Networking is an incredibly important part of any independent professionals’ job. When you run your own business and are responsible for securing your own work, the more high-quality connections you can establish the better. When thinking about how to build out your network, your first inclination might be to reach out to people in your industry who you admire or seek to emulate.
While there’s nothing wrong with connecting with people who you look up to—it is certainly be valuable to talk to people who are further along in their careers—approaching networking solely from this perspective can be limiting. Rather than focusing your efforts on one end of the spectrum, consider reaching out to your peers as well. Connecting with people who are at a similar stage in their careers as independent professionals can be a great way to gain an outside perspective, brainstorm solutions to similar problems you’ve encountered, or hone new skills together. Here are five reasons it can be valuable to network with your peers.
1. Access Relevant Information
First and foremost, peers are much more likely to understand where you are coming from than someone who is more experienced and further along in their career. They are probably encountering similar problems that you’re dealing with in the moment, rather than thinking back on how they handled a situation they dealt with years ago.
Trade best practices
As you connect with more peers and start to build a community, talk to each other about obstacles you’ve encountered and how you’ve overcome them. What best practices do you stand by? Are there takeaways your peers share that you can try out? Talking with someone at a similar career stage as yourself is often less intimidating than speaking with someone who you idolize or place on a pedestal. Be honest with your peers; they likely feel the same way you do about many situations and can help give applicable advice or generate an innovative idea.
2. Keep Things in Perspective
Building an independent business takes time, energy, and dedication, and you’ll likely encounter situations that seem daunting or impossible to tackle. Talking to your peers is a great way to help put things in perspective and keep your expectations realistic. Connecting with people who are going through the same difficulties you are encountering can be a helpful way to problem solve and learn together.
Help each other find work-life balance
Working independently can often be a lonely endeavor. Maintaining a balance between work and socialization can be challenging, and the last thing you want is for networking to feel like one more thing you have to drag yourself to do. Networking with your peers has the added benefit of building a group of people you can feel comfortable reaching out to on the fly for a quick phone call or chat over coffee. Connecting with peers should be an enjoyable experience, not something you have to plan for weeks in advance or prepare a presentation for.
3. Develop Industry Expertise
Even if peers in your industry aren’t focusing on the exact same thing as you, it is still valuable to connect with them. By talking to people about the trends they are seeing, you may gain ideas for how to approach a project or a new client to pitch. It’s useful to see how others within your industry are tackling problems; this background knowledge will help you develop talking points when communicating with clients and build your general expertise.
Work on your professional development
In order to remain competitive as an independent professional, it’s important to keep your skills and knowledge current. By prioritizing networking with peers, you can expand your education and expertise just by having conversations with other people in your industry. Ask others if they’ve pursued any professional certifications and what their experience has been like, or if they’ve ready any business books recently that they’d recommend.
4. Build a Reliable Support System
Your network is more than just contacts you maintain who might be able to connect you to future work. It’s a group of people who spark your creative side, who are there to help problem solve, and who you can rely on for honest feedback.
Find a mentor and become a mentor
A mentor doesn’t have to be someone older than you or further along in their career than you. Peers in your network can make great mentors because they’ve been through and are going through the same things you are. A mentor offers guidance and advice, is a sounding board for ideas, helps to ease stress by talking through problems, and serves as a confidant and friend.
5. Invest in Future Connections
Networking with peers now is much easier than trying to connect with those same people 10 or 20 years down the road once they are well-established and more difficult to get a hold of. A strong network of peers often leads to a strong network of friends that can last well into the future. Yes, those connections may lead to job or client recommendations (and vice-versa), but most importantly you will reap great rewards from developing a supportive community that you can grow with.
Team up with other independent professionals
Teaming up with other independent professionals can help you bring a needed set of skills to a project you are working on, manage a big workload, or take on a larger project that requires additional help. A partnership may naturally develop when networking with peers, or, if teaming is something you want to pursue, a network of your peers is a great place to start looking for the right match.