SAFREA member Jaco Wolmarans used to shun cocktail parties – until he realised how much business freelancers can win at these networking events. Here, he gives some seriously good advice on how to get it right.
No-one likes cocktail parties, right? I mean, honestly, standing around, making small talk with people you don’t know, wondering why God didn’t give you a third hand to feed yourself while your other two held food and drink. Seriously, only total freeloaders could like these events.
Until a few years ago, I avoided cocktail parties like the plague. A chance discovery of their networking value however changed all that. Now I’m growing a third hand.
I was shooting video at one such event. The huge camera and tripod, I suppose, were a dead giveaway, because pretty soon, I got buttonholed by the usual wannabe filmmakers, camera enthusiasts and know-it-alls. The latter are usually engineering types, but my wife says it is rude to say so. She’s also an engineer.
One guest, however, offered me work. Out of the blue. “Do you shoot conferences?” he asked. “Of course I do. You’ll need a second camera though. But I can organise that.” Flashed him a card. “I’ll call you.” He did.
Then another, a PR type for a distillery. “Can you do stuff for TV? We have a whiskey tasting that needs filming.” We chatted a while, I listened to what she needed, suggested some cunning extra angles to consider, which she loved.
Pretty soon, we were coming up with some amazingly creative ideas. It could have been the wine, yes, but what was unmistakable was the lack of guardedness from the prospective client. There was no hard sell from my side. Both approached me, we had a chat, I helped refine their ideas, got the job, got paid.
Which got me thinking: if you cold-called a client, you never got this response. Why the difference? At cocktail parties, for one thing, you are on neutral ground. The drinks loosen up everyone. You don’t cold-call. Clients approach you. That shifts the balance of power. That’s one reason. But it goes deeper.
If you’re officially working at the event, you’re demonstrating that someone has selected you above a whole number of others and hired you. It is a tacit recommendation of your skills. That attracts clients like ants to sugar – simply because they don’t have to go through the process of trying, discarding and retaining contractors. No-one has the time for that.
Further, when you engage with their problem, offer an interesting angle or suggest they use a totally different medium or publication, employ a less expensive option, re-use existing materials or dovetail with their current strategy, they perceive you to be on their team, already adding value.
Without wanting to analyse the situation to death, a third common element from these situations struck me. In both cases, I listened to the job (in the client’s mind, the problem), suggested a new angle (in the client’s mind, a solution) and came up with a price (in the client’s mind, a pleasant surprise).
I often do on-the-fly estimates because my billing structure allows me to do just that. I’d say “I did a similar job for so-and-so and it came to so many thousand rands.”
Implicit in such a response is that their job is not the same and cannot conceivably cost the same. But it at least they have a ballpark idea of what they could be in for. And they don’t have to wait, nor to meet first to give you a detailed brief. All they want is a ballpark idea of whether they can afford it or not.
All this makes it so much easier for them to make the next all-important decision – to enlist your services.
To recap, social events seem great job mining opportunities because:
- you meet prospective clients on neutral ground;
- you don’t cold-call and get them all defensive;
- they approach you because your ability is clearly established already by you being on call;
- you confirm your ability by offering free advice to help them save money or complement existing strategies;
- you satisfy their need for instant gratification by indicating that you can solve their problem and that they can afford you.
Now, all that works if you have a great big video camera or Nikon slung around your neck to indicate your status. You sort of stand out.
But what if you’re a copy writer? Or a PR practitioner, a designer, a proof reader? How do you advertise that fact, at a neutral event such as a social function, when you are not officially working at the event? Which of the above holds true?
Certainly the fact that you’re on neutral ground. But going back to how people typically react at cocktail parties (those that don’t get instantly slammed), you have to admit that people generally are uncomfortable at these events because they don’t necessarily know people. They hate feeling conspicuous, standing around on their own. They want to talk to someone, dammit!
So make it easier for them. Wear a badge that shows what you do.
Cocktail party guests frequently get given a sticker so that you can still remember their names after the wine kicks in. Imagine you wore one that says “Joe Blogs, copy writer.”
If you were an engineering type, most likely you’d know what a copy writer was. Or you’d think you know. Sorry, dear. But most people are clueless about what we do. So they ask. Which gives you an opportunity to subtly sell your services. No hard-sell required.
If they ask you what a copy writer is, you’d respond that you write corporate reports. And the words on biscuit tins or in radio ads. Wow, cool job! Ice broken. Now personalise – if the other person is from a brokerage, for instance, mention you were involved in writing a Facebook company profile for a similar firm as theirs recently. What? Use Facebook to promote our brokerage? They haven’t thought of that.
What you do is identify a need. Everyone needs advertising. The cheaper the better. So drop the hint that you can help them. From here on, everything mentioned above applies: you’ve established your credentials, you’re in a neutral environment. Now leave it to the prospective client to do the approach for your services.
How much? Have ballpark answers ready. Where can we contact you? Have a card ready. And take care not to splash wine on him while exchanging cards.