Networking has gotten a bit of a bad rap in creative industries. When you think of networking, you might imagine boring cocktail parties in hotel conference rooms or awkward meet-ups with cold pizza. If this is the case, it’s time for a redefinition.
Networking is not about the number of connections you have on LinkedIn or the amount of business cards you are able to collect. It is about building meaningful relationships with people who share the same professional interests as you. It is a reciprocal process that helps elevate the quality of any creative community. As an artist or freelancer, networking is ultimately about finding a place for your work to live and grow. This can be intimidating for the most seasoned networker, but keep in mind that the quality of your portfolio or the design of your website doesn’t matter much if nobody ever sees it.
Through the power of meaningful connections, you can make professional contacts that will open doors and give your work exposure and feedback. That might mean a few awkward situations at first, but by changing the way you see and approach networking, you’re more likely to make great contacts and actually enjoy it in the process. Here are ten tip practical steps you can take to start networking like a pro.
- Reframe it. If the idea of networking seems sterile and transactional to you, again, think of it instead as building relationships. It’s about connecting with someone on a deeper level. If you focus on getting to know the person in front of you, showing a genuine interest in them, and speaking authentically about who you are and what you’re doing, it takes away from the pressure and awkwardness of the situation and you’re more likely to form a genuine bond.
- Focus your efforts. It is important to make smart choices about the type of networking you engage in—especially if you’re an introvert and/or short on time. What kinds of activities do you prefer? If you don’t like large group events, try to find smaller gatherings or schedule coffee one-on-one. If you’re feeling low on energy but still want to take a networking step, try reaching out through email or connect with others on social media. Focus on quality interactions. One personal and well-thought-out message is worth 20 generic ones.
- Diversify channels. Thanks to the digital age, in-person events aren’t the only place to network. Balance face-to-face events with online networking through social media. Follow people you admire on Twitter and start a conversation. Connect with people and send messages on LinkedIn. Follow someone you admire on Facebook and start posting on their wall. Yes, that connection might lead to an in-person meeting, but the awkwardness may be eliminated.
- Be approachable. At in-person events, make sure to put your best foot forward. If you’re not initially comfortable with this type of networking, it can be easy to unintentionally give off the wrong signals. Smile. Uncross your arms. Try to relax. It also can help to focus on putting the other person at ease instead. Chances are, they’re uneasy, too.
- Show you’re listening. When talking to a person one-on-one or joining a group conversation, make sure to reflect back what is being discussed and add to the conversation in relevant ways. That would include building on the topic of conversation instead of changing the subject.
- Stay relevant. Make sure to focus your interactions on topics that are relevant to the event. You can do this by researching event attendees and coming up with questions that will engage people in effective and appropriate ways.
- Keep it short and sweet. Be respectful of other peoples’ time. Nothing is more awkward than getting stuck a conversation that has run its course. Tune into signals that it’s time to move on and don’t overstay your welcome.
- Bring business cards. They may seem old-fashioned, but if someone actually wants to reach out to you, be sure you’re prepared to let them know how to contact you. Nothing says unprofessional like scrawling your email address on the back of a napkin. Your cards should include your phone number, email address, website, and social media information.
- Bring a friend. If the idea of attending a networking event alone makes you want to hyperventilate, bring a friend or colleague—preferably someone who is outgoing so he or she can help you more easily join in conversations.
- Let your passion shine through. When someone is really passionate about what they do, it is contagious. If you can speak enthusiastically about your projects or business, people will more likely be interested in seeing what you’re talking about. Just make sure to invite other people to share their passions as well.
Whether you’re a social butterfly or a certified introvert, learning how to network is one of the best investments you can make on your future creativity. By using these tips, you will be able to develop a strategy that works for you, push beyond your comfort zone, and stay positive. If you are ready to take your networking to the next level and learn proven strategies for building your creative career, check out our 8-week Self-Management and Entrepreneurship course. Led by award-winning entrepreneur and musician Justin Sinkovich, this course provides a holistic approach to building a sustainable business or creative career. Click here to learn more and get started today.