Many marketing books and courses talk about the importance of networking. And indeed networking is an important part of getting new clients, and can be one of the most effective ways of meeting potential clients.
But networking only works, if …
… you ensure that you are at the right events where you can meet your potential clients AND where they want to talk about business (and not those ‘networking’ events were you just meet your friends, and were you only speak to those people you already know very well … That is not networking, that’s having a great time with your friends!)
So let’s be honest here with ourselves, many people get a bit uncomfortable when they hear the word ‘networking’, and few people are actually good at:
- introducing themselves to strangers in a professional and memorable way,
- asking the right questions to find those potential leads,
- following up a day later with a phone call to continue the conversation that leads to a sale or project.
I will be honest: I don’t like networking.
I feel often a bit forced into small talk.
Feel (a bit) judged and rarely feel I am talking to the most interesting people at the event (sorry guys!).
I don’t like people who are scanning the room with their eyes over my shoulders for ‘better prospects’.
So, I will mostly speak with people I already know or with the busy organisers, or hover near the exit or food table by myself, leaving at an ‘appropriate’ time.
Most often I actually don’t bother, because as a parent with two young kids, networking in the early evening isn’t that easily organised and not worth my while.
Indeed I very rarely attend networking events.
But I still network, very successfully even …
So, here is …
My personal guide to networking (if you don’t like or can’t network the usual way):
Tip 1. Don’t like networking? Then don’t do it!
Phew! Do you get the shivers if you think about networking? Hate small talk? Hate men in ill-fitted suits talking too much at you? Then don’t do it!
With any marketing that you do it is crucial that you enjoy doing it. Yes, you might be a bit scared, or out of your comfort zone, but you need to enjoy yourself with marketing. Otherwise you will not be very authentic (and most clients are good at sniffing that out!), and your marketing will not be successful or sustainable.
You are creative, so be creative and find marketing techniques and tools that work for you, not against you.
Tip 2. Networking is more than exchanging business cards.
The broader view or purpose of networking is to create a pool of contacts from which you can develop your ideas, products and services through feedback, suggestions and potential introductions to clients, suppliers, partners, freelancers, advisers, referrals etc.
Successful networking isn’t just about getting clients.
That sounds a bit more interesting than exchanging business cards, doesn’t it?
Think about networking as developing your resource, skill and client base. Literally ‘developing your network of connections’.
It’s important to remember that it is a ‘give and a take’. To get successful you probably should give a bit more to start with, and take later …
You can achieve this through a much wider range of ways: online or in person, as part of a group or more individually targeted.
Some of my own favourite networking actions are:
Action 1. Use Twitter & hash tags
Follow somebody on Twitter and comment on their tweets.
Find out which events they go to and arrange a coffee or a meeting at the event. I increasingly use the event’s hash tag to see who will be at an event, and sometimes I invite other attendees to say ‘hi’ before and at an event.
I use Twitter regularly to network with potential partners and press in particular, but also with clients and our Business Club members. We start a discussion on Twitter, then email, and then we phone or meet up.
Twitter is like a great cocktail party and it’s really easy to find like-minded people. And at least you have a starting point for a conversation.
If you want to learn more about Twitter then read these 4 blog posts:
- The Design Doctor: Where to start with social media?,
- How to get more and better Twitter design & craft followers,
- Why twitter won’t get you any clients soon, but it still is my favourite marketing tool.
- The Design Trust top 99 design & craft journalists, media & bloggers to follow on Twitter.
Action 2. Use trade events effectively
Events like trade shows, craft fairs, private views and even training are great for networking too.
I feel much more comfortable networking with people individually, and if I know a little about them and can ask more specific questions. At shows and events I often bump into people, or I can choose to visit their stand.
Use Twitter and event hash tags to let people know in advance you will be attending, and arrange to meet up.
People are at events ‘to do business’ and it’s very easy to have ‘a quick coffee’ and see 10 people in a day. Or I can get quickly an uptodate idea of what a business is doing or to get an intro to a colleague from somebody inside the business. Both crucial info that I use then to follow up more successfully after an event.
Meeting at an event is much easier than arranging a more formal meeting (which is harder to arrange especially if your profile and credibility isn’t that high!)
Networking at events can be quicker, more informal, more targeted, and more spontaneous (as in ‘a quick catch up’). That can be very appealing for the person you want to network with, and therefore can be very effective indeed.
Action 3. Networking with other creatives is essential
Many creatives comment how useful events are not just to sell or get press, but also to network with other creative exhibitors.
If you are doing a show your profile within the creative community increases. If you are working closely together for days on end, it becomes easier to ask a fellow exhibitor certain business questions such as production or technical issues you might have, recommendations for other shows or an accountant, or even to get an introduction to a trade client or buyer.
If you are working in a large studio with other creatives you will have often a similar effect. If you are working alone from home make sure that you join a creative network or training programmes such as organised by Design Factory, Design Gap, Association of Illustrators, Hidden Art, Ideas Tap, or Design Event NE.
Action 4. Go abroad to meet the Brits
International trade shows are great to connect better with other British people!
I discovered this when I took groups of designers to the Milan Furniture fair and when I worked for Studio Levien. If you take part in an overseas trade event then you are ‘stuck’ together for at least a week at a stand or hotel, a great time to start friendships with other designers and makers.
But I also found that UK-based journalists, bloggers and buyers would seek out their fellow UK exhibitors more when they were overseas!
Action 5. Talk at an event
This won’t work for everybody, but I feel more comfortable in public speaking than networking. I take regularly part in conferences, or run workshops and as one of the speakers people will come to me instead of me having to go to them!
Often they are a follow up on what was discussed, and often these are more interesting and focused conversations for both parties.
If you don’t like being one of the main speakers then another good way to network is to ask a good question in public. Very often other participants will approach you, or even the organisers or speaker themselves. Or at least it makes it easier to introduce yourself after the session to the speaker as they will recognise you.
Action 6. Use Linked In to network
Social media site Linked In can be really useful for targeted networking.
It’s great for research for specific names or job titles (e.g. Furniture buyer at John Lewis), or if you have 100+ connections it becomes pretty good in suggesting other people you might know or who might be useful for you.
And you can also search for specific names and see how this person connects with other people already in your network. It’s very useful then to ask for a specific introduction email from the person who knows them already.
Action 7. TOP TIP: Referral partners & other creatives
Create a group of referral partners who work with the same clients as you but who don’t directly compete.
For example if you are a jeweller creating wedding jewellery then you can work together with wedding photographers or wedding stationery designers. Think about doing an event together, featuring each other in a newsletter, or indeed recommend them and provide referrals to each other.
Freelancers in graphic and web design or animation also very often refer business to each other if they are too busy or specialist skills or expertise are required. This is often one of the most effective ways to get freelance design work.
Action 8. Successful networking is about ‘give & take’
Successful networking often means that you first have to give a little before you can take …
Send an email to a warm contact to suggest ‘Want to join me at this event?’ or send a personal and hand-written invite next time you want a gallery owner or journalist to come to your event.
What also works well to network and to stay in touch are ‘I read this and thought of you’ messages. That might be a book or blog post you read, or a Pinterest board. It is a friendly reminder that you are thinking about somebody.
TOP TIP: Give a referral or testimony before you ask for one. This is a really useful way to get better quality referrals too as you set the example.
Action 9. Volunteer for a committee, project or creative group
This will help to increase your profile and meet other creatives regularly.
But you also might find it easier to contact strangers and get in touch with ‘powerful’ people if you are acting on behalf of something else than you and your own business.
Action 10. Stay in touch
Staying in touch regularly in a personal way with for example ex-colleagues or tutors might be the best way to network. They already know you, and are more likely to talk to you, might introduce you to others, and they might have ‘moved on’ and got jobs elsewhere in new companies where they need your skills.
Especially tutors will make many connections over the years and are natural connectors.
You can read here more tips to stay in touch with people without making a nuisance of yourself.
Tip 3. What do you want to get out of networking?
So, loads of new ideas to network beyond the boring networking event!
Let’s get back to the basics: Why do you want to network?
Networking can be useful to get new clients, work and sales, but also to get info about the best local craft fair or online boutique for your ceramics, the best supplier of decals or small jewellery boxes, the best accountant or business coach for your circumstances, or the motivation to keep you going.
You need to become much more focused with your networking to make it work for you:
1. Why do you network? What do you want to know, learn, or contribute to your network? Set yourself some networking goals or actions to make your efforts more effective and less random (especially useful if you haven’t got much time!).
2. Who do you need on your side and who you can help with that?
If you know that then it becomes much easier to start creating a contact list and database. Read here a blog post on how to boost your database if you don’t know enough people to sell to.
3. Think about what the best way is to get in touch with them.
Do you know somebody who knows them already? (using Linked In to find out how you are connected can be really useful – see above in action 6.)
Can you meet them at a conference or fair?
Can you comment on their blog or tweets?
Most people will need to know you a little before they will respond. Don’t forget: give first, before you take!
Before you approach somebody do your research, and when you approach somebody ask specific question, don’t send long rambling emails. Keep any requests simple (ask one or two specific questions only!) and show you have done some research at this stage.
I get too many emails from people who could have found the answer much quicker on Google than contacting me …
I get too many emails requesting meetings for projects I am not interested in, from people I don’t know …
If you do it personal and professional then your chances increase that the person will respond. Check out this blog post on how to write a good intro email that opens doors.
4. Follow up
You can follow up your initial contact with an email or phone call. Following up is crucial, as many professionals are very busy people who get too many people contacting them. Read here how to follow up without making a nuisance of yourself.
And voila your networking has just become much more focused and personal!
5. Never forget to say thank you!
Showing some courtesy to people who you want to contact, who have given you an intro or have helped you in another way, has never done anybody any harm.
I am surprised how often people forget this basic principle. 🙂
It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to others, and it will help to build your professional relationships.
Tip 4. Networking isn’t about you!
Networking is about giving first, and taking later.
You need to add something to your network regularly to make it work.
Networking is about building relationships. And relationships work best both ways.
Nearly every day people tweet me to promote their website, event or Kickstarter campaign. If I am aware of you (e.g. Introduce yourself at a workshop and remind me again, added content to our Linked In group, are a Business Club member, have commented or RTed our tweets etc) I will be much much more likely to do you that favour.
Recently a designer/friend I hadn’t heart from for 15 years requested a reference, without any interest in me or questions about what I had been up to. I didn’t have a clue what she had been up to either, and as it was more a demand then a request, so I suggested she would give me an update first on what work she was doing.
Didn’t hear back (unfortunately).
You need to stay in touch and build trust. If you then have a commercially sensitive question or want a favour (e.g. An intro to a journalist, important contact, potential specialist supplier or manufacturer) it’s much more likely people in your network will give you the answer.
Tip 5: Don’t follow up? Then you’re wasting your time!
How many business cards have you got lurking in your hand bag or drawer? To be added to you database ‘later’?
The reality is that if you don’t follow up regularly and fairly quickly after you have met a potential contact, then they will forget about you again. Nothing personal, just being a human being. And a very busy human being at that.
And all your networking has been a waste.
Want to learn more about networking, promoting yourself & marketing?
I can help! I run regularly The Design Trust Get Clients Now! coaching programme: an intensive 6-week online course for creative professionals who want to boost their marketing skills and confidence, create a marketing plan that works for them and their business, and who want to increase their sales and get more clients!
This programme uniquely combines online training about the 6 most effective marketing techniques to get you more and better clients, and how to approach clients successfully and more confidently. You will set your own marketing goal and I will help you identify the 10 most successful marketing actions for you to get more clients for your business (and no … if you don’t like networking, then you won’t be doing that!).
You will be part of a small group of like-minded creative professionals to help and support you in 5 weekly group coaching calls, and I will be giving you individual coaching and advice too. Great to get into action and get the accountability that you need!
Does this sound perfect for what you need? You can get all the info about our next Get Clients Now! coaching programme here.