Networking Effectively Online and Offline 101
“Your network is your net worth.”
Networking is the art of developing professional and social contacts. Can you list yours?
Valuable and strategic contacts can play a key role in professional growth. However, it seems harder and harder to get someone’s attention, but it doesn’t have to be.
In just one click, two creatives from two different countries can collaborate. But how can you make networking work for you instead of leaving it to chance?
Don’t be aimless.
Know Your Why
Firstly, know why you want to network. For example, is it to promote a show; find new leads (potential clients, but unsure) or clients (people who will pay); pitch an idea, service or product; collaborate, or seek mentorship or other advice? Networking does not and should not just be about taking – make sure there is a balance between getting inspired or just appreciating and sharing someone else’s work. Better yet, give them something of value, rather than take (this one’s important).
How to Network 101
1. Make a schedule – if you don’t have a plan how will you know where to start? If it’s social media, (we both know you’re on it a lot more than you admit) chances are you should be interacting at least once per week related to your ‘why’ (see above). Schedule yourself: X hrs per week on Sunday, or 1 event per month after work.
2. Professionalism – is your portfolio up-to-date and ready to go? There’s nothing worse than letting someone know, ‘it’s not all there, but…’ If you don’t have the time to showcase your own work, what message are you sending? Communicate professionally at all times because your reputation is forever – especially as a digital tattoo. I’ve seen messages that are aggressive, demanding, and don’t include a simple thank you. Make sure to start and end politely. No one has to freely give you their time and knowledge. They might be busy, uninterested, or receive a lot of requests. Don’t take it personally, and don’t give up (you know the story of J.K. Rowling’s rejections or unsuccessful American Idols).
3. Research – are events agonizing for you? If your aim is to get more clients, you attend more events to increase your chances (if you ace everything on this list). Use Facebook events or groups, Meetup, Eventbrite, or check out art listings in your city, such as galleries, music events, community gatherings connected to the art world. Above all, do not rely only on digital connections, meeting in person can pay off.
4. Research people – this is often overlooked. Know who will be at an event and why, so you can speak accordingly. If you have specific questions about finances or publishing, find the right person to speak with, or ask if anyone knows someone. If you like their work let them know you’re a fan. Don’t be poorly researched. If they have videos or a website go to that first. Tag them in your posts with something personal. Make it memorable.
5. Memorize your pitch – how do you want to start a conversation? If you're an introvert, you better be practising in front of a mirror or with a friend. Share what’s unique about you, and get passionate speaking about yourself. Understand how to make a pitch you’re comfortable making based on your ask. There are resources on, how not market yourself, on ‘creating the perfect pitch’ here, here and here. To sum, your ‘pitch’ should really make someone say, ‘tell me more!’ Make yourself positively memorable – vibes are key.
6. Psychological preparation – does the thought of networking make your stomach churn? Or does another networking event bore you to death? Finding, preparing, networking and pitching can sound like a lot, even if it’s informal, ‘feel free to check out my work, here’s my Instagram – no pressure if you don’t. Nice meeting you.’ But you do need to be okay with nerves or getting turned down. The solution: remain curious. You're learning and that means knocking on a few wrong doors. If you’re consistent enough, you refine, and keep pushing. The ‘no’ will clear the way for the ‘yes’ meant for you.
7. Think outside the box - Perhaps you hate an event, it’s too pink washed, or too happy, or it’s ‘not your style,’ or niche. I’ve had friends decide not to go to such events. While this is true on the surface, but what if somebody at the event wants your hand made designs at their next sponsored event in all of their gift bags? What if you can be the graphic designer for their next conference with over 1000 participants? Or what if that annoying looking person is interested and says the magic words, ‘let me make an introduction…’ – do not limit your networking imagination.
8. Follow-up – Be sure to follow-up in one week with a kind message. Add each other on LinkedIn or Instagram. Send a note, Thanks for sharing X (something they said), I really appreciate your time. Please stay in touch, sincerely X. Include all of the links to your work. Be diligent, accessible, and open for communication. (Do not respond to their email one month later. Be courteous and respond within 48 hours).
Approach as if you’re Ready
If you think it’s hard to communicate with a stranger, do you think potential clients or collaborators will reach out to you in a sea of other artists? It’s up to you to share your talents and voice with the world – there’s a reason why were given them.
Be self-aware, know why you’re networking and practice the skills – Rome wasn’t built in a day. Most importantly, your personal story is your brand, even if you’re unsure of exactly what that is at first. Start at one point and just go - do it scared.
Community Economic Development, retired analogue photographer, and other fun social justice chit-chat. Toronto. MBA ’19. Twitter @SalomehA