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Guest Blog: Chris Measures- Networking for the shy
The stereotype of creative people is that we’re all loud, gregarious and even a bit wacky, ready to chat to anyone about anything at the drop of a hat. But like all stereotypes it misses the mark. There are plenty of creatives that are quieter, more thoughtful or just plain shy. This doesn’t make them any better or worse at doing their job – indeed in some cases people with a stunning visual imagination simply can’t put what they are thinking into words.
However to get on in a creative career, you’re going to need to build your profile. This is particularly true if you’ve set up on your own – it is now up to you to find your own business. And building your profile means networking, physically going out, meeting strangers and convincing them that you’d be a good person to work with or recommend to others.
I can hear some people already shuddering at the thought. But I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter you cry – surely I don’t need to get up from my laptop and press the flesh? Afraid so, social media is great, but it isn’t an alternative to real world networking. Where it really works is keeping on top of existing relationships, following up and interacting – but there has to be a relationship there in the first place, and that’s best formed face to face.
Since I set up in business on my own I’ve forced myself to network, as to be honest I’d much rather just hide in the corner. I’ve seen the benefits and here’s my top eight tips to make your face to face networking as pain free (and productive) as possible:
1. Choose your events
There are hundreds of events out there, and if you don’t know where to start, visit popular platforms such as Meetup as well as checking your LinkedIn groups, the Creative Front website and asking colleagues or contacts which they go to or recommend. Pick those that fit your needs – if you want to target big companies for work, going to an event for startups (while interesting) isn’t likely to get you any business.
2. Don’t be scared
Easier said than done, but you need to realise that most people are at networking events for the same reason as you are – to make new contacts. So everyone is in the same boat – and if you’re nervous look at getting there early before things have kicked off so you can chat to people when the group is smaller. Some events have a list of attendees available beforehand – check through it to so who might be good to talk to and see if you can find them once you are there.
3. Be bold, but not a tosser
Take the initiative and go over and introduce yourself to someone standing on their own, or even hanging round nervously in a small group. Chances are they are equally looking for someone to break the ice, so it might as well be you. Don’t be an idiot though – charging around, interrupting chats between people you don’t know and then hijacking the conversation is not going to get you liked. When I started going to networking events I set myself a target of talking to five new people during the evening before I could leave – not too many that it felt like speed dating, not too few that I hung around a victim all night.
4. Be sure about what you’re going to say but don’t be scripted
When someone asks what you do, be confident in what you say and don’t down play your abilities. Remember that ultimately you are selling your skills, and while no-one responds well to high pressure salesmanship make a good impression by succinctly explaining what you do and who you do it for. Don’t follow a script like a robot but adapt it to your audience and make sure you listen to what they say and have a two way conversation. Be interested and human – as if you were having a chat with a neighbour or someone you met in the pub or at the school gate.
5. It doesn’t always work
Some networking events end up being unmitigated disasters – with the wrong people (or no people at all), boring speakers and canapés that give you food poisoning. Don’t give up, and like Robert the Bruce’s spider try, try and try again. Look at other events and always be suspicious of the catering.
6. Networking doesn’t have to be big
You don’t need to attend events to network. Meet up with contacts, whether ex-clients, colleagues or people you’ve met in a business context online, for coffee and a chance to chat in a less pressurised environment. At the very least it’ll get you out of the office.
7. People know people
The business world is an interconnected web of people who pass on recommendations to friends and colleagues. So just because the person you’re talking to isn’t a prospective client don’t ignore them – they could be the best friend of someone desperate for your services or change job next week to work for your number one target company. So be polite and interested in everyone, not matter if they don’t seem immediately ‘useful’ to you.
8. Give something back
Networking is about building relationships, and works through give and take. If someone you are talking to needs help, and you can provide it (or know a man/woman who can) then take the time to introduce them or give some free advice. It might aid getting business down the line, but at the very least it’ll leave you with the warm glow of someone that has done a good deed.
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