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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guest Post: The Importance of a More Personal Professional Network


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I love when Jenn Mattern shows up on this blog. Jenn's one of those freelancers who develops and grows smart careers. She has innovative ideas that work, and she's not afraid to share them (well, until someone swipes them, but that's another matter). She's a super professional and a great friend with whom I've shared tea and laughs galore. 

Jenn and I were lamenting what passes for networking and support these days. Too often writers -- especially those just starting out -- put all their faith in people who for one reason or another capture their attention long enough to convince them they have all the answers. No one has all the answers, but often for newbies there's no filter, nor is there a way to discuss as peers those issues that bug us all.

That's when Jenn said, "Hey, how about a guest post on the importance of a personal professional network -- those few folks you can open up to, ask for blunt feedback from, share ideas with knowing they won't swipe them, etc?" 

To which I said "Hell yes!"


The Importance of a More Personal Professional Network

by Jenn Mattern 

As a freelance writer your professional network can be rather broad -- colleagues, editors, clients, prospects you hope will become clients in the future. And when you have conversations with people in this network, it's usually best to keep things professional.

That said, freelance writing can leave you feeling isolated. You don't have a close-knit group of employees who see each other every day and talk about things both inside and outside of their work lives. Because of this, I find it's a good idea to have a more personal professional network.

What is a Personal Professional Network?
When I say "personal professional network," I don't mean you should have more personal and casual relationships with your overall professional network. Instead, these people are a subgroup -- a network within a network. These are the people you might exchange private emails or phone calls with on a regular basis. They're the people you might meet up with for lunch from time to time. They're the people you might consider friends even more than colleagues.

Why Have a Personal Professional Network?
I would be lost without the tight-knit group of colleagues I keep in touch with regularly. Those closer, but still professional, relationships have a variety of benefits. For example:

  • You can share frustrations and rant privately to people who understand where you're coming from (rather than publicly ranting about something on your blog or in a forum which might just result in added drama). If nothing else, talking things out with them first can help you cool off a bit before you rant publicly.

  • These are the people who routinely remind you that you're not alone, no matter how isolated you feel. You can share successes and failures, and you actively encourage each other.

  • You can share ideas and projects that are still in the works -- things you might not be ready to share publicly yet. The folks in this more personal network can be a great sounding board to bounce ideas off of.

  • These are the folks you're probably most likely to partner with. By getting to know each other personally as well as professionally, you'll get a better idea of who you could work well with before jumping into a partnership that just wasn't meant to be.

  • Let's face it. Most of us gossip at some point or another, and it's a staple recreational activity in many offices. Having a more personal professional network means you can do that while remaining tactful -- such as spreading the word about a new project someone's up to or sharing a warning if you run across a problem in the industry that you aren't ready to out publicly.

In the end, having a more personal professional network is about letting yourself unwind a bit. You don't always have to be in "work mode." You can just relax and be yourself. You can share the good and the bad with someone who understands (because we can't always count on other friends and family members to get where we're coming from in this business). And you always have someone there to kick your ass back into gear if you need it.

That's why I'm such a big fan of having a personal professional network within my larger networking efforts. What about you? Do you have a group of colleagues or others who you trust and keep in close contact with? How does it impact your work as a freelancer? Leave a comment and tell us what you get out of this kind of tighter-knit network.


Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, business writer, and e-book author. She owns 3 Beat Media, a Web development and publishing company which operates websites and blogs for freelance writers, independent publishers, small business owners, and more.



11 comments:

Sharon Hurley Hall said...

This is so important, Jenn. I have a couple of networks. Apart from the Five Buck Forum, I have one online friend - a fellow freelancer whom I've worked with for about 6 years now - who serves as a sounding board and reality check. And offline, a friend of mine is a freelance translator and we regularly exchange work stories. :)

Cathy Miller said...

Amen, Jenn. I would be lost without my personal professional network. I have learned from their generosity, and felt solid support in a career that is still evolving.

Hugs to you all.

Jenn Mattern said...

Thanks for having me Lori!

I'm glad to see some familiar faces already. :)

Sharon, The five buck forum from Anne and Lori is a great middle ground. I find it much easier to open up there than on a public blog or more public forum -- whether I'm ranting and raving or sharing my day-to-day work list for accountability's sake. It's a great place for newbies to start making those more personal connections with colleagues if they don't already have a solid support network too.

Cathy -- You know you're one of my go-to gals. You, Lori, and Yo are definitely my first line of defense, keeping me from doing anything too stupid publicly. ;) Whether we're all sharing a laugh or engaging in group email gossip (for lack of a better term), I couldn't get through some days without you ladies. :)

Lori said...

Thanks for the post, Jenn. :)

It has saved my sanity to have a group of close email friends to go to. I'm happy to call you friends, and even happier to know we have each others' backs. That's part of the reason Anne and I thought the forum was necessary; we can collaborate, commiserate, and bounce ideas and concerns off each other.

Lori said...

Plus there are people like Sharon, Cathy, and Jenn there, whose support makes it easy to continue this solitary gig.

Paula said...

I have at least six people in my personal professional network - not that I ever thought of it that way before. Two were friends first, one is my sister, and the rest are colleagues I've managed to bond with.

Another interesting thing has happened lately...a couple of publicists and I bonded over home repairs, and one of my editors and I have begun bonding over knitting. Neither subject will dominate our conversations, but those are extra little human connections that never hurt.

Lori said...

You're right, Paula. That kind of connection never hurts. :)

Jenn Mattern said...

It sounds like you have a great mix Paula. I love having clients who I can be a bit more personal with. It's not quite as personal as friendships with colleagues in my case, but it gives things that human element when we can talk about family and other issues. I especially love that with my overseas clients, because they give me such a broader perspective on the world and how all of us effect each other's lives in ways we don't always even realize.

Devon Ellington said...

It's so important to have those to whom you can vent that you know won't turn around and spew about it. We all need to blow off steam sometimes, and it's important to have those to which you can do so discreetly.

AND, it's great to cheer on those when they achieve their dreams!

Anne Wayman said...

Yes, I have a pro network... and I also have two close friends who are not writers, but both are business women... we mastermind together and that's great too.

Jenn Mattern said...

Devon -- That's an excellent point. It's as much about sharing in our successes as having someone to to vent to.

Anne -- Writers or not, it sounds like you have a good support system. It's always good to get a fresh perspective from people who aren't too close to our work.

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