Networking for the solo creative

Published:  September 9, 2010
Networking for the solo creative

In the first article from this series, the value of branding was covered and how to communicate the core message of your business while creating an identity for yourself through your brand. Equally important is spreading the word about your brand and finding potential business leads and valuable industry contacts through networking. Experts claim that networking can be more effective than advertising and therefore believe that it should be a crucial part of doing business. But what other benefits can be gained through networking? And why is it so important, particularly for solo entrepreneurs and small business owners, to engage with others and create a useful network?

Image copyright: CP Communications

Image copyright: CP Communications

Director of CP Communications and founder of Social Media Women, Catriona Pollard, defines networking as a business development function; to meet people, make connections and build a profile in the industry. Ms Pollard has been networking for several years and claims that 90% of her business had derived from networking and referrals through networks. “Any business that doesn’t network is crazy. It’s an essential thing that every person or business needs,” she explains. However, it’s about much more than a business development function because when you meet people, the relationship can become powerful. Ms Pollard has met some of her closest friends through networking so admits that there is an enjoyable and personal element to networking too. An additional value is the opportunity to learn from people in your industry, so the networking experience becomes relevant. Ms Pollard suggests going into networking with this mentality. “The intention should be to meet people and make connections instead of thinking ‘I’ll make sale’,” she says. But what about people who are new to networking or who lack interpersonal and social skills? Ms Pollard suggests starting out by attending events that you’re comfortable with but don’t be hesitant to be a little strategic in your selection and find a networking event that is relevant to you and your industry. She adds that there is an expectation at all networking events that the purpose is to meet new people, so the experience might be equally as challenging for others too. “Everyone is there to network and meet you; they actually want to speak to you.” Ms Pollard strongly recommends attending networking events alone or if you do go with a friend make a decision to spend the night separate and meet up again at the end. “Going with a friend or colleague means that you’ll naturally talk to the people you know because it’s the easy thing to do,” she says. The idea is to step out of your comfort zone and meet people that you don’t already know in the effort to expand your professional network. It can be effective to set a goal to speak with three to five different people at one event – this will ensure you don’t get stuck talking to one person all night. Ms Pollard says an effective strategy is to simply listen and pay attention to others. “People want to talk about themselves. Ask about others first and find out whether your skills or services suit them or if they are relevant to you.” But be aware that establishing a network doesn’t happen overnight – you need to keep going back to events to reinforce relationships. “It’s the same as making friends,” explains Ms Pollard confirming that reinforcement over time and follow up is important. Then there will always be the opportunity to meet up again if you think there is potential to do business with a person or discuss things further with them. But be cautious not to hard-sell and annoy people. Sometimes contacts will come back to you years later or they will follow up almost straight away. “It’s about building your profile and credibility. It’s personal advertising,” says Ms Pollard.

It can also be useful to keep in touch through other channels, such as adding a contact to your monthly newsletter mailing, engaging with them through social media accounts or a LinkedIn network. Digital marketing consultant and author of ‘8 Steps to LinkedIn Success’ Raz Chorev, has realised the potential of a LinkedIn network. He sees networking as working hard to be a network; it requires effort, time and resources to build a network with people. In his experience with LinkedIn, Mr Chorev believes there might be a lack of knowledge and understanding of the value of LinkedIn, explaining that it is a much smaller network in comparison to more popular social media programs such as Facebook and Twitter. But many employers and companies now hire exclusively via LinkedIn so it pays to be there and be active. If you learn to use it effectively, says Mr Chorev, it can be “a great way to show your expertise and find relevant connections.” Therefore, it’s important to make your profile look good. Mr Chorev recommends including a professional headshot so people can put a face to a name, ensure your details are current, and don’t be afraid to add non work-related interests to your profile to create a personal touch. “The more work you put in, the more you get out of it,” says Mr Chorev. It’s equally important not to limit your networking solely to online activity. While it’s a great place to start, there should also be intentions to meet up with people offline. “Every new contact I find online are always potential people I try to meet face-to-face,” says Mr Chorev.
Building a network is important if you want to advance in your career and seek new opportunities. “It’s a tool to foster any kind of relationship whether it’s business or personal,” explains Mr Chorev. The best place to start networking is with close family and friends and branch out from there. Keep in touch with people and don’t try to do everything on your own – networking can often be an avenue to obtain help from other people. “It’s not always the people that you know but the ways that people might know you.”

Image copyright: Flying Solo

Image copyright: Flying Solo

Robert Gerrish, Director of Flying Solo, Australia’s solo and micro business community, says the biggest source of new business comes from word-of-mouth. While finding clients is always a challenge Mr Gerrish advises against a common mistake people often make in thinking that networking is a direct business development activity, especially for single- service businesses. However, the value of networking is that it does present an opportunity to meet a potential or ideal client. “People want to work with people they like. People like recommending people they like,” says Mr Gerrish, adamant that this behaviour is not going to change.
For freelancers, sole traders and entrepreneurs the intentions behind networking are essentially the same as for larger companies. Therefore Mr Gerrish says it’s important to celebrate the fact that you are a solo business and to highlight this quality. “Sole traders can actually gain more from networking,” he said because that person is the direct representation of their business. It simply means that there needs to be more emphasis on who you are and personality needs to shine through to leave an impression. Bear in mind that people are looking for consistency and reliability. If you can show this in your personality then people will automatically see that quality carry through to your business. It is important to consider your approach as a sole trader though, and ask yourself who you really want to work with and what you want to do. That’s why it can be effective adopting some simple and realistic tactics when attending networking sessions. Mr Gerrish says while a networking event shouldn’t pose an opportunity to dish out business cards, it is important to ensure you have some on hand to give to people on request. Also, prepare and rehearse an elevator statement. This is something that succinctly tells people who you are, what you do and ideally who you do it for. This can often attract the sort of work and the type of clients you want and help you to land those jobs you really want to do.
According to Mr Gerrish, people who are good at networking are incredibly comfortable and relaxed. “If networking makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re either not doing it right or you’re not in the right place.” It’s largely about ‘finding a good fit’ and the event that is right for you which is why industry-specific networking can often be most valuable. “There is a lot to be gained personally by surrounding yourself with like-minded people,” says Mr Gerrish. Failing that, or if you simply can’t find the group you are looking for, why not create your own event? Mr Gerrish explains that it’s not always about taking from networking events, it’s also about giving back to it through ongoing support, offering to hold a workshop or by using your strengths to help out in areas of need. “The easiest thing is just to get started – don’t hesitate.”

Things to keep in mind:

  • You need to be able to describe your business well and do it quickly.
  • “Networking is sowing seeds,” says Mr Gerrish. It takes time but keeps you on track.
  • Remember consistency and reliability so people have confidence that you can deliver.
  • Networking is low-cost and never a waste of time.
  • Attend a networking event at least once a fortnight. Even when you’re really busy, it’s still important to network.
  • You never know when you’re going to need another client.

Networking events to get you started:

BrisbaneNetworx Events hold regular networking seminar events in business, marketing, communication, PR, creative and digital.

MelbourneSocial Media Melbourne gather every Friday morning at 8am for coffee and breakfast and once monthly for a weeknight dinner to discuss all things social media.

Sydney – Social Media Women hold an event on the second week of every month. Find out more here.

Melbourne/ SydneyJunior: Life at the Bottom is a union for young creatives. They hold regular meet ups in Melbourne and occasionally in Sydney too.

Brisbane/Melbourne/SydneyThe Hive offers networking for entrepreneurs to share ideas. Membership is free.

Canberra/Perth/AdelaideWomen’s Network Australia hold regular business luncheons covering marketing, social media and entrepreneurship.

OnlineFlying Solo offers an online resource and forums for solo and micro businesses.

Main image copyright Intersection

4 Responses

  1. Great blog post- for those of you who feel uncomfortable networking check out our online networking skills course at
    Happy Networking!!
    Regards Mike

  2. shanE

    Great article – thanks for the tips, especially about junior and social media melbourne. I’m going to go check them out!

  3. Great and insightful information, going to Tweet about it now!

  4. What a great read! I thought the advice sounded pretty sound, esp the tip about formulating an elevator pitch. Another point i’d add For sole creatives representing themselves is on personality~ make sure you put forth your best face and why people should want to work with you. I follow lots of talented people on Twitter but over-whingers don’t personally stand out to me as people I want to do business with in future. And it’s not just me…I attended a Business Chick. (another great networking group) brekkie recently where I heard Richard Branson speak who said that more than the 60second pitch, he looks out for good&kind people. I’m looking forward to the next @socialmelb evening event next week; hope to see you there!

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