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As a freelancer, one the top benefits of my membership with IABC is my involvement with IABC/Toronto’s Professional Independent Communicators. PIC members and guests consistently share a wealth of knowledge (and laugh a lot) at our bi-monthly networking exchanges. The get-together on October 2 at Metro Hall was no exception. Sitting around the table, we discussed tips and insights that could be useful to fellow independent communicators. To wit:

Keep your eyes open
Look for somewhat unlikely places to apply your expertise. One member whose spouse works for a pharmaceutical company said: “I know nothing about that industry, but when they needed an event planner, they were happy to hire me to organize.” Her event skills were more relevant than industry knowledge.

Don’t burn bridges
When he perceived that an international economic association needed his services, one member realized that the association was already working with an agency with which he had a relationship. So he approached the agency, rather than the end client, taking a long-term view.

Join wisely
Should independent communicators join their local chamber of commence or board of trade? Those around the table who had done so said these groups were not fruitful sources of referrals. Several had had success with BNI groups, but only the corporate chapters. When looking at groups to join or meetings to attend, consider gatherings of those who provide complementary services (such as a writer attending a meeting of graphic designers).

Leave the nest?
Most PIC members work from home. One was considering renting an outside office. The consensus: A coffee shop is not a desirable location to run your business, but a co-working space could be. For a few hundred dollars a month, you get a space to work, along with the opportunity to meet new people and network.

Rely on relationships
Everyone agreed that forming genuine relationships is much more useful in the long run than madly attending networking events and handing out business cards. When you join an organization, volunteer. People will get to know you and you may learn some new skills you can employ in your business.

When your business grows, consider the benefits of outsourcing to colleagues, or bringing on associates on a project basis.

What about working as a consultant for an ex-employer? Some companies welcome this arrangement and others forbid it. Occasionally an organization will allow it, but insist that you incorporate. If you’re planning to resign, or if you’re going to be downsized, it pays to ask.

Avoid these errors
One newcomer asked about the most common mistakes made by recently minted independents. Here are a few:

  • Spreading yourself too thin.
  • Not finding a niche; you can’t do all things for all people.
  • Charging too little.
  • Being afraid to team up with associates if the assignment is too much to handle.

Some final words of wisdom: Listen to your gut. If an engagement starts out badly, it rarely gets better.

If you’re a member of IABC/Toronto and an independent, consider joining the Professional Independent Communicators (PIC).


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