Who cares about networking, right? I mean, it’s just a bunch of schmoozing design snobs drinking and eating strange hors d’oeuvres and bragging about themselves. Who wants to be a part of that? Or maybe the thought of having to meet people you don’t know and talk about yourself just makes you cringe. Well, This week I want to tell you why none of these things really matter and why networking is important no matter who you are or the kind of personality you have.
WHAT: is networking really?
Networking is really not as overwhelming as it might sound. When you hang out with friends at a coffee shop or bar, you are networking. When you have dinner with relatives from out of town, you are networking. When you go to church and chat with people after service, you are networking. Networking is simply a support system of sharing information (or services) among individuals and groups who have a common interest. It seems to me that creative professionals get uncomfortable thinking about “networking events” because they have the wrong view of it. Networking should not be something full of pressure. No one is anxious about hanging out with their friends over dinner, they’re just there and you talk and get to know each other. Professional networking should be no different.
Networking is just hanging out with people you already have something in common with and getting to know each other.
WHO: needs to network (hint:Everyone-even the introvert)
When I say the word “networking”, some of you immediately started squirming on the inside. As an extrovert, this is something that I honestly don’t understand. But I have so many good friends who are introverts and it’s really a struggle for them. But I’m here to tell you why it’s important for you- introvert, and for everyone.
Many creatives, even those who might consider themselves extroverts, hate networking. They get used to sitting behind their computers all they hanging out with themselves and their own thoughts all day long. We get so used to being alone, that it just seems like too much effort to get out and actually talk to people face to face. But once you do it, you will find that it is so valuable. I am definitely that person who will find the introvert and walk over and introduce myself- I love connecting with people.
There’s something special about finding yourself in a group of people who know your struggles and want to connect with you around those struggles.
Networking can actually be an awesome way for an introvert to overcome their anxiety of meeting new people. Since a lot of apprehension can come from not knowing what to say or what to talk about, having something in common (design, creativity, etc.) to talk about removes a lot of the unknowns. As an extrovert, I learn a ton from the introverts I’ve met because they are so introspective oftentimes they have awesome and unique outlooks that others don’t have.
This brings me to the next point, of why we should network with others in ours and related fields.
WHY: Relationships (community, camaraderie, cavorting)
So why should you even care? You may not want to get to know anyone in the design community. Or maybe you feel like you’ve got it all covered, I mean you have the internet right? You comment on the people you like on Instagram or interact on Dribble.I feel like so many things are getting lost not just on society in general but on creatives because of the digital community. Not that the digital community isn’t super valuable, because it is, but there isn’t really anything quite like a face-to-face meet up with someone.
Just like I know that there is a tangible difference between “sketching” on an iPad and sketching with a pencil and paper, there’s a huge difference between a networking online and doing it in person.
There is almost an unspoken sentiment among artists that we have to be lonely and brooding to be able to follow our own path, like we don’t need anyone else. I think this is the wrong way to look at our lives as creative professionals. If we are alone, we are more likely to quit because we have no one there to say, “keep going”. All creatives doubt ourselves at some point.
One of the ways to get out insecurity is to surround ourselves with like minded people who understand, who can encourage us and relate to our struggles.
Once you realize that you are not alone, your life as a creative will become a good deal more bearable and you will begin to seek out more opportunities to meet and interact with people. There’s fewer things more frustrating than trying to talk to a non-designer about that one client who keeps asking you to change the font or wants to know why they can’t have more logo options if they can get 100 of them from some place online. Give out your cards, tell people about what you’re doing, make an effort and embrace the camaraderie that will come naturally.
When you network with other creatives, especially those in your field of expertise, you have community.
As humans, we were not made to do life alone. There’s even a verse in the Bible that says “it is not good for man to be alone.” Why do you suppose that is? Well, just like the above client example, there are things that we sometimes just can’t deal with on our own.
Oftentimes we just need someone to relate to our creative struggles and frustrations, other times we might need someone to help us with a portion of a project that we can’t do.
Where do we find this? By networking, you find it in your creative community. Not only do you find community and camaraderie, but you should eventually have fun with these people. Cavorting with people in your field of expertise inevitably brings joy and every creative is better when they have joy in their lives. It is really incredible to surround yourself with a community that speaks your language. In fact, a very close friend of mine recently got a job in a creative field, I told her I couldn’t wait until she started to speak our creative jargon. She said “Me either! I love learning new languages.” But this is exactly it! When you find people who understand you, the whole world seems brighter.
WHERE: AIGA, Creative Mornings, competitions, AAF luncheons,
Depending on where you live there are so many opportunities to get involved with a face-to-face design community. There’s professional associations like AIGA, AAF, Creative Mornings, Rising Tide Society, there’s competitions and coffee talks, Dribble meet ups and design conferences. The easiest way is generally to google a local chapter of these organizations and see what they are doing. Ask other creatives that you know already if they or how they are involved in the creative community.
If by some chance there isn’t anything happening in your city, start something! Start inviting people to get together and talk and share frustrations and insight together.
They are out there I promise, but they will not always come to you-you must make the effort to find them at times.
FINAL NOTE: Networking shouldn’t be all about you
Creative’s can sometimes be kind of self-centered. Because a lot of us work on our own or for ourselves, we look at most things we do through the lens of “how will this benefit me or my skills?”. We think about how someone will help us get better connections, or what will we learn, etc. Networking easily and quickly becomes all about us. Instead we need to try to shift perspective on our experiences with networking.
We should start thinking about what we have in a group of people that we could share, instead of looking around at what we can get.
Because creatives are naturally introspective, we don’t always realize that we are being a little greedy when it comes to our thinking. We honestly are just always trying to be better and learn more to be awesome at what we do. The true secret though, is that by sharing with others, we will become better because others will want to share with us. Shared knowledge through networking is a powerful tool. I wrote about being a critic in post #11 awhile back. It is about using your skills to critique and share your knowledge with someone who is less experienced than you.
Networking allows you incredible opportunities to help make your creative community a better place by not keeping you to yourself.
We are better together, find relationships through networking and you may be surprised at the awesome by-products in your life that will come. Networking opportunities are everywhere if you want to find them, and I strongly encourage you to get off your seat, put some business cards in your pocket and get out there. Design is a wonderful world, I hope you’ll join me here (and others out there). Because design matters.