I have been a graphic designer for a few years now, and I will have to admit that fresh out of school, I had no idea the level of importance networking had. I didn’t even understand how to go about it, and what the point was. It took a long time to find a job in the field and it also took a long time to get freelance work.
I hate the idea that there are people out there that aren’t taking advantage of networking. Some designers, artists, illustrators and photographers are masters at networking. Wherever you go, you know that they have already been there and made friends. Soon I realized that no one is going to hire you if they don’t know you, or know anyone that knows you. You get a much better response from a client that has been referred to you by someone else, rather than if you had walked through the door, soliciting them, or sending them something in the mail. I am not saying that direct mail doesn’t work, I am simply saying that a referral is better. Referrals are great, because you go in knowing that the person has heard great things about you and your capabilities. You know that you aren’t necessarily trying to win them over, but just back up everything that the referring person had said about you. You also walk in the door with common ground and get to start the conversation with trust already embedded from their colleague or friend. They also usually already know your pricing, and understand that you are a professional and are worth the money, because their friend was satisfied enough to refer you.
I don’t know about you, but that is a much better way to do business in my opinion. I would much rather walk in and get down to business, than to nervously try to gain common ground, and build trust from scratch. It is also easier than cold marketing. I am not saying that all of my business comes from referrals, but I am saying that this is one of the best case scenarios, and one of the most favorable conditions for successful freelancing. It is always a good idea to have your online portfolio up and running. If you are in the middle of revamping your online portfolio of work (as am I), I find it useful to t least put up a few pieces of your design work, so that they can see your work. Being honest with them and telling them that your site is in the middle of an update, but you have some of your work up therefor them to view is better than saying “I am sorry, but my site is down at the moment.” In others words, something is better than nothing. I also have plenty of crisp, clean business cards in my wallet to hand out, with all of my information displayed. I try to go for a unique design that speaks of professionalism.
It is also good to network with other designers. Some may be your competition, but some you may be working with on large projects. I have had many scenarios where a colleague of mine has landed a huge project, but isn’t able to handle it all themselves, so the employer asks them if they know any trustworthy and good designers that could come in and help to get the job done. Since you have made tons of friends and networked as a designer, you get the call.
Another great example is when we get stumped as a designer. Sometimes we get designer’s block and just don’t know where to turn, or you can’t decide between two different directions to take on a project. If you have networked with other designers, you can call them , and I have found that sometimes just chatting for a few minutes with another professional makes the difference between night and day. They see things from a different perspective, and hearing another person’s take on things can shed light on what you need to see to get the job done. I also get calls from other designers that are going through the same thing, and they just need their mental pipes unclogged. It happens to the best of us.
Networking is a wonderful tool. If you are not doing it, then you are probably missing out on a lot of potential business.