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5 ways to use your network to grow side income

5 ways to use your network to grow side income

It’s called a side hustle for a reason – you have to do a bit of hustling.

Self promotion doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but getting the word out to your network is the easiest and fastest way to ramp up business. After all, it’s really hard to get work when no one knows you’re available.

Sure, there are tons of freelance sites to peruse, but you have no idea who you’re competing with or who is looking at your application. There is nothing quite like a recommendation from someone who actually knows you. According to Apollo Technical, “Referred employees are four times more likely to get employed than those who are not.” That’s a huge difference.

Plus, long-term opportunities are often not listed on these sorts of sites. When hiring for consistent work with diverse briefs, people are looking for a friend. Or a friend of a friend. A friend of a friend’s sister… You get the point. So if you’re ready to stop having your name float in the ether of the internet and actually start earning that sweet side income, you have to leverage your network.

Here’s five ways to make the most of your network, albeit in a way that feels the least abnormal to everyone involved.

1. Join the conversation

Friends, family, former co-workers, current coworkers, classmates are all incredible resources. Take it from leadership expert and business school professor David Burkus’ TEDTalk:

“Some of the biggest wins, the low-hanging fruit in networking, if you will, comes not from meeting total strangers, but actually from reaching out to old friends… those friends that you used to be close with, but for whatever reason, you don't talk to as much anymore. And because those people are in different social circles now, or different industries, sometimes different geographies, they provide the same new information and new opportunities than total strangers would, but it's easier to build rapport because they're literally your friends.”

There’s this misconception that networking has to be slimy or deceptive. In reality, networking is just engaging in your relationships.

There’s this misconception that networking has to be slimy or deceptive. In reality, networking is just engaging in your relationships. It’s happening all the time, not just at awkward industry events. So when someone asks how you are or what you’ve been up to, be honest. You’ve been starting a side hustle. You’re excited about it. If they know of anyone looking for your kind of work, they should reach out. What’s new with them?

Putting this into action IRL

I recently did this both successfully and completely by accident. I was catching up with a friend I’d met at an old job, and I mentioned that I’d been taking on more freelance work to pay for an upcoming trip. She stopped me and said that her company has been looking for a part-time editor. Her exact words? “I don’t know why I didn’t think of you!” You have to help people think of you. Which brings me to…

2. Just send the email

Send the email. And one more time for good measure – send the email. It doesn’t have to be overly formal or sales-y.

Don’t think about it as pitching yourself, think about it as letting people know that you’re around and interested in helping out if they need it or hear of someone who does. Shockingly, people aren’t usually thinking about you. They need a little nudge to remember that you’re out there and good and what you do.

Putting this into action IRL

Here’s a template for said nudge, if you need a little help to start drafting.

Hi [recipient's name],

Hope all is well with you! I was thinking about you recently because [insert topic].

I’m reaching out because I just started a side business, [short description]. I’m mostly working on [brief overview], but I’d also be open to [additional item].

I’m actively looking for new clients, so if you know anyone looking for that kind of support, send them my way! Here’s my website [insert URL] for more information.

Thanks for keeping me in mind and I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to. What’s the latest with [their business]?

3. No need for narrow “network” definitions

We all know what it’s like to look for work or to want more information about a particular client. So don’t be afraid to tap someone you don’t know that well (if at all.) Common threads may include:

  • Did you go to the same university?
  • Do they know your old boss?
  • Have you worked at similar companies?
  • Do you admire their work?
  • Do they also love triathlons?

Reach out, be curious about their work, and tell them a little about your own. People want to help. And who knows when you’ll come to mind in the future.

Putting this into action IRL

Personally, I went to a small women’s college in New York City. I will make time for any alumna who asks for advice or intel. I’ve probably taken 30 or so of these meetings. I loved my alma mater and helping recent (or not-so-recent) grads makes me feel like I’m giving back to the community.

4. Help someone else

If someone reaches out to you to help boost their side business, be generous. Not only will you see it’s not that big of a deal, you’ll also have someone down to return the favor when there’s work they’re not suited for. Perhaps counterintuitively, it’s best to help the people who have a side hustle similar to your own. Everyone needs to scale back sometimes or has to say no to a job. Passing along opportunities will benefit both of you and effectively doubles your network.

Putting this into action IRL

One simple way to pay it forward is by writing a testimonial for people you’ve worked with in the past. It only takes a few minutes, but it’s a meaningful gesture that can go a long way in solidifying relationships.

5. Stay in touch well after you get the gig

If someone took the time to recommend you or pass along your information, you owe it to them to do good work and be great to work with.  But this isn’t just about human decency, it’s about word of mouth.

Every job is an opportunity to expand your network and, as a result, your business. Even if you don’t expect to work with a particular person again, you never know if reaching out to them in the future (ie: sending the email) will unlock an incredible opportunity.