As a creative freelancer, it’s up to you to be your own brand ambassador. Getting your name out there and forging new professional relationships will give you the platform for growth that is essential to any business. Unfortunately, networking can seem like a chore for many people. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to make connections around the world.
The internet has opened the doors for small businesses and freelancers to promote themselves at a level that was unheard of just 20 years ago. Unfortunately, some people become blocked when they hear the word networking, thinking that if they don’t have an outgoing personality or industry connections, they won’t be able to make headway.
The truth is that it’s easier than ever to network, and with so many communication channels, there’s something for all personalities. Shy types may feel more comfortable starting out on social media or using networking apps, while gregarious personalities might want to dive straight into meeting in-person. Whatever your comfort level, the important thing is to start. Don’t put pressure on yourself if you feel uncomfortable. Take the time to feel out what works best for you.
To get started, here are some networking tips that will help you get on track and boost your career.
Cultivate Online Relationships
Seeking out influencers in your field not only provides inspiration but creates new opportunities. Striking up a conversation, commenting on social profiles, and being prolific in your own social media are all signals to interested professionals that you’re the type of creative they’ll want to get to know.
Of course, it’s not enough to just tweet back and forth or comment under Instagram photos. Transform those online relationships into something tangible by looking for ways your skills could match up on a project, helping your online connections when you see an opportunity that might be good for them, and even meeting up for an in-person chat if they live nearby or when you travel.
Give and Take
One of the biggest mistakes people make when networking is pushing their own agenda too soon. Pumping the breaks and not immediately jumping into what you need will give you time to sit back and really get to know the person. Give and take is essential in networking, where people want to feel as though they are using their connections for someone who is not only talented, but also grateful.
The best networkers are skilled at reading people. You need to know who you're speaking with and their communication style. Is it a busy museum director who likes to keep things short and sweet? Or a potential collector who really wants to understand more about your creative process? By observing and listening, you’ll be able to survey who is in front of you and give them what they need. In turn, you’ll find yourself with more organic, valuable relationships that can be fruitful professionally.
Keep Your Eyes Open for Opportunity
It’s your job to recognize—and capitalize—on an opportunity. This could be at a friend’s dinner party or a professional convention, but the end goal is the same. You never know where you’ll meet someone who can change your career, so it’s important to be alert at all times. While it doesn’t mean you need to be passing around business cards to everyone at your sister’s bridal shower, you can certainly chat about your work and if there’s synergy, be sure to get contact info so you can connect in an appropriate setting. Remember, you are the biggest champion of your work, so it’s up to you to ensure that your name is out there.
Stand Out from the Crowd
Visually set yourself apart with a memorable business card or striking social profile. Within a sea of professionals, being unique will certainly help get you remembered—as long as it’s done in an appropriate manner.
Whether it’s designing a creative business card or presenting your resume in a clever fashion, taking the risk to stand out can pay big dividends. Even if you don’t have something on hand that’s visually memorable, how you present yourself and your work verbally can also have a big impact. Sharpening your communication skills will ensure that you’ll speak with confidence about your work and make a positive impression that will last beyond one meeting.
Showing up for events in your community to support fellow creatives is a great way to embed yourself in the scene. Whether it be a gallery opening, craft fair, or lecture, being present will allow you to engage with others who have the same interest and have them associate you with the field. In kind, these are the same people who could show up for you if and when you need them.
Nurture Your Connections
Now that you’ve made a connection, don’t let it lapse! Many people make the mistake of thinking they can ride the wave of one successful encounter, but professional relationships are just like personal ones—they take work. Make sure you keep up your relationships to ensure that your work is always at the forefront. You never know when an opportunity may come up, and if someone you’ve networked with has your work on their mind, your name could be first in line for a recommendation.
How to do it? Professional newsletters are wonderful for keeping up generally, but you’ll want to go the extra mile and be sure to keep in touch personally. That can be just by checking in through personal emails (you can keep a running list of people to reconnect with each month) or personalized holiday cards. Even better, help out your connections if you see an opportunity for them and they’re even more likely to pay it forward in kind.