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When you’re in a creative field, networking can be particularly important. Many creatives work freelance, and finding the next client is all about word of mouth and connecting with the right people. But even for the most outgoing people, networking can be an intimidating thing to do. Thankfully, it gets easier with practice. Here are five easy tips to get you on your way to becoming a networking pro.
Be Genuinely Interested in Other People: Networking should feel like a mutual process. It isn’t about just getting your name out there, but rather, it’s about building meaningful relationships with other people. Listen to the people you’re talking to and ask thoughtful questions. When they sense your genuine interest, they’ll show interest in who you are, too. The more genuine your encounter, the more likely they’ll welcome your follow-up later on.
Practice with your peers: Before networking with big names in your field, start out practicing networking protocol with your peers. Offer to introduce your friends to one another, and practice sending along leads for jobs and other useful information. Even in these low-stress situations, always be as professional as possible, so that when it comes time to networking in the big leagues, important skills like professional emails are a piece of cake.
Be active on social media: Maintain a twitter account, linked in profile, or public Facebook presence, and always keep these pages professional – that is, not only free from overly personal information, but also full of useful content for people in your field. Social media can act as a great platform for connecting and staying in touch with people you meet briefly. (Bonus tip: Try to make your twitter handle short and easy to remember, so you can verbally tell it to people if you ever find yourself without a business card.)
Keep things old school: Even in the age of social media, having a business card is a great tool to have available for when you meet people. Put your social media accounts on it, as well as your email and the address of your online portfolio, if you have one. For graphic designers, this is a great place to show off your skills.
Think outside the box: Remember that potential networking situations can happen anytime, anywhere. Always be ready to talk about your latest work, and have business cards on hand. Who knows – your next client or creative collaborator could be someone you chat up in line at the supermarket, or sitting next to you on the bus. Having casual conversations about your work in these unconventional situations can help prepare you for more stressful, formal networking encounters.
Remember you have something to offer: If you’re still a student, networking can feel frustrating, but everyone has to start somewhere. Even if you’re just beginning your career, remember that you have talents, knowledge, and social capital that other people can benefit from you sharing. Approach networking situations with confidence, even if you feel like you’re “faking it.” Talk to someone in a different creative field, and you’ll quickly realize how valuable your expertise can be.