Tia Meyers launched Freelancing Females as a Facebook group in 2017 to get advice on how to resolve a nonpayment issue with a client, but she soon realized the forum was a great way to connect with other women navigating the ever-expanding gig economy. When Carey Jordan joined the group after quitting her full-time job in 2019, she quickly found community among other women who understood the challenges of working while parenting, from landing 1099 projects to making time to excel at work and at home, down to the fact that after-hours networking events are out of the question when you have a young child.
And in the year since the pandemic upended business as usual, Freelancing Females has swelled to 52,000 global members in search of job leads, freelancing tips, career advice and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of community while much of the physical world is still off limits.
In the absence of in-person events, Meyers and Jordan shared with CNBC Make It their top tips for making the most of your virtual network, for both professional and personal connection.
With plenty of options for finding online networking and community groups, it can be helpful to be highly specific about the types of conversations and virtual events that will serve you at this moment.
For example, Meyers started Freelancing Females as a way to share questions and answers specific to the experience of finding, negotiating and navigating 1099 work, and it remains the core foundation that brings its members together. Some of the most engaged discussion threads are around how much to charge for a certain project, or negotiating pay with a client.
During the pandemic, however, Meyers has found that many conversations bounce between personal and professional, such as managing burnout and the unique challenges women have experienced during the pandemic. If you're looking for this type of connection through networking, check to see if those kinds of conversations are encouraged on the online forum, or if any virtual events are tailored toward discussing the personal side of working through a pandemic.
Jordan says she was "nervous to network" when she first joined Freelancing Females.
In order to forge more authentic connections, she encourages finding ways to create "bathroom moments" in an online setting — referring to moments of running into a stranger in the bathroom of a restaurant or bar and paying them a compliment.
"We should be creating more of those" in an online setting, Jordan says, "where you see someone cool and just say, 'Hey, I resonate with your comment.' It's that simple."
Jordan adds that for the first few months, she spent most of her time in Freelancing Females engaging with people one-on-one in this way, without any expectation that it would turn into a networking opportunity per se, but simply to get to know them.
"It about those little opportunities and windows to build rapport with people, without expectations," she says. "When you drop the expectation, it's easier to navigate."
While many may think of networking as a stuffy way to get your name out there, Meyers says it's a good opportunity to find new and interesting ways to tell your professional story.
"Don't go through your normal elevator pitch," Meyers says. Instead, use the space of an online forum to tell personal, and perhaps vulnerable, stories that fit into your career narrative.
For example, Meyers might discuss how her freelance life has led her on a quest to find the best dog-friendly cafes to work from in Brooklyn, alongside her dog Mango. And for her part, Jordan's conversations around her now 5-year-old son has led her to network with fellow moms about the ups and downs of parenting while working.
Earnest conversations around the challenges of working through a pandemic have also led to more authentic connections, which can then turn into job leads and referrals. "The beauty of this has been that people are more willing to share their work-from-home life and struggles," Meyers says, "and that's been a huge way to connect."