Maintaining a network of colleagues, contacts, friends and acquaintances is pretty much the most essential element of a successful businessperson, whether that person is a lawyer, dentist or creative director.
Creative agencies can benefit from strong businessnetworks. As most of your business comes from other business owners, it's imperative that you are continually presenting yourself in the marketplace and helping potential referrers understand your business edge.
Networking can also lead to other benefits – you have a team of experts you can call on when you have questions relating to other industries. You can get help and advice from people who are "in the trenches" alongside you, and you can bounce your zany ideas off your more conservative associates and see if they're as exciting as you think they are.
With so many benefits, why are so many creative agencies getting networking wrong?
It takes time and dedication to build a network, and even more time to nurture it. You can't just fling around your business cards at an event and call that networking – it takes dedication, tenacity and a genuine interest in helping others to become a networking success.
Here are 7 networking tips that can help creative agencies form a solid, supportive network for their business.
1. Never Eat Lunch Alone
Never Eat Alone is the title of an excellent book on networking by master businessman Keith Ferrazzi, and the concept is at the heart of his networking strategy. A lunch alone is a networking opportunity wasted – lunching with friends, co-workers, colleagues, clients or contacts makes you visible and present in their life.
Also, eating and drinking while networking helps conversation to flow freely and gives those of us who might be nervous or shy something to do with our hands.
While a week filled with $18.95 open sandwiches will quickly send you to the poorhouse, regular business lunches and one-on-one "dances" over a meal help to solidify you as a potential referral.
2. Get involved in the creative industry online
As a creative director, you probably know more than most businesses about the important of interacting online.
What can you do online to help build your network?
- Read and become active on industry websites, blogs, discussion forums, LinkedIn groups and Twitter discussions. Join the discussion in blog comments and groups, and make sure you provide a way for other commentors to find your company website.
- Join Creative networks and submit your company's portfolio to membership galleries. Sites such as Behance, UCreative, Creattica and PSD Bucket allow you to upload and share your client work, helping to increase your presence online. You can even use these sites to obtain new clients.
- Guest post on graphic design, web development, business marketing and other creative industry blogs. This creates valuable backlinks to your company portfolio, while establishing your brand as experts in your creative sector.
For more tips on networking online for the graphic design industry, check out the Ultimate Guide to Networking and Promotion for Graphic Designers on PSD Fan.
3. Wow With Business Cards
Even with all this attention on social media and blogging, business cards are still the currency of the business world. As a creative, you're well positioned to make your cards stand out.
Have a look at some of these card designs for inspiration:
Solve the word puzzle to get the contact details from this graphic designer's card. (Designed by Jose Antonio Contreras)
Designer Jamie Wieck was aware of being just one designer among thousands competing for the same clients. Thanks to her clever thinking, her business card manages to stand out.
Diesel Design created a unique tabbed business card system that showcased the different areas of their agency.
3. Be Genuine
Image: Stuart Miles.
You don't have to be the loudest or most outrageous person in the room to get the benefits of networking. The important thing is that you are genuine in your interactions with people.
Don't just shove your business card under their nose and move on. Spend time talking to people and getting to know them and their business. The more you get to know people – and they get to know you – the more business they will send your way.
Instead of worrying about how you'll introduce yourself to everybody, focus on making real, honest connections with one or two key people. As a shy person myself, I often find I end up deep in conversation with other outliers.
Here are some tips to help you make genuine connections:
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Be positive.
- Use a person's name when you talk to them.
- Give advice and referrals – find a way to help.
- Don't take rejection personally. Sometimes you just won't click with a person. That's OK, just smile and move on.
5. Networking Doesn't Take Holidays
Whether the office is empty or you're working 80-hour weeks to complete a project on time, you can't neglect your networking. Staying consistently present in your different circles is key to establishing lasting relationships. So no matter how busy you are, set aside time each month for networking.
6. Scared of Networking? Try a Structured Group
There are many business groups that exist to help businesses connect with one another and provide networking opportunities. If you're shy or nervous about networking, these are great places to hone your skills. The Business Network Institute provides a weekly structured meeting where you meet with other business owners to give referrals to each other. Your local Chamber of Commerce offers monthly networking events, including a "business speed dating" event that is always heaps of fun.
Find a group in your local community with members and format that best fit with your company. Come to the meetings armed with ideas for referral requests and stories of client and company successes.
Organisations can be expensive to join – both in terms of time and money – so take the time to look around and find the group that will give the biggest return on investment.
Image: Imagery Majestic.
Networking is just like any other skill – it gets easier the more you practice it. So don't give up if you're not getting any results from your networking efforts – keep plugging away and honing your networking skills – and you'll soon start to see what all the fuss is about.
As a manager or director at a creative agency, what networking initiatives have you tried? What are your top tips for successful networking?