How do I network and build my professional circle?
I am in the planning stages of starting my own digital media company that offers photography, videography, and in the future, audio production services. Locally I find too many "would be's" in our field and not enough serious professionals. I don't have an elaborate client base, portfolio, or years of experience. I do feel that if I was able to successfully network with other professionals in my field who could give me tips, help me build a reputation, and other things of the sorts I would be more successful.
So my question is, what are the networking practices that have worked for you and how often should one communicate with their network? What online/offline events should I go to to meet others and build my professional network?
This is a very important question, that so many new entrepreneurs ask. Networking can be an art in itself, but I have found that diversity helps as well. Diversity, meaning, spread yourself out and be sure to cover in person and online networking. Social Media posting is a must, along with in person local opportunities, but most importantly is: Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up!!!
I too, have found that LinkedIn has been a great resource, but do not count out the other platforms, as I have also had client contacts from Google+. I, personally, also post on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, although I honestly put more time and effort into LinkedIn and Google+. You have to remember, however, it is not just about scheduling posts and leaving them, it is all about, what works best with the way you work, where your industry connects and most of all, simply put, building relationships. It comes back to what it has always been about - Relationships. So put yourself out into a community, in person & online, observing a little and then, when ready, jump in and begin to connect with people.
Remember, you have to keep up with conversations, HOAs, and any of the forms of networking you will use. Whether it be in person SCORE meetings, Chamber of Commerce, or an online LinkedIn Group, you must follow up and keep in touch. Email each person who handed you a business card, after attending an event, and thank the person for connecting with you (or giving you their card), keep in touch on occasion, via phone, chat or email. A note in the mail is always a nice touch also, as these are so rare today. Do not let the connection slip away, even if they do not reply, they will remember the name. Do not overdue it and 'spam' them, make sure you only email occasionally. Keep posting on social platforms, so your brand is out there and familiar with those in your networking circles/groups and always be sure to answer or thank those who comment on your posts. It is a balance at times, but keep these in mind:
1. Be CONSISTENT
2. Build RELATIONSHIPS
3. Be sure to FOLLOW UP
I hope that will help you as you begin your exciting journey. If I can be of further help, please let me know or give me a call and we can discuss it further. I wish you great success.
Whether it is online or offline networking, many people make the same mistake with networking.
They think that making contact = networking.
That handing out a business card or making an online connection = networking.
But in reality it is relationships that = networking.
Therefore, fewer, "high quality" connections are better, (especially for your goals), than dozens or hundreds of contacts.
Connections are people that you really connect with.
I feel so strongly about this that I wrote a bunch of articles in my blog that you might find helpful . . .
Hope this helps . . .
To network you have to do 3.5 things.
Build more solid relationships
1) Join network groups in your area and start building repeated relationships. Great examples of this are BNI - I'm sure you can find a chapter in your area. The philosophy of BNI is that giver's gain - and if you help others to refer them business, they'll do the same for you.
Seek out like minded people
2) Meetup.com, your local board of trade or chamber of commerce, business improvement associations - there's a TON of opportunity out there to network and meet like minded people. Don't just seek out would be customers, but also join ventures where two businesses seek the same demographic type, but don't necessarily compete. Example - you do video and photo, are there 3d animators, make up artists, writers, copywriters, marketing agencies, others of this type of nature in your field where you don't compete, but instead could cooperate?
Build out your online profile
3) Make it so it's easy to find you online so people who want to look you up after meeting you can do so. LinkedIN, Twitter, etc are great ways to do this. Network on LinkedIN. Join groups, answer questions. Become part of the community.
3.5) FOLLOW UP FOLLOW UP FOLLOW UP. After meeting people at an event, take them out for a coffee to really get to know them better - bridging that connection is what keeps you top of mind, and referrals come faster when people remember you!
Hi Jaime, I will take the offline approach as you already got plenty of advise to network online on LinkedIn and other social media.
When it comes to networking there is a few things you may want to consider:
(I will elaborate each point later)
1. Joining a local networking group (such as BNI or other groups)
2. Join the chamber of commerce
3. 1-to-1 networking
4. Follow ups
Before I explain the 4 points above, I would like to address some of your questions:
Getting people within the same profession to network with you is more difficult than you might think. They don't really want to help their competitors grow. Having said that, I personally believe it's a great way to target specific markets together and share the cost of advertisement and reap the benefits together. If you find someone who is in the same shoes as you are, then you might get a good partner out of this. However trying to do this with well established photographers might be more difficult. I'm sure if you keep looking, you will find someone who is willing to sit down with you but don't expect too much.
When you network, look for businesses that are going after a similar target market. For example, say you would like to grow the wedding side of your business, the smart choice to network would be to meet with limousine companies, florists, dance teachers, printing companies, wedding planner etc. They all have the same goal, getting a bride and groom to sign up for their services.
You may be able to combine services, say for example you create a package with a florist, limousine service, wedding stationary company etc. and market that as a all inclusive package.
Another option is to provide a commission to those companies if they help you get a wedding or do an exchange. They all sign up couples, so by asking the obvious when they sign up a customer is to ask do you already have a wedding photographer/ videographer? I know this guy and he's brilliant...will I arrange a meeting with him for you? Being pro-active is the key but it's not only take, you need to give as well. If you don't have weddings yet, you could provide a commission as already mentioned. If you have weddings, you could open the door for the other suppliers to the couple that you already have signed up. This is a guaranteed winner and even though you may not get everybody to sign up, you will get a lot more inquiries and then it's up to you to leverage on that.
To my points:
1. Networking groups
Networking groups are a great source of referrals and support for local SME's. BNI is just one group (it's the biggest I think in the world) but it's not the only option. Google what is available in your area but before you sign up, I would recommend to go to 1 or 2 meetings as a guest and see if there is businesses in there that could help you and that you could help as well.
Even if you are starting out, you can always bring something to the table. Be it advise to the group, a referral here and there or simply offer a service/ discount only available to the members of the group.
Networking groups usually do business with each other, but be aware not everybody would do business with you. It's like with any other customer, some may like you and some may not, it's a personal preference but if you gain their trust, you should get some business out of them within a few months. Just be aware, that most groups only allow one business category to be represented in their group. So, if they already have a photographer, you might not be able to get in, or you are only allowed to promote the videography side of your business. The best advise I can give you here is to visit a few, try it out and see how you get on. Make sure you have a 60 second pitch ready that will tell them about who you are, what you do, why you are unique or what is your USP and last but not least, what/ who are you looking for? What type of referral is good for you? Are you looking for consumers or business clients? If you're looking for business customers, what kind of business would be a good fit for you? Don't only think in terms of getting customers as referrals, but businesses that go after a similar market to see how and if you can help each other (as already mentioned above).
2. Chamber of commerce
The chamber of commerce is a great way to enhance your business. However you need to see how active the chamber really is. For example, here in Ireland many of the local chambers are not very active whereas the county chamber is very active. Personally I made the decision joining the county chamber (Cork Chamber in Ireland) and they host regular networking events, offer trade shows and low cost advertisement to local SME's etc. There is a lot of support you can get from the chamber, not necessarily in terms of money but they can provide you with plenty of leads and opportunities to network. Again, when you go to networking events it's important to have your 60 second pitch ready to go so that you can tell people what you do.
3. One to one networking
This is a great way to network as it's more informal and you can really discuss with the networking partner what you would like to get out of the meeting, what you expect etc.
Many times 1-to-1 networking end up in selling services while getting referrals and opportunities to work together. The easiest way to network on a personal basis is when you join any networking groups or chamber of commerce and ask the members to have a 1-to-1 conversation with you. This will provide each business to really showcase what they do. A few things to keep in mind though: A networking event is not for you to sell your services...even though a lot of people believe that. It's for you to make new connections. Selling comes at a much later stage. An outline of a 1-to-1 network meeting could be:
First 30 min:
1. Introduction to the partners business
2. What are they looking for
3. How can you help
2nd 30 min:
2. Introduction to your business
2. What are you looking for
3. How can they help you
4. Way forward (what will you do next for each other, when will you meet again etc.)
When it comes to networking always try to go second. Never go first, let the other party introduce themselves first (be it during a speed networking event or 1-to-1 networking). The reason being is that you could learn a lot about their business in this time and you could adjust your pitch or what you are looking for as you go along.
In sales it is important to be able to change your approach and you can only do that if you gain the information first. Say, you meet with an event planner and you might think he/ she could introduce you to wedding couples...so, you go and talk about your wedding photography and if she could help you get in contact with wedding couples. Then she might say, well that's awkward, we only do corporate events, but thank you for meeting me...If you learn about their business first, you would find that out immediately and you could adjust your pitch by asking if they could help you get corporate photography gigs. (It's simplified but this happens more often than you think).
4. Follow up
Following up after a network meeting is crucial for success. If you don't follow up, you will not get anything out of the meeting/ event. Especially networking events, it's important to follow up within 2 - 3 days so that you are still fresh in their mind.
A final note: In order for people to remember you better and do more business in the long run with you, put a picture of yourself on your business card. This will trigger instant recognition even if you call them 6 months later. People are more likely to sit down with you and do business with you if they recognise you. People buy from people...I know it's a long read but I hope you find this useful. If you would like to learn more about how to successful network and need further help/ advise and guidance, we can offer a specific programme that will help you network more efficiently and gain over 50% more referrals. This is a 6 week coaching programme that will help you master the art of networking.
Thank you and good luck in your venture.
Networking is the art you must master. Build your visibility by building relationships. Find a cause you believe in or an oragnization which you'd like to be part of. For example: The local Chamber of Commerce, The Rotary Club, become a business member for a charitable oraganization. Do not join just for the business contacts. Everyone will sense that and your lack of sincerety will hurt you. It must be something you believe in and are willing to contribute to. Join a committee and do volunteer work. Networking within this kind of group becoumes easy.
Evite other professionals to lunch, CPA's Attorney's other sucessful business owners that you can refer to and would like to get referrals from. Ask them what their idea client is and how you would like to refer to them. You get what you give.
There are many ways to build your professional network. You must be good at what you do first ! No one wants to refer to someone who's expetise is questionable. You can prove your good at what you do by working jointly with the professional you refer to. Get serious about relationships and you can't help but suceed. Understand this takes time and that relationships are not created overnight. Remember, if your not willing to do for others, why would they be willing to do for you.
I have been in business for 38 plus years. I moved to Pittsburgh in 1992 and started out in a town where I had no reputation or cirle of support. In less than 6 months I was the rookie General Agent for the company I was working for and in three years had hired more than 38 reps to work with me. Your only limitations are the ones you create for yourself. "You Must Believe to Achieve"
Good luck and happy hunting.
There are different paths to networking. I personally have found that writing (papers for professional groups on Linked in, white papers, blogging) has caused a lot of high profile professionals to reach out to me. In the last year I have had hundreds of executives from startups to fortune 500 firms contact me directly to establish a connection and get to know me better based on sharing my experience and opinion from 30 years in IT. Many have been to establish a line of communication for seeking my opinion on subjects and others have been to seek me to fill positions under them immediately or for future positions they envision wanting to fill as they execute their business plans. There are many other paths, this one has worked well for me and put me in contact with many in power to share ideas, learn from, and provide expertise to. Successful people have a large network of experts to depend on and socialize to keep their insights fresh and diverse. I've learned a lot through these relationships and had some great opportunities.
Be active on LinkedIn and ensure you join the relevant professional focus groups of interest to you. Be active in the groups. Also, look out to attending creative and art events in your community and beyond; you'll see loads of like-minded people at such events. You could also join the "Full Gospel Business Men" fellowship where you'll definitely find professionals from various fields including yours. And lastly Jaime, learn to socialize and be a people person which your line of interest warrants. Happy networking buddy!
For networking in the field of photography, videography and audio I would definitely become a regular at creative forums. The first one that springs to mind would be creativecow.com and yes of course you should also be active on LinkedIn.
Besides that you might want to think about visiting trade shows in those fields. I myself often attend the IBC (http://www.ibc.org) but I must admit it is mostly to gawk at the newest high-tech camera and broadcast equipment rather than to network.
Lastly if you plan to provide photography, video and audio as stock material as well there are good online networking opportunities with other stock producers on the forums of the stock footage market websites.
LinkedIn is a good way to cast a wider net, although I think it's effectiveness as a job search or prospecting tool can depend on the kind of work you do. In my own networking/marketing efforts, I'm finding email to be an effective way to reach out to potential new clients. If I'm offering a service that someone else needs, and I'm respectful of their time, they're not going to be annoyed because I reached out to them. I'm a freelance voice talent, and I'm finding email to be far more effective than LinkedIn or Facebook. I have a Twitter account, but I don't really use it. It seems to have the potential to do more harm than good, at least in the way most people seem to use it.
I don't buy lists; I find business online that use the services I provide. It's time-consuming, but very much targeted to my clientele. One advantage is that when you sent an email to the "contact" address listed on a website, or fill out an online contact form, the small business owner is often the person who reads them.
Hello, that is the easy part, just communicate with a lot of resources, like here, linkedin, local there are tons of them just put you business out believe it or not today business are heavily into Networking so powerful invention, ventures, business deals come from networking and this is just to name a few of the benefits, the key word is get yourself connected, even Google plus is a huge one, I can't tell how huge my network system is just from register with these site and most are free, so it does not cost anything to befriend someone to learn to share, and possibly develop long term business relationship with. it really works I do hope this helps a little bit