Working For Yourself

Overcoming Schmooze Reluctance: a freelancer’s guide to approaching prospects when you really don’t want to

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My inbox has been pretty busy this week – I’ve reconnected with a few on-off freelancers who are back in the fold and ready to get going again. I’m noticing a common theme, though, and that’s what I like to call Schmooze Reluctance.

OK, I don’t actually call it that. But for the purposes of this post, I think it deserves a name. I see it often enough and it’s about time I stopped calling it, “You know, that thing where freelancers need to go and talk to people, or phone them or something, but then they just won’t? Yeah, that.

So yeah, let’s talk Schmooze Reluctance. Really good freelance writers are failing to reach out to potential clients simply because they’re afraid to schmooze.

So if, like me, you’re prepared to (reluctantly, and with a wounded soul) accept that marketing yourself is a must, read on!

It’s OK to be an introvert

A lot of freelance writers are introverts – or ambiverts at the very least – and that’s why many of us find ourselves in this job. I took a degree in translation studies, where burying yourself in multiple books was a prerequisite of the course. My happiest Christmas was the one where I got three gigantic dictionaries. I find toddler soft play centres intimidating because I don’t know what to say to chatty two-year-olds and I end up going, “WOW, look at YOOOOU!” a lot.

What I’m saying is that it’s OK to be an introvert. But, what I’m also saying,  is that being an introvert doesn’t mean you can avoid talking to clients and prospects. It might be a Big Thing to you (I feel you, honestly) but there are lots of us out there and we all have to suck it up if we want to succeed at freelancing.

The key isn’t to learn to be an extrovert, or to avoid schmoozing entirely (that’s how to kill your business), but to find introvert-friendly ways to connect with prospects.

Terrified? Start Online.

Gone are the days where hard-sell networking events were your only option: the discerning modern freelancer is spoiled for choice when it comes to connecting with potential clients.

Email, phone, Facebook, Twitter – plus in-person events like expos and conferences – we can vary up our approach depending on how we feel at the time.

If – like many freelancers – you’re most comfortable with email (read: terrified of speaking to people), spend time perfecting engaging introductory messages that will make people want to get back to you.

You’ll need to connect over the phone or in-person sooner or later, but it certainly cuts down the numbers when you’re going through a big pitching phase.

Learn to listen

It’s a popular idea that people love talking about themselves, and there’s a lot of truth in it.

The good news for us reluctant schmoozers is that – as service providers rather than clients – we need to learn to listen first, question second and talk third.

One of the biggest mistakes I see freelance writers making is choosing the “Me, me, me” approach, basically blurting out the contents of their CV rather than outlining how they help their clients.

Whether you’re schmoozing in person or online, take the opportunity to ask questions and draw your conversation partner out. Ask about their company, their values, their clients, their vision for the future, and their biggest challenges and frustrations.

By listening and asking questions, you’ll find that opportunities to engage about what you can offer crop up, rather than needing to be hunted down or wedged in awkwardly.

Know your services

While listening to and questioning your schmoozees does buy you time, there comes a point where you have to open your mouth and make sounds come out. Useful sounds, not just fearful hisses or “Ummmm”s that tail off into silence.

The best way to do this is to 1) stop trying to think of something clever to say, and 2) know your own services inside out.

We’ve all read those blog posts about how one amazing elevator pitch won All The Things. But, in reality, a friendly, engaging chat is going to work 100 times better than an awkward, sweaty pitch delivered with excessive speed, minimal breathing and no confidence.

So, when someone says, “What do you do?”, have a concise, interesting answer with a clear client focus. A great starting point is “I help my clients to do X by doing Y.” 

Know what you do, know the value it offers, and you can’t go far wrong.

Stop thinking of people as targets

Sometimes schmoozing is a numbers game – say, when you’re cold-emailing large volumes of potential clients. But never forget that the names on that list – or the terrifying creatures milling around in front of you and showing their teeth to one another at that networking event – are actually fellow humans.

Just as you may well be there panicking about what to say and how to say it and OMG WHAT IF THEY SPEAK TO ME? your prospective schmoozees will be having thoughts, ideas and worries of their own.

Aim to make friendly connections rather than ticking people off a list.

You don’t have to say a lot in your communications – verbal or written – just say something of value, and say it in a way you wouldn’t find objectionable. There’s nothing wrong with small talk, either – it’s a useful filler and a chance to decompress before coming back to business talk again.

Summing up

It’s OK to hate schmoozing. It’s OK to want to be on your own, and to love the isolation and peace that freelance writing can offer. But, you do need to face up to the fact that all that lovely money you want to earn is currently in the pockets of another – your prospect.

Prospects are people, so find ways to connect in a friendly, potentially helpful way instead of looking for “hacks” like The Perfect Elevator Pitch that promise the world but make you feel awkward and uncomfortable and salesy as hell.

If you’re completely terrified of schmoozing, start online and approach people by email or social media as a first point of contact.

Know which services you offer and what value they have for your clients. Show an interest in your prospect and their business: listen, ask questions and take note to find a natural in-road into the conversation.

Schmoozing is necessary but it doesn’t need to be awful. Stay human, stay focused, keep your aims in mind, and go and make some connections.

Are you a reluctant schmoozer? Have you got any advice on facing the fear and approaching prospects online and in person? Comment below or come and chat on Twitter – I’m @LorrieHartshorn 🙂

8 thoughts on “Overcoming Schmooze Reluctance: a freelancer’s guide to approaching prospects when you really don’t want to

  1. This is great Lorrie! So helpful. I’ve always thought of myself as an extrovert but have recently come to realise I’m definitely an ambi. (Not Bambi. Thanks autocorrect). The targets tip is something I always try and keep in mind – it can be hard to remember that, particularly over email, can’t it? Thanks so much for sharing! Amy x #stayclassymama

    1. So glad you found it helpful, Amy – thanks for stopping by. And yes – took me ages to work out I was an ambivert; made life a lot simpler once I had, though! What I find most helpful is keeping the whole Human Being Thing in mind, and taking regular breathers – stops me getting overwhelmed and coming off as robotic in my communications.

  2. This has given me some really helpful advice to take on board. I’m definitely introverted and I stutter under pressure, so hopefully this might help me a little!

    1. Networking, pitching and schmoozing is something so many of us dread, but avoiding it is a sure-fire way to miss out on great opportunities, so anything that helps is worth trying at least once or twice. I think it’s good to stop thinking of introversion as a bad thing that should be altered; it’s just a case of acknowledging your introverted personality and finding ways to communicate (because that’s all this really is) that work for you.

  3. So helpful! Thank you for sharing this, although I’m not a freelancer this is still interesting if I ever wanted to become one, which could be a possibility as I am not happy with my current 9-5 situation. Anyway I think you’re right, listen first then question and then speak is key to making any good relationship but especially when servicing a client which I used to do when working agency side. Thank you for the advice and sharing with #StayClassyMama!

    1. Freelancing really isn’t the exclusive thing people make it out to be – if you’re motivated and you understand how to deliver quality to your customers, it’s a great alternative to a salaried job. 9-5s just weren’t right for me, so I feel your pain!

      And yes, listening, questioning then talking – great way to avoid dropping yourself in it and running out of stuff to say. Thanks for dropping by, and for another great week of #stayclassymama!

  4. Really helpful, even if I’m not a writer I’m still a creative going to networking events to meet “potentials”

    I particularly like the “stop trying to think of something clever to say” which I rent to do”
    Great post

    1. Thanks so much, Vanessa – really glad you could relate to the post. There are lots of us in the same boat, no doubt!

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