14 years ago I left my full time job as a graphic designer. I had nothing planned and no work to go to. It wasn’t the best of departures from the company I had been working for. They weren’t the best of employers and by the time I left I was so desperate to get out of there I didn’t even care that I had no job to go to. Prior to this (rather horrible) job I had worked at a two other companies, one of which was Freemans catalogue. Despite the fact this wasn’t the most creative work and they were based in Stockwell (not the nicest area of London) I loved the job. I got to travel the world art directing photo-shoots (pretty awesome) but more than that the creative department was young, dynamic, fun and enthusiastic. We all wanted to make the most of the jobs we had and during that time I made some amazing friends.
Fast forward to those years later and leaving that horrendous job. What did I do on my first day unemployed? I decided I would freelance for a while and so I started calling all the friends I had made from my Freemans days. By this point many of them had moved to different companies and many of them were in rolls that enabled them to bring on freelance staff. Through those friends I got freelance work. Through that work I made more connections and then got more work. For 6 years I freelanced as graphic designer and art director and I didn’t go to one interview. I didn’t apply for one job. All the work I got was from word of mouth and recommendations. From people getting in touch with me to see if I was available to work.
All the work was from my network of colleagues and friends! THIS is the importance of networking.
I am an outgoing person, I am an extrovert and I can cope with being in the scary situation of not knowing people and having to introduce myself and just chat. I can get on with pretty much anyone. I know this is a fortunate characteristic to have when you are in the business of promoting yourself and running your own business. I also know not everyone finds it that easy and for some of you the idea of meeting people you don’t know will make your palms sweaty and give you palpitations!
There are ways to network and ways to get over the scary stuff. Here are a few pointers that will help.
- THINK OF WHAT YOU CAN GIVE TO OTHERS
This really is one of the most important things to remember when networking. While everyone wants to make their own business a success no one is an island and thinking purely of what YOU can get out of networking will get you nowhere. Why should someone support your business when they don’t know you? When you first start networking with new people think about how you can support them? Can you recommend them for a job? Can you share tweets they put out? Can you share facebook posts they are sharing? Think of the small ways you can say to someone else ‘I think your business is great, I would like to support you.’ By offering your support to their business people will start to see you as someone who is helpful and nice to work with. You will build friendships and good professional relationships based on mutual support. When the time comes they will remember you when they are thinking of who to recommend.
- SOCIAL MEDIA IS A GOOD PLACE TO START
If the idea of hurling yourself into a network event scares the life out of you then you can start networking on social media. When I first set up my photography business I would spend an hour or two every evening on Twitter. I introduced myself to people, I followed people, I chatted, got involved in conversations and then started promoting my business at various weekly tweet up ‘hours’. One that I always enjoy is #weddinghour. This was set up by Lisa Hogg of The Wedding Affair and runs from 9-10pm every Wednesday and is a great place to get your work out there and also to meet and chat with fellow wedding professionals.
If Facebook is more your think there are a lot of groups that you can join and network in. Search and find ones that are relevant to your business or areas you would be interested in.
- NETWORK EVENTS
At some point it really is necessary to meet up with people. Social media is great, but nothing beats actually chatting to people face to face. Many of the Facebook groups will organise meet ups so why not try attending one of those? Most of the ones have been to are relaxed meet ups in bars or pubs, so nothing too full on. Remember that many of the people going won’t know that many people. If you are a bit nervous about attending on your own, why not suggest meeting up with someone before? Most people would be happier walking into a network event with someone else so don’t feel you can’t ask!
If the idea of attending a bigger network event still feels out of your comfort zone one way to network in a less scary way is to arrange something yourself with a small number of people. Once you have been chatting to people on social media for a while, why not arrange an afternoon tea or lunch with a small number of those who you have connected with?
- ARRANGE 1-2-1’s
I have to be honest, I quite like network events. Often its a chance to get away from the office, to actually speak to real people (something you need to do when self employed!) and a time to have a good catch up with friends I have made in the industry. The downside of network events is they are often busy, loud and not necessarily the best places for actually chatting business. This is why I also like to do 1-2-1’s with people. This isn’t as formal as it sounds! It’s a chance to catch up with one person who you would love to connect with. It can be a chance to just get to know the other person and their business a little better. Or it can be the chance to talk about ideas you might have that might include their business in one way or another. Think tea & cake or wine & nibbles. Unsure how to approach someone? Try putting together a friendly email, telling them why you like their business, what you do and what you would like to chat to them about. Suggesting a coffee meet up is a great place to start.
- STYLED SHOOTS
A discussion on styled shoots is a whole blog post on it’s own. In fact I could run a workshop about how to do styled shoots (watch this space!). For the sake of keeping this as a bullet point, Ill keep it brief. For those in the wedding industry styled shoots are an amazing way of networking and creating business contacts! Being involved in or organising a styled shoot allows you to work with those in the industry you would love to work with. It gives you the chance to get to know other people in a creative environment, show them how you work and build a great rapport and team feeling. Many of the people in the wedding industry who I love to work with now are people who I have done styled shoots with.
You should see networking as one avenue of your marketing plan. It’s as valid as any other strategy for building your business, creating demand and getting new clients.
Remember…networking is not about selling your business to people, it’s about connecting with others in business who will become your cheerleaders.
I would love to hear your thoughts on networking. What works for you? What do you enjoy doing? Have you any new ideas on networking to build your business? Feel free to share.
Thanks for popping by.