Paul Wyatt explains how you can get in with the right people and make meetups and social media work for you.
Follow these tips and you'll soon learn how to network successfully. Carving out a career as a successful creative isn't just about creating great work, you also have to make sure the right people see it. So getting your name and face known is central to building your career.
Some people are terrified by the idea of networking and selling themselves, especially out in the 'real world' and away from the relative comfort of social media.
But it's really nothing to be scared of. Simply adopt a positive attitude, follow the 21 tips I've laid out here and you'll soon be on your way to self-promotion success...
01. Follow the golden rule
The golden rule when networking as a creative is to remember that it's not about schlepping around design events and shoving your folio or business card under everyone's noses. That's just rude.
Instead, it's about extending your creative network by meeting similar-minded people, so you're in a better position to hear on the grapevine of potential work opportunities, happenings or moves in the industry.
02. Show genuine interest
Creative networking is very organic. If you have a genuine interest in design you'll naturally gravitate towards those who share that interest, and with whom you might want to collaborate in the future.
It's a slow burn process: it definitely isn't the creative equivalent of speed dating where you bounce from person to person asking: "What's your going rate?", "Any jobs at your place?", or “Would you like to see my PSDs?”. No, no, no: it's not all 'me, me, me'.
Instead, take an interest in the designers, creative directors or technologists you encounter socially, because you can genuinely learn something about finding work, managing clients or how to deal with annoying creative event speed-daters.
You can learn great things from great people and it will only help you extend your network that bit further.
03. Spot the differences
Seek out people who produce work in a slightly different field to yours. Don't be afraid of this, because you could find there's something you do that they don't. Which means you could both be a great fit for future projects together.
04. Use Twitter
If you're not comfortable with face-to-face networking there is of course the less-imposing internet. Twitter is a great way to find fellow creatives to share banter, work and industry knowledge with. It's a network that can spiral quite quickly, because one contact will know someone who knows somebody else who needs help with a project.
Keep active on Twitter but don’t keep it all about work. Networking is also about getting to know people, so if you're a certified optimist seven days a week, take a day off and grumble about the weather occasionally.
05. Use Instagram
Instagram can be a surprisingly good way to network with other creatives. Good composition and an eye for detail are pretty much the keys to success with any creative endeavour, and Instagram succeeds by showcasing those that do this very well.
Tag your photos with relevant and descriptive hash tags and don't be afraid to use whorish tags such as "#instagramhub" or "#ignation" to make sure your pics are included in popular Instagram lists.
When people like your photos, follow them back and start chatting. It's a great tool for inspiration and for inspiring and connecting with others.
06. Go to meetups
Creative types are a social bunch and there are plenty of local meetup events for you to go along and throw your creative twopenneth in.
In London, the big one (if it's not sold out) is Glug, although other meetup events ARE available. Up North there's Northern Digitals and if you search around Twitter you'll find many more local meet ups such as the Portsmouth Freelancers Meet (check out the hashtag #pfmeet).
07. Seek out creative clusters
Outside of virtual meetups there's some good old thirst quenching to be had with fellow creative bods. Any given evening in London around Shoreditch or in Manchester's Northern quarter you'll find creative clusters around boozers (usually those with a pool table).
It's a great way to meet friends there and do a bit of networking (chatter, banter, who's doing what and to whom). Every area has these clusters - usually found near creative studios or branches of All Saints.
08. Hit the pub
At the end of a conference, event or road show, people usually swarm out of the auditorium at a rate of knots to race for trains or to beat the rush hour. Critically this is where most of the event bonding and networking happens as there'll always be a few who want to 'go for one' in the local pub.
Usually these are genuinely passionate and interesting creative folk (and you might find some speakers/event people will tag along as well). Keep your ears primed for chatter about a trip to the pub afterwards and pop along because it's a great way of extending a creative network.
Of course we advise you to drink responsibly and remind you that waking up in a hedgerow, public park or in a different county is an indicator that your networking has become a little counterproductive.
09. Conquer conference dread
Going to an event or conference on your own can be a bit daunting especially if it's for a few days. The thing to remember is that you won't be the only one who’s feeling a bit of a 'Billy no mates'.
Take the initiative and use Twitter to find out who in a similar field to you is going and drop them a friendly tweet and arrange a meetup with a couple of them in the bar or over a coffee.
When people are transplanted away from their normal environments they become much more social and willing to make buddies. If work comes from it then great, but even if it doesn't, you'll extend your network a bit and make some new mates in the process.
10. Arrange your own meetup
You could of course arrange your own meetup, just like Franz Jeitz and a few buddies did with LDN meets where creatives come together to attend design themed events. Instant popup creative companionship, banter and chatter.
11. Pick events that encourage networking
Not all design conferences do all they can to encourage networking between attendees. Sometimes, in the breaks between talks and other formal sessions, you'll see a depressing sea of uncommunicative faces buried in laptops - not an environment where it's easy to strike up conversations with stranger. At other times, it'll be the opposite - you won't be able to move without people introducing themselves in an open manner and with a smile on their face.
The difference is often down to the fact that the conference organisers haven't just paid lip service to the idea of networking, but actually put things in place to ensure it happens.
For example, at our own conference, Generate*, there'll be a pre-event meetup to encourage attendees to get mingling early on. There'll also be a structured networking event during the day, in which attendees will have a chance for one-to-ones with the main speakers. There'll even be a comedy show at the end of the day, to loosen everyone up and giving them something other than work to talk about at the evening party. If that (and a few beers) doesn't get people chatting in a relaxed atmosphere, nothing will.
*Other design events are available. They just won't be as good.
12. Use Vimeo
Vimeo can connect you with hundreds of eye candy-producing motion graphic designers and videographers. If you like their work then tell them and add them as a contact.
If they like your work then they'll do the same thing, and so the network builds. If people like your work, have a look at their profiles and connect with them.
13. Find your design heroes
Look for your design heroes on Twitter and strike up a conversation. Follow those who inspire you and periodically ask for opinion or advice on your own work.
Pointers and tips from those in the know are invaluable for pushing you in the direction of those who can help make your work reach a wider audience.
14. Learn to listen
Listening is a skill. It's an absolute art form. Most of us only half listen when we're engaged in social communication because we're already planning in our heads what to say next so as to appear we've been paying attention.
Try to turn this off and truly listen to what's being said. You'll retain more and your attentiveness will be picked up by the speaker and they're more likely to listen to you in return!
15. Ask open-ended questions
If you're feeling a bit awkward or nervous at an event or conference and want to know how to keep conversations bubbling along with fellow industry people then try to remember to ask open-ended questions.
Questions that start with such words as 'who', 'what', 'where' and 'when' open up a conversation beyond questions that are subject to closed responses such as 'yes' and 'no'. It's an old trick but a good one.
16. Start your own industry-related blog
Create your own creative beacon by starting a blog about what inspires you. Give people something to know you by besides your own creative work by giving something to the creative community.
A blog is not only an outlet for what floats your creative boat but is also a great conversation starter, either virtually or at meetups. You'll find tons of advice in our article, How to craft killer content for a creative blog.
17. Keep up with new work
As a creative you'll never be stuck with something to say either on Twitter or at meetups if you keep up with who the innovators, creators and movers-and-shakers in the business are.
New work should naturally draw you in, and getting out of a siloed way of working and keeping up to date with the industry around you will reap rewards long term. Networking doesn't happen in a vacuum.
18. Seek referrals
At any networking do or social gathering you'll always find someone who knows someone who needs something that you do doing. Sometimes this is alcohol-fuelled hot air but at others it could be a genuine opportunity.
The key thing is to find the pertinent information such as 'who, what, and when?'. But instead of pestering this individual during the evening, make a note of it and email them for the details the next day (preferably late morning if it's been a big night).
19. Remember it's a two-way street
Networking is about listening and helping others. It's a reciprocal type of 'you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours… later'. Just remember you have to scratch first and don't always expect a scratch back.
Adopt a philanthropic approach to networking and you won't ever be disappointed by it.
20. Don't be too sensitive
If you speculatively contact someone by Twitter or email and they don't reply to you, try to take it on the chin.
You're not going to set everyone's world on fire and quite frankly, if these people can't be bothered to return an email or a tweet, would you want to do any business with them anyway?
21. Play nice
There's a misguided notion that to give a 'critique' of something means to 'rip it to shreds to show how clever you are'. In fact, the best critiques are those which are balanced and examine what worked and what didn't.
This also means they're harder to do. But position yourself as someone who knows how good creative works and is genuinely enthusiastic about what DID work. Being an overly critical smart arse won't win you any recommendations or indeed entice anybody to want to network with you.
What has worked for you? Share your networking tips with the design community by adding to the comments below...
Words: Paul Wyatt
Paul Wyatt is a designer, writer, film maker and regular columnist for .net magazine.