Is networking as an IT contractor important, and how to network successfully?

As many ContractorUK readers will be aware, the best-networked contractors are able to maximise their day rate, take control of their professional lives, and often secure the most fulfilling opportunities.

So yes, if you want to get the most out of freelance contracting, networking isn’t a nice-to-do occasionally, it’s vitally important, writes Matt Collingwood, managing director of IT recruitment agency VIQU.

Networking isn’t one for the introverted, like system or process experts. Or is it?

I know reading this testament to the importance of networking will make some less than outgoing contractors quiver, but there is nothing to fear!

Some techies I know are introverted and couldn’t imagine anything worse than standing in a room full of ‘networkers.’ They work better by themselves and avoid social situations.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Yet they too can be ‘networkers.’ It’s a common misconception that networking is nothing more than knowing lots of people and being the life and soul of every party.

In reality, networking is really all about processes, consistency and being proactive.

And of course there are both proactive and reactive networkers in the technology industry -- both can be commercially beneficial. Whichever one you are, here are my top networking tips for contractors to hopefully leave you in no doubt about how important networking as a contractor is, when executed correctly.

Seven networking tips for tech contractors

1. Cut out the middle-man

I’m sure my agency colleagues will flog me on the recruitment streets for this, but I’ve known contractors make the effort to keep in touch with previous clients, resulting in future assignments without the need for recruitment agents like myself.

I know contractors who have gone through direct channels, nicking the recruitment agency’s margin in the process – netting an up to 20% increase in some cases!

Please note, most agencies will have a restrictive covenant in their contracts, so remember this before getting serious about engaging any old clients. Related, many agencies use tricks like checking your latest LinkedIn posts to ensure you’ve not returned direct-to-client within this period. With most agencies having deeper pockets to go through legal channels, and strong evidence with signed contracts, don’t fall into this trap.

2. Stay in the minds of your contacts

Following on from this last point about the importance of networking so you can do-direct, lucratively, I’d recommend following these simple steps every time you finish a project.

  • Update your CV
  • Share that CV with your network of former clients and recruitment agents (-- you could get lucky with a case of right place, right time!)
  • Upload this latest and refreshed CV to relevant job boards and look through job ads (-- but be aware, sending the new CV directly and utilising your existing network will have far superior results).

3. Use LinkedIn to your advantage

Leverage LinkedIn! I can’t stress this enough – the LinkedIn platform really is where your target audience of recruiters and ex/potential clients will be browsing on a daily basis.

So connect with your managers and colleagues on each assignment you take; follow the client-organisation page, and then take a couple of minutes every day to scroll through your feed. For instance, you might see your ex-manager has shared an interesting industry article. A comment and ‘like’ of it could be one of the quickest, yet most rewardings thing you do all day!

With LinkedIn, take the time to keep your profile up-to-date.

And remember to make it good – your contacts will get an alert every time you start a new role, so your profile will likely be their first port of call.

Small engagements likes this on LinkedIn might seem minor, but they keep you ‘alive’ and relevant in the minds of people who could be holding your next contract opportunity in their hands.

4. Automate greetings

Automating greetings might be a step too far for some contractors, but there is no harm in turning to automation to keep in touch with people.

Again, LinkedIn is a great place to start. You’ll receive daily birthday alerts, and it takes less than a second to press ‘yes’ to sending a ‘Happy Birthday’ message.

To really earn your networking stripes, you could go further and schedule emails to go out to ex-clients and recruiters at various points in the year. So Easter, Christmas, anniversaries etc. It’d take 10 minutes to schedule these emails, but then you are sorted for the entire year.

5. Make introductions

Introduce other contactors and good agents to your new client, and they will be indebted to you and ‘owe you one.’

Please again note, some agencies may have a clause restricting you from introducing third parties. Therefore again check out the signed paperwork to truly know what you can and can’t do when it comes to connecting people.

6. Protect your network with contractor gold dust

I’ve said this time and time again, but it’s important. Your previous managers and stakeholders will move on. When they do, you risk losing a previous ‘referee,’ ‘advocate’ or ‘testimonial’ writer.

To protect your unique network, each time you finish an assignment, ask your manager/stakeholder for a reference, either on the company’s letter headed paper or an office email. This ‘brag folder’ of references is like contractor gold dust, as it gives peace of mind to future clients about your technical abilities.

7. And finally, socialise!

Most social contractors are invited (and make the effort) to attend social meet-ups with former team members. These are proven to be great platforms for knowledge-sharing and to hear about upcoming projects -- projects which could use someone with your skills.

This level of social engagement isn’t for everyone. But for those that are comfortable with doing this, it is a phenomenal way to meet people within your space.

Tech meet-ups and events for technologists or contractors with certain skillsets are fantastic ways to boost your career prospects, too. I know a Microsoft Dynamics Project Manager who secures most of his contracts using these meets alone. Further to that actually, the PM has even hired a number of team members through these exact same events! Let it never be asked again whether networking is important for contractors.

Tuesday 6th Jun 2023
Profile picture for user Matt Collingwood

Written by Matt Collingwood

Matt Collingwood is the Managing Director of VIQU Ltd. an IT recruitment and project-based consultancy company with offices in Birmingham and Southampton. Matt is also the co-founder of the Recruitment Canaries, a network of West Midlands based recruitment agencies who encourage collaboration, best practice and upholding the standards and ethics of the recruitment industry.

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