What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘networking’?
Business cards being thrown at you? Hard sales pitches? Bragging LinkedIn posts? They all might be forms of networking, sure, but not the only ones.
At its core, networking is an exchange of information or services between people. Like any other relationship, it’s an interaction that goes both ways.
At the end of the day, we connect with people – not job roles.
Benefits of online networking
IRL and URL networking are both great in their own ways, but online networking can be more efficient and kinder to those of us who don’t thrive among big groups, experience social anxiety, or struggle with public speaking.
People who create profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn are agreeing to be contacted by others. Social networks are SOCIAL spaces and can lead to more transparent transactions that can often be more straightforward than interactions face-to-face.
You can take full advantage of and largely control your online presence. While at a conference, for example, you won’t really know who you’re talking to (and vice versa), when you’re networking online you have a glimpse of who you’re reaching out you before making any contact, and they can immediately gain insight into who you are and where your strengths lie.
How to take advantage of your online presence
You don’t need to create a whole new personality here – but you can craft your online presence to reflect where you want to be.
Your digital image and footprint can and should help you build a reputation based on what you want to be known for - a slice of your personality and values that you'd like to highlight for the external world.
1. Nail down what you want to represent and offer
Once you know where you want to be, think about what you can bring to conversations. What are you an expert on, or where do your passions lie? What do you have experience of, and which skillsets do you have that others might not? Be consistent with the content you post so that you immediately come to mind when someone is trying to think of, say, a graphic designer, illustrator, 3D artist or animator. Would someone look at your online presence and recommend your content to a friend or colleague? Would someone say, “You should follow Joe Bloggs on Instagram, they have really great posts about motion graphics” (or whatever your field of expertise)?
A good benchmarking exercise is to study a few leaders of your industry. Look at how they talk about themselves and what kind of content they share. How do they comment on other creative’s content posts? How do they respond to comments on their own posts? How does that help position them as an expert in their field?
If you’re still stuck, starting by asking yourself why you do what you do, and what are three words people use to describe you. Another way to frame your work is by fitting your intro in this formula: I help < target market> with < expertise> so they < how you solve their problems>.
2. Know that you can’t be everywhere
Digital networking can seem overwhelming because there are simply so many places and platforms that you could develop. Podcasts, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, LinkedIn…the list goes on. Narrowing down your focus will help you be able to facilitate the best quality networking on a few chosen platforms, rather than a scattergun approach to *all* platforms.
The first step is to decide WHY do you want to network. Do you want to meet the leaders of your niche? Are you looking for potential clients? Would you like a mentor or to meet peers in your field? Would you like to meet creatives in complementary fields who you could collaborate with?
Pick one goal at a time and consider where these people spend their time online. Networking is a conversation, so think about who you’d like to talk to, and what about. Choose two platforms to work on first and ensure these are useful for your goals – this is not an exercise in likes or virality, but in quality.
It is a lot better to spend 10 minutes every day focusing on engaging with a few people on just one platform, instead of mindlessly scrolling and liking posts on all platforms with no added input.
How to reach out to ‘strangers’ online
We’re all bombarded with online messaging during our waking (and sleeping!) hours. Once you’ve clearly defined your networking goal, write down a list of people you’d like to connect with and why. When reaching out to a potential new contact or collaborator online, there are a few key things to remember:
- Be succinct and to the point. What are you looking for?
- Be flattering and and make the recipient aware of how much you admire their work
- Make sure your approach is personally tailored to who you’re messaging. Messages that are clearly copied and pasted into hundred of inboxes are awful.
The goal here is for the recipient to quickly understand why you’re reaching out to them in particular and not to someone else, and to want to respond to you positively.
A good message will encapsulate who you are, what aspects from your background the recipient should know about, and what is it you’d like to see from this interaction.
Image by Talenthouse Creative Latoya Dennis
Nothing is more frustrating than having someone message you five paragraphs about their life and still not knowing what they want with you by the time you’ve reached the end. Have a clear ask to ensure you can keep the conversation going: scheduling a call, being introduced to someone… whatever it is, make sure the recipient can respond yes or no quickly!
Before hitting send on any message, read it to yourself out loud. You might feel a bit silly, but imagine you or a friend were on the receiving end of this message. Does it sound thoughtful and legitimate, or does it sound spammy and demanding? If you wouldn’t say something in real life, you shouldn’t say it online. Words matter. Bring some of your personality to these messages and avoid empty words. “Picking someone’s brains” is not an enticing invitation.
Block time to go over some of your platforms, share content consistently and comment and celebrate your network’s achievements.
Some simple interaction ideas which can, in turn, invite conversations and even attract leads might include:
- Went to an amazing event? Congratulate the organizers.
- Loved someone’s post? Start a conversation. Simply saying “I loved this, thanks so much for sharing it. Would love to talk to you more about this!” Can work.
- Have some time? Offer to review some student portfolios.
- Found an amazing design tool? Let people know.
- Saw a job opening? Share it with your network.
- Obsessed with a particular topic or issue in the industry? Start a podcast or event series, or simply keep sharing insightful links and commenting on them.
Where to start and who to follow:
You can also follow your favorite brands, agencies, and creative directors to see what they’re creating and who they’re collaborating with.
If You Could Jobs is great for creative roles and always features different professionals you can connect with. Entrepreneurs and freelancers can also find a home to chat with people on communities such as Women Connect, Babes on Waves and beyond.
In all these cases, if you LOVE someone’s content or work, let them know. That’s the easiest way to start a conversation. An easy way to do this is to dive into the ‘discover’ feed on Talenthouse or Ello, and start enjoying brilliant artwork created by your peers.
Just Try It
I’ve met most of my current business collaborators like this: I liked someone’s work, messaged them, had a chat and ended up collaborating. One time this led to an invitation to go on a podcast. We had so much in common and, as two freelancers stranded in lockdown, we started scheduling regular chats, initially just to support one another. After those conversations evolved, we had more ideas on how to collaborate and decided to share our learnings on a newly launched e-book.
At the end of the day, there are other creatives out there who also see networking as a collaborative experience. If you put yourself out there and start those conversations, it will come.