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How to Network as A Creative


If we’re starting to rebuild our creative businesses, or if we’re turning to the freelance world for the first time, we’re really all in the same boat.  To a large degree, all of our businesses are going to have to start from close to scratch.  We will have to rebuild our clientele, regain their interest and their trust.  We will need to convince people it is safe to venture out again to retail spaces, and provide them with meaningful and robust online options.  We will have to build capital, pay off debt, and renew marketing, inventory, work flow, and supply chains.  Honestly, it can feel daunting, if it weren’t for two facts.  We did nothing wrong to create these problems.  Don’t you dare assume any blame for any of this.  Unless you’re selling bats in a wet market, this really isn’t your fault.  Secondly, everyone else is in the same boat. 

While the first fact is reassuring, the second may seem less so.  The fact is that everyone else is out there competing for the same markets, at the same time.  And we’re all fighting for the same resources.  How many of you got a stimulus loan from the government?  Heck, I still haven’t received my $1,200.

But as frightening as it may seem, this does mean that the playing field has been leveled a bit.  Your creative business may be competing with everyone else, but you have the same ability to rise to the top as they do. It’s a scary time, it’s an awful time, but it could be your time.  While you don’t want to be a jerk about it, or in anyway disrespectful to those who have lost so much during this pandemic, or grab more than your share of the pie, this could be a very interesting time to be in business.

So what will we all need as we start to build our businesses again?  There are many uncertainties.  We’re not even sure what the market will look like as we emerge from this mess.  But there is something that we all need to do.   Something we can all be working on now, and continue to work on as we slowly put the pieces of our world back together.  That universal need is networking.  We must build relationships, partnerships, and contacts that will allow us to move forward.  Networking is a vital step for any business or career, but particularly important when building a new business… for re-building a business.  Now there are many established networking opportunities out there.  There are social events, and workshop/conference events, and those are great.  There are those that are more personal, more supportive, and include some degree of accountability.  BNI is one such networking group.  We have one here in Texas called NIA, Network in Action.  There are chambers of commerce groups in every city, and some that are more specialized to cater to the needs of particular communities: LGBTQ; Hispanic; College Alumni; Veterans.  All are great at offering support, accountability, and referrals within the groups. 

What we have experienced is that many of the mainstream networking groups work well for some industries, and less so for others.  There is a synergy between say a real estate agent and a mortgage banker, and a roofer, and an insurance agent.  All of these professionals can refer clients to one another constantly.  To be in a networking group with that sort of support is magnificent, and many groups actually limit the membership to one representative from each industry.  That way everyone in the group who has a referral for a plumber gives those referrals to the same plumber.  It’s a great system, until you throw a creative in the mix.

Now if you design logos and websites, you’re golden.  You will fit in the group just fine.  But what if you’re an actor, or a musician?  How many referrals will the plumber be able to throw to you?  How many bankers get requests for a good sculptor in a given week?  And how may of your collectors will approach their favorite artist for a good insurance agent recommendation?

By all means, participate in as many networking groups as makes sense for your creative niche, but don’t be surprised if some of them really aren’t well suited for your needs.  They’re lovely people, and will help out in any way they can, but there’s got to be that synergy to make it worth your while.

Having said that, there are some networking opportunities specifically designed for creatives.  Many seem to be very discipline specific, so the photographers will meet with the photographers, and the watercolor painters hang out together.  That’s well and good, but it doesn’t usually result in many referrals for jobs.  Ideally you need to find groups that represent a wide variety of creative industries, so that synergy can emerge and benefit everyone in the group.  As a photographer, I may not often have business to throw to other photographers, but what about a makeup stylist, or fashion designer, or hair stylist, or models, or set designer, or animal trainer.  All of those folks need each other on a regular basis.  Look for those groups, or start your own if they don’t exist in your area.  We may be all starting over in the post covid-19 world, but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone.  I believe networking is the single most important part of starting, and sustaining, a freelance small business.

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