Work Remotely? Network Locally
We’ve never had it better as nerds. We no longer need to stay chained to our desks, slaving away over a beige box computer in a gray cubicle for days on end. Thanks to WiFi, LTE, and powerful laptops, we can work from anywhere*!
(* Let’s leave aside the goofy ergonomics of working while lying back on a palm tree on the beach…)
As wonderful as working remotely is—and I’m fortunate that for some time now I’ve been able to work full-time as a remote work freelancer—the truth is that all (yes, I mean all) of the gigs I’m currently on have come about as a result of local, in-person, face-to-face networking.
By networking, I don’t mean paying to join some sort of formal B2B referral group, or a local chamber of commerce, or anything of that nature. What I do mean is industry-specific peer networking. In my case, that means attending meetups which attract other programmers and designers. It doesn’t really matter what specifically happens at these meetups: they could be educational in nature with presenters on relevant topics, or they could be informal mixers or happy-hour events. The key is that you are able to strike up genuine conversations with other people who are in the same technological or commercial boat that you are.
By attending local meetups and conferences over the years, I’m grateful that I have been able to build up a good reputation. That is what starts to work in your favor to bring you better and more lucrative leads. If somebody posts in a Facebook group or forum or asks around at a meetup “hey, know anybody who does X” and your name starts popping up in the affirmative without any prompting on your part, you’ve just witnessed the magic of quality networking.
Why doesn’t online-only networking work? I don’t have a pithy answer for that. All I can say is my experience in the web design/development field has been that it’s very difficult to get good leads from the web. (Oh, the irony!) Social media networking, LinkedIn, freelance job boards, and all the other typical avenues people try…none of them have ever been any significant source of revenue for me.
So the moral of the story is: Remote work is great! It’s fantastic! It’s colossal! It’s stupendous! But working remotely isn’t the same as getting work remotely. And in my case, I’ve been getting work very much locally. Now that doesn’t mean all my clients are based locally per se. It just means that the conduit by which I’ve been able to connect with a client has been set up via local networking. As impressive as modern communication technologies are, there is still no substitute for meatspace.