3 Networking Tools Every Military Spouse Freelancer Needs
If you’re a military spouse, freelance work and building your own business have probably at least crossed your mind as you scoured traditional job opening announcements after each PCS. Maybe you’ve dismissed the option because you’re worried about the networking part of the business. Even if you have plenty of experience, putting yourself into the world and having enough confidence to convince someone to pay you for your work is hard!
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At some point, all freelancers have to dip a toe into the networking pool if they want an income. Networking is a little scary for everyone, even extroverts, but there are ways to make it work for your personality. Take it from me, a 13-year veteran freelancer, it can be done, but it’s a constant hustle. Don’t worry; practice will make you (at least) a little more comfortable over time.
I’ve rounded up a few tools to help you hone your networking game—starting with my favorite, LinkedIn.
1) Create a Profile on LinkedIn
Don’t put off creating a LinkedIn profile because you think it's only for old figureheads touting their business prowess. You’re missing a huge opportunity to network with other freelancers who are military and non-military related. Using LinkedIn makes it easy to tap into the best of both worlds and connect with people who offer free advice, resources, and opportunities—all without direct face-to-face contact!
If you’re new to LinkedIn, I can’t express the importance of getting an attractive profile up and ready. Notice I didn’t say perfect profile. Your profile is always a work in progress as time permits and your experience and education change.
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Use one of these resources if you need help getting your LinkedIn profile in working order.
- LinkedIn Profiles for Military Spouses
- LinkedIn for Veterans and Military Spouses
- The Beginner's Guide to an Effective LinkedIn Profile
Next, join any military spouse-related group that suits you, whether freelance-related or not. You’ll begin to grow your network simply by joining and meeting fellow spouses. You should also follow and connect with other military spouse entrepreneurs and freelancers to learn what type of content they create and who they share it with to find new clients.
Hashtags are an easy way to see relevant posts, and they’re an exceptional filter for finding other professionals like you.
Start with these hashtags to get the networking started:
When you’re ready to find like-minded freelancers in your field who aren’t necessarily military-connected, hit the search bar with #freelance + your industry:
LinkedIn is a platform where you only get a return on your investment if you regularly contribute your expertise, ask questions, and leave insightful and positive comments. You might have to put another social media account on hiatus for a while to give LinkedIn the attention it deserves. Remember, you’re selling your know-how every time you post.
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2) Join Professional Industry Groups
Whether you’re just starting your freelance career or you're a seasoned pro, there’s always something more to learn. One of the ways to grow professionally and network at the same time is to join professional groups related to your industry.
Some of the best gigs come from colleagues in your network who trust your work and refer you if they see an opportunity that fits your style. For example, freelance photographers might consider joining Women in Photography International, Professional Photographers of America, or Photographic Society of America.
All freelancers, regardless of industry, should tune into the Freelancers Union. It's an advocacy group that shares information about everything freelance lifestyle-related. You can read about relevant legislation, use their tools, network, and learn just about everything you need to create a successful business.
MilitaryByOwner co-founder Sharon Gran with a military spouse at a MilSpouseFest event.
3) Attend Professional Military Spouse Programs and Conferences
There’s an entire freelance subculture built within the military spouse world because we’ve had to adapt to relocation challenges and under-employment for decades, so take advantage of the currently available options to network and potentially meet a new business best friend.
Start with a no–brainer, MilitaryOneSource. They’ve created an entire portal for military spouses navigating the gig economy. It touches on what to expect if you’re OCONUS, too. MySECO is attached to MilitaryOneSource and supports freelancers through coaching and mentoring. Anytime you can connect with a mentor, your personal network grows thanks to their willingness to share contacts and help you succeed.
Don’t forget to check in with your college alum networks and career centers. Many have online directories and local meet-up chapters across the country. LinkedIn is also a great place to join alum groups, expand your circle of knowledge, and maybe send a pitch or two to show off your skills.
It might not be your favorite way to network, but in-person events often yield the best contacts. Plus, they’re the easiest to find and attend because military bases often have resources and events to share through their career centers. If you’re not near a military base, local chamber of commerce events and professional groups regularly have gatherings for newcomers and themed events like Breakfast with Chamber Members.
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If you do it right, conferences are a mix of fun, entertainment, and networking. If you can round up a friend, it's always better to attend with a battle buddy, but if you’re going solo, you’ll have to adopt a friendly-first mindset to connect with tablemates at lunch and seat neighbors during break-out sessions.
Check out the conference circuit for your industry, for example, one of the most attended freelancer events, the American Society of Journalists and Authors Annual Conference. It rotates locations yearly and also puts on smaller events year-round.
If you prefer the familiarity of military networking, look into the Military Influencer Conference in Las Vegas. It’s a great way to meet well-known speakers, influencers, and experts in military culture. You won’t regret learning from someone who understands your lifestyle and offers entrepreneurship tips.
Or, if it travels to your part of the country, attend one of the free MilSpouseFest events. They’re not strictly work-related, but it's the perfect opportunity to meet event corporate sponsors at their table and perhaps discuss freelance work. Plus, they’re just fun! Presenting sponsor USAA is always in the house, and you’ll sometimes find MilitarybyOwner’s co-founders Sharon and Dave Gran giving away prizes and answering housing questions.
It’s hard to adopt a patient mindset when building a network, especially when freelance life turns upside down and you need income fast. But networking is just that, working to develop a web of connections you can genuinely support, and in return, they’re happy to help you. It takes time and effort, but as a freelancer, it's the #1 way to boost your income and work with clients who appreciate your expertise and are a pleasure to work with.
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