Working from home can be awesome; you have more freedom and flexibility, you don’t have to commute, and let’s be real—an occasional conference call in your PJ’s certainly isn’t terrible.
I’ve been working from home for the past three years—and for the most part, I love it. But when you’re doing the bulk of your work from an at-home office, your day-to-day routine isn’t exactly ripe with opportunities for meeting new people. And no matter who you are—introvert or extrovert, business owner or corporate worker, in the peak of your career or just starting out—that’s crucial for your career (and your sanity!).
If you’re a freelancer or remote team member who wants to connect with new people, you have to create those opportunities for yourself. So what, exactly, could you be doing to build your network—and skyrocket your career in the process?
1. Look for Opportunities to Offer Value
People like people who help them. So if you establish yourself as a person who adds real value, you automatically endear yourself to people. And the best part? You can do all that value-adding from the comfort of your own home.
Look for ways to help, to support, or to make valuable connections for people in your network. Notice people on your LinkedIn or industry Facebook group struggling to get design work done for their business? Shoot over a list of your favorite DIY design tools. Know someone who’s having trouble hiring a new assistant? Send over a helpful article on how to hire a virtual team. Have two clients you think would work well together? Put them in touch.
People like people who help them. So if you establish yourself as a person who adds real value, you automatically endear yourself to people.
The key to success with this tip? Be genuine! Don’t just look to help people in the hopes they’ll help you down the line. If you come from a self-serving place, people will pick up on that—and won’t want to connect with you. Instead, make a list of people you want to help and, if the opportunity presents itself, jump on it.
If you want to take the whole “adding value” thing to the next level (and reap the rewards!), try hosting a lunch and learn at a local co-working spot (which—bonus—is probably full of other people who work remotely). Whether you’re a virtual assistant who helps organize people’s businesses, a marketing manager who works remotely for a larger company, or a freelance writer (like me!), you have a unique set of skills, talents, and experience that others can benefit from. Lunch and learns give you a chance to help while also showcasing your expertise—which can help turn some of those new connections into new business opportunities.
2. Use the Media to Establish Yourself as an Expert (and Drive Connections)
Getting your name, company, or project mentioned in the media is a great way to establish yourself as a thought leader in your space and drive relevant connections that can not only increase your social network but also give your career a healthy boost. These days, you can usually contribute your expertise from wherever you are (like your home office)—and use it to develop contacts around the world.
Sign up as a source on Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and be on the lookout for opportunities that might be a fit (for example, if you’re an expert in a specific field or you’ve had a particular experience you can speak to). Just make sure to only reach out when you can speak from a place of authority; for example, if a writer is putting together a piece on digital nomads building sustainable businesses while traveling the world but you do the bulk of your work from your home office? Probably not a great match.
Every time I get mentioned in the media, my LinkedIn gets flooded by people looking to network with me. It’s pretty cool, relatively simple, and offers a lot of juice for the squeeze.
Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory and host of the Workationing podcast, has used HARO to get quoted or featured in Fast Company, NBC News, and Thrive, and found that it’s done wonders for building her network. “Every time I get mentioned in the media, my LinkedIn gets flooded by people looking to network with me,” she says. “It’s pretty cool, relatively simple, and offers a lot of juice for the squeeze.”
Bottom line? The more you get your name out there, the more people will see it—and the more your network will grow.
3. Get Your Slack On
Sure, you can leverage traditional networking groups to connect with people. But if you work remotely, one of the best networking tools in your arsenal is one you’re probably already using—Slack.
Slack is one of the best ways for teams—whether that’s an in-house team, a remote team, or a freelancer and client—to communicate and collaborate. But it’s also a great way for people who work remotely to build their networks, find new and exciting projects, and connect with potential new colleagues, clients, and friends.
“[Slack] has been a great tool for me to meet people in my field and network with them,” says Sireesha Narumanchi, blogger and founder of Crowdworknews.com. “Having a dedicated channel like #mycity in Slack and having meetups with people in the same field can create many future career growth opportunities [and] collaborations.”
Having a dedicated channel like #mycity in Slack and having meetups with people in the same field can create many future career growth opportunities [and] collaborations.
Search for Slack communities that cater to the kind of people you want to add to your network, such as industry- and location-specific groups (for example, the Portland chapter of AIGA, The Professional Association For Design, has a Slack channel for Portland-based designers where they can chat and share local design-related events). Want to build your network with other people who understand the blessing/curse that is being a freelancer? Request to join popular freelance Slack communities, like Workfrom or #freelance.
The point is, there’s a Slack community for everything and everyone (seriously, just do a Google search!)—and for those who work remotely, it’s the perfect way to build a network of like-minded people. And who knows? Those Slack conversations could turn into IRL connections or lead to your next big break.
4. Start a Podcast
Podcasts are having a serious moment. And they’re good for more than entertaining you during a long drive or a workout—they can be a great way to connect with people in your industry.
“I’ve been able to build an incredible network through my Sales Success Stories Podcast where I interview active, quota carrying, individual contributor sales professionals who are either #1—or at least in the top 1%—of performers at their companies,” says Scott Ingram, who, in addition to the podcast, works from home in an outside sales role.
Hosting someone on a podcast also sets the stage for a deeper, more personal connection than you’d find at, say, a networking event. “Some of these people I might have been able to connect with at an industry event, but in that scenario, I’d be lucky to get more than a few minutes with them,” says Ingram. “The podcast allows me to be proactive and have deep conversations that are often over an hour that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
The podcast allows me to be proactive and have deep conversations that are often over an hour that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Now, granted—starting a podcast is definitely a lot more labor intensive than sending someone a helpful article or joining a Slack community. But if podcasting is something you’re genuinely interested in—and if you’re willing to put in the work to develop and market your show (because let’s be real, who wants to be on a podcast no one listens to?)—it can be an incredibly valuable networking tool. A podcast can give you the opportunity to interview interesting people and get your name out there in your industry—which can lead to more opportunities down the road. And because you don’t have to be in the same place (or even the same time zone) as your guest, you can manage the entire process from your home office.
Interested in exploring podcasting? Read this article about starting a podcast on top of a full-time job and check out this list of podcasting resources and tools to get an idea of what you’ll need to get started.
5. Pursue the Hobbies You Love
The best networks are built organically—so if you spend time pursuing your hobbies (whether they’re work-related or not), they can help you build the strongest (and most authentic!) connections.
“I play intramural sports throughout the season which allows me to meet new friends not only personally but professionally as well,” says India Lott, founder of the web development company Gray Sole Media. “It is a great, non-structured way of getting to know people that also happen to have professional careers.”
I play intramural sports throughout the season which allows me to meet new friends not only personally but professionally as well. It is a great, non-structured way of getting to know people that also happen to have professional careers.
For me, making my passions and hobbies a priority has made the experience of working from home less lonely (I can only talk to my dog for so long!), and it’s been a complete gamechanger when it comes to making new connections—many of which have led to new opportunities. For example, one of my serious passions? Meditation. And while I never planned to use meditation as a way to find clients, I ended up meeting someone at a meditation group who works in an industry I write about—and she referred a ton of new business my way.
The point is, when you spend time doing what you love, it puts you in touch with other people who love what you love, too—and building a network of like-minded people is not only essential from a social perspective, but it can also boost your career. It’s a win-win!
Working remotely certainly presents some challenges in terms of connecting with new people. But with a little creativity and effort (and a willingness to think outside of the box), you can build just as strong of a network as you could in a more traditional office setting—or maybe even stronger! You can do it (mostly) from the comfort of your own home and yes, on some days, even in your pajamas.