Talking Shop - Building a Network

Networking is probably one of those things you know you should do but you have no idea how to go about it. Maybe you just moved to Denver or you're in transition from one industry to another or you'd just rather hang out in your pajamas instead of putting on actual clothes and talking to other humans. However, networking is a huge part of owning a business, no matter what business you're in - blogging, photography, design, etc. It's a great place to find people who can help you when you're struggling, who can teach you a new or different way to do or think of something and who can even send you new clients. The concept of a network has changed with the invention of social media but that doesn't make it any less important. It also means there's now two distinct ways to build a network.  Let's talk about the different ways to network both online & off and some tips to make sure you're building a quality network.

Online Networking

Online networking is, in my mind, very easy to accomplish but it's also very easy to get lost in a lot of noise. Networking online is not the same as posting an Instagram photo, a Facebook status or a tweet. These are examples of online marketing. Instead, we want to curate relationships online. Here's some tips:

1. Find Your Tribe: Facebook groups are an excellent way to find other entrepreneurs who are talking about the same things you are. Some groups are public, making them very easy to find with a simple search. Some groups are private, meaning the only way you can find them is to be added by another member. I've found the best groups to join are very specific and narrow in their topics and the group they cater to. It might mean that you're a member of a lot of groups but in smaller groups, the discussions tend to be focused and therefore more on topic. Once you're a member of a group, make sure you're not only asking questions and making posts but you're also answering questions, engaging with other users and participating in group activities. It's the same online as out in the real world. You wouldn't want to be the person standing in the back of a cafe shouting questions, would you?

2. Say Hello, Nicely: Instagram is one of my favorite ways to network. It took me a long time to jump on the Instagram boat because I thought it was mostly hipsters posting badly filtered photos of their food. In reality, it's a great way to see what other entrepreneurs and creatives are up to. I look for other entrepreneurs based on hashtags or in the "Suggested" feed. I also, of course, find people who've found and followed me. When you find someone you like on Instagram, take it slow. Don't immediately like all 957 of their photos or leave odd comments that have nothing to do with the image. Instead, give a double tap when you like something and add a comment if it's constructive or relative to the conversation.

3. Be Open: Being an entrepreneur is difficult. Instead of only posting when you have a great success, be open and share your failures, shortcomings or struggles. Being vulnerable shows others you're human and builds strength to your network. You also never know who you're inspiring or comforting.

Offline Networking

Offline networking can take a lot more effort than online networking, in my opinion. It means actually showing up somewhere, which can be intimidating, awkward and time consuming. Here's some tips so you get the most bang for your time buck:

1. Smaller groups create bigger relationships: I've never had a lot of luck attending giant events that are specifically purposed towards networking. There's a lot of people who want to tell you all about how awesome they are but don't so much care why you're really awesome. Instead, I like to find small, intimate groups that have a more focused goal (which might have nothing to do with networking.) Case in point, I joined a group of local Boulder photographers a few years ago. The goal of the group was simply to meet and chat more with photographers about life in general and not only related to the business of photography (that's important!) who were in our neighborhood. I've made some of my closest friends through this group and we regularly meet for breakfast or drinks and I've even traveled with some of them. These close knit relationships would have been lost in a large group. I should mention that this group has also sent several clients my way and I've shared clients with them. Building business wasn't the first goal but we certainly have helped each other.

2. Attend events that sound fun: There's so many events happening at any given time; it can be overwhelming to decide which to attend. I've always had the best luck when I attended an event because I wanted to, not because a lot of friends were going or it was the popular event of the week. If you don't want to be there, it shows and that can damage your network more than helping it. Of course, you can't judge an event simply from the description but it's ok to be a little selfish with your time and attend only the events you really want to.

3. Remember your business cards: As old school as it sounds, business cards really are important. If you think about it, you're going to (hopefully!) meet a lot of people at any given event and it can be very difficult to remember everyone's name. Even worse, it's sometimes really hard to follow up on a really great conversation you had with someone and take full advantage of your networking time. When attending events in person, bring lots of cards with you. We'll talk more about the business card in length on another post but make sure your card has at least your name, what you do and a way to contact you. A final business card tip: don't start handing your cards out like a guy standing on a street corner on the Vegas Strip. Make sure when you're handing out your card, it's so the person can follow up with you after the event.

I hope these tips help you begin to network online & in person. Building a strong network doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of repeated time and effort, just like building any other type of relationship.  Remember that networking is give and take &  don't ask or expect business from a contact right away.

If you're looking to network with some other awesome creative entrepreneurs, visit us tonight at Mildred & Bernice's Things You Want studio. See you there & don't forget your business cards!