Livin’ the freelance life more often means budgeting than living extravagantly. It can be tough to attend events when some price tags can cause breath disruption just from a glance. Conference prices can range anywhere from a week’s worth of income to a few months worth. And that’s not including the travel, food, and accommodations for those that come in from out of town.
One way to save your budget and attend the event of your dreams is to volunteer. Some events will give volunteers a discounted or even free ticket to attend the event in exchange for a certain number of volunteer hours. This can be a real saving for cash-strapped freelancers, but there are also some added benefits for your networking.
Depending on your role as a volunteer, you might have easier access to the speakers and organizers of the event who are the movers and shakers of your market. Volunteers are likely to be there early and or stay late, giving them more opportunities to have one-on-one time with the people they want to connect with.
Benefits the Network
Giving back to the network and event community is one of the easiest ways to get your foot in the door. By being a volunteer, you’ve helped someone in the community. You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours in action. Those whom you’ve helped as a volunteer will be more interested in helping you in return.
‘I often volunteer at events and most recently I did so at OuiShare Fest in Paris. We’re a group of 150 people and every single one of them has an interesting story, background, and passion. By building this all together, the connections you make go much deeper than they would if you would meet as regular attendees.’ – Arthur Lanter, Wevolution
Test the Market
If you’re entering a new market or are interested in learning more about a certain field, an event can give you a closer look at the people who are in that market and the problems they’re facing.
Knowing the event from a volunteer’s perspective may also spark your interest in staying involved with that event long term.
‘Shortly after the launch of CoCooking, I had a chance to volunteer at Coworking Europe Conference. I had a very diverse roll, which gave me the opportunity to talk to lots of different people and get their opinions and ideas for the business. It gave me lots of new ideas and considerations, which I may never have thought of if it wasn’t for all those I talked to.’ – Albert Argilés Llorens, CoCooking
More Relaxed Networking
One of the best aspects of volunteering for an event is you’ll have more opportunities to network in a low-pressure and relaxed environment. Volunteers are more likely to spend time together and build relationships over a longer period of time, making for better, more natural networking.
Volunteers will network with one another, but there’s also the opportunity for relaxed networking with organizers and speakers. It’s the best of all worlds! Event volunteers might work the front table, greeting attendees as they arrive, drive speakers to and from the airport, guide speakers backstage, organize catering, or any number of other tasks. Just think of the networking opportunities that might present themselves.
‘I recently volunteered by giving a recruitment workshop at an event for small business owners. Being a volunteer, I was invited to the speakers’ dinner the night before the event, and the organizer took the time to introduce me to many different, influential people. I might have met those people if I were a regular guest, but being a volunteer and being introduced definitely made it easier and more efficient. I was networking from the moment I arrived in a very natural manner.’ – Roosmarijn de Boer, Empowered People
As a volunteer for the event, you have a built-in ice breaker. Volunteers are often knowledgeable about the event and what’s going on, meaning people will seek you out to ask questions. Your knowledge makes you an easy conversation partner which can transition into networking.
Even when people aren’t asking for advice, your role as a volunteer can be a great conversation starter. You can share some inside stories about the event or just share your experience. Being a volunteer just gives you one more story in your pocket when bridging the awkward conversation gap with a new connection.
Doesn’t it feel good to help others? Yeah, all of these benefits are nice and a free ticket can’t be beaten, but let’s not forget the benefit of just helping others to help others.
Networking is work, there are very few people that will disagree with you on that. Being a volunteer at an event can bring you many benefits that will make networking feel a little less like work and little more like fun.