common areas during breaks between the presentations. Renting a booth or table may be an excellent means of helping clients discover your services.
Make your booth or table appealing and inviting. Consider the theme of the event and your line of work when deciding on table coverings, posters, and other decorations.
Seek to provide some value that people will walk away with and remember you for. People love freebies—branded objects or at least business cards are a must. But if you can teach them something useful by means or a conversation or demonstration, that will be even more memorable.
Publishing articles or even book-length works is a tried and tested way of establishing yourself as an expert in your field. You can print out informative articles or even sell copies of your book at the event.
You’ll want to understand how to list publications on your resume in case your new connections want to learn more. Including links to your publications on your LinkedIn profile or personal website is a great place to start.
Learn from the Pros
New clients aren’t the only value-add of seminars. You can learn a lot by attending the sessions. For example, when I attend a writer’s conference, I meet successful authors who speak about the craft of writing as well as the technical side of the publishing industry. At photography conferences, I view outstanding work, learn about the techniques involved, and see demonstrations of new tech and equipment.
Tech-related industries—as well as those jobs that utilize the latest gadgets—often enjoy new releases at major seminars. New techniques or breakthroughs in other industries may be demonstrated.
Large conferences often attract big industry names. Steve Jobs, for example, often spoke at the Seybold desktop publishing conference. If you can only make a few conferences a year, opt for those that feature keynote speakers that you can geek out about. Check the events pages on the individuals’ websites for announcements of speaking engagements.
Seminars are a wonderful place to network. You can connect with like-minded professionals who are there to learn, as well as those who are speaking and instructing. In my field, I’ve met published authors, literary agents, and event Hollywood connections.
Carry business cards, but don’t hand them out indiscriminately. If you have a meaningful conversation with someone, however, you can conclude with, “I’d like to stay in touch,” or “I’d love to continue this discussion,” and hand them a card.
You should also reach out to new acquaintances on LinkedIn. Include where and when you met them in the connection request message, and perhaps something you talked about to jog their memory. You can also look for their social accounts on Instagram and other popular social networks.
Freelancers may be perceived as “lone wolves,” working remotely, but the education and association available at seminars and conferences are invaluable. Once freelancers are “in the know” by signing up for mailing lists for events they are interested in, they can stay on the cutting edge of their field and even learn from famous, top-tier professionals. You, the freelancer, can network at events and continue the connections on LinkedIn. You can even market yourself by setting up a booth or table.