When I moved from Edinburgh to Ibiza two years ago I really thought it would be a case of "out of sight, out of mind". In fact, far from being forgotten, I've not only kept in touch with many of my old friends, clients and contacts, I've managed to broaden the UK circle. And, they've continued to offer me work.

I wish I could pretend this was part of some carefully planned scheme, but I'd be lying. What's happened is, almost by accident, I've found myself following a variation on the highly publicised strategy that's supposed to be shaking the music industry to its foundations.

Earlier this year the Arctic Monkeys caused a fuss by selling truckloads of their debut album, mostly through an online community called MySpace, bypassing the usual marketing channels and selling straight to their fans.

Actually, what they did wasn't all that new. Six years ago the distinctly unfashionable Marillion emailed their fans asking them to pay upfront for luxury copies of their next CD and raised enough to avoid the need for a record-company advance.

Before the internet, most of a band's contact with fans came from touring. In business, networking performs a similar function. When I first arrived in Ibiza, almost everybody who was paying for my services was somebody I'd swapped business cards with back in Scotland. Not any longer. A growing number of my clients I've never seen in my life.

Instead of conference centres and bars, I now meet most of my contacts online through various discussion forums. Some of these are sophisticated membership organisations based around a website. Others use simple mailing lists. The mechanics of how they function doesn't really matter. It's who belongs and participates that counts.

And if you can find the right networks they're a great way of finding work and, from my point of view, they have the unbeatable advantage that geography is no barrier.

I can be sitting at my desk in Spain keeping in touch with all the gossip and professional developments while subtly touting for work just as easily as in Scotland. Of course I can't press the flesh as often, but anybody returning from abroad has a little bit of celebrity, which is useful when you do make it to a meeting.

Whether networking online or face-to-face, the more you put in, the more you are likely to get out. If your only contribution is the mercenary pursuit of work you may not get much response. If, however, you join in the discussions it's far more likely to be fruitful.

As with any group, though, debate tends to be dominated by a small number of participants. So when you first join you can feel ignored. But it is worth persevering, remembering that the vast majority of forum members don't join in most of the time, but just lurk and read the postings. They are often the ones that will offer you work.

It is definitely worthwhile setting up your own website or blog. It doesn't have to be complex. But do make sure that it's mentioned in your email signature so when you post to a forum it's easy for people to find out more about your skills and can get in contact easily. The alternative is to display your email address, which may attract the unwelcome attention of spammers.

Finding the most useful forums is a real challenge. There are the large generalist networks such as Ecademy and myriad others, generally focused on a specific industry or geographical area. Ask around, as even the most active groups don't necessarily show up on Google and it does help if there are a few members you know already.

In the spirit of online networking I'd be interested to share advice and experiences with readers who are attempting to follow the same lifestyle as me, self-employed telecommuters working in one country while living in another. These responses may form the basis for future columns and articles.

Nick Clayton is a freelance writer and web content consultant. Email: [email protected]



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