As a designer, your network affects your net worth

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In a perfect world, clients would just find us and we wouldn’t have to do anything except turn in a beautifully-designed project, collect the accolades, and see our client lists grow. Unfortunately, even for top-quality professionals, achieving steady client growth is sometimes the most difficult.

I was fortunate to launch my design firm coming out of a large firm,having worked on some large campaigns. But while my design credentials and background were strong, I had considerably less experience in developing a client base. I had to learn a few things along the way, most importantly: learning how to truly network. It took time and practice, but I did gain a few friends and clients along the way.

Three tips for building a solid network

So how do improve your networking skills and the exposure they bring? Three main areas in which you can focus your efforts to help you get started are your support, information and referral networks. We’ll explore each of these below:

1. YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
Take a look at your support network, also known as friends and family. Most of us overlook or underestimate this asset. Family and friends are usually happy to help, and their connections might know a business that needs a designer. Social networking sites such as Facebook are a great way to maintain connections and keep you and your professional side on the minds of those in this social group.

2. YOUR INFORMATION NETWORK
Next is your information network, or the people you know. Every person is a connection. Keep up existing contacts and keep the list growing. You should always carry business cards everywhere you go, and I mean everywhere. The grocery store, your kids’ birthday parties, the bar at happy hour, Starbucks, the list goes on and on. My skeptical mind was proven wrong when I met one of my best clients at a four-year-old’s birthday party. I have since met people and contacts in the most unexpected settings.

Within the information network, there are a few areas you can focus on. For example:

Your old buddies from that old job.
Before you left your last job to become your own boss, you had other jobs. Most likely some of those people have moved on and are now at other places. They are advancing in their careers and more likely than ever to be in a position to purchase services, or be asked for recommendations. You should track them down and tell them you are on your own now. It might feel awkward at first to call someone with whom you worked with four years ago, but most people are eager to meet up and see how they can be of assistance. Always remember those people know other people.
Former clients
Just because you have finished a professional relationship with someone doesn’t mean they can’t be of further professional use to you. Assuming you have finished a project with flying colors, you have an opportunity to go back to that client and ask him/her to refer you to other people. Even better, maybe they can introduce you to other contacts in his/her industry. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful networking tools available. One important note here: It is best to talk to your former clients right after the project is completed so as not to lose the momentum. People get busy and move on to other projects so you might not on their direct radar for long.
3. YOUR REFERRAL NETWORK
The last networking group is your referral network. This refers to people you know, or might know, who are not in direct competition with you, but share a similar business arena. Some examples of these are:

  • List groups for different industries.
    This is often an overlooked power source, but it is a good one to tap into. List servs/groups with professionals who hire designers, such as communications or marketing professionals, are an excellent source of contacts and information. Often these individuals are more relaxed and casual when posting comments and it can be easier to establish a connection. A good way to get invited into these groups is through a connection that is part of the group. Sometimes former clients or newly met acquaintances are the way in. When they host networking events, it will be easier to attend.
  • LinkedIn groups.
    LinkedIn groups are a relatively easy way to access information and contacts for different industries. While I do think designers should join design related groups, their alma matter and so on, some of the best contacts come from local small business groups. Join a local networking group, such as a marketing group and get in touch with people who seem of interesting to you. You might not get work from any new contacts right away, but if you follow some of the discussions, and add comments, you might be able to eventually meet these people in person.
  • Connect people you know with other contacts.
    They say the more you give the more you get. This also applies to networking. If you learn that one of your contacts is looking for a specific professional in another industry, and you happen to know someone, by all means put the two and two together. Most people will remember how you did them a favor, particularly when their need for a designer comes in. Only recommend people you trust or know of their professional capabilities. You don’t want to burn your direct and potential connection. You can do this through e-mail, LinkedIn, or even on an online group.

While all of the above are great ways to improve your networking skills, you have to remember to think of networking as a partnerships and connection opportunity. Don’t just give people your business card along with an elevator speech, tell them how you can help their business. If you play it well, you might get a new client for life.

Bonus: A few Networking Online Resources

Below are a few simple links to help you begin networking with other designers, potential clients, and more:

LinkedIn. www.linkedin.com
Plaxo www.plaxo.com
Networking Event Finders www.networkingeventfinders.com
Yahoo Groups –specific ones are available for different areas and locations www.yahoo.com
MeetUp Groups –specific ones are available for different areas and locations www.meetup.com

What other networking techniques have you found successful? Add them to the list.

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About Anna Rubio

Comments

  1. Great article Anna!

    I typically use Twitter and Linkedin to develop my network. I’m relatively new to Linkedin, so I’m not sure how to create an effective Linkedin page, but I’m hoping I’ll learn how to soon. Nonetheless, Twitter is great for networking with other designers. If you can interact with them and be friendly, you’re sure to get some clients your way.

    • @Nicole Foster,
      Thanks for adding those points, Nicole. I have also focused a lot on twitter as a networking tool. I have tried to connect with people via LinkedIn, but it doesn’t seem to be as user-friendly. If you would like to explore the best way for designers to network using LinkedIn, I would love to publish your findings here at GDB.

    • Anna Rubio says:

      @Nicole Foster,

      Thanks for your response. I have used Twitter also for connections and to gather business contacts. I think it is a great way to start a conversation with someone. The key with Twitter, or any social media platform, is consistency. That is a sure way to get results.

  2. I especially like what you say about getting more when you give more by connecting people with each other for their own purposes that may be wholly unrelated to yours. I’ve learned that by becoming a trusted resource for information, you build up a reputation as being a great “go to” person — it bolsters your brand as well as your name recognition.

    • @kat song,
      I really enjoyed that part as well, Kat. So many people are focused on building their business and growing their net worth that they forget to help other people. In an entrepreneurship book I read once, I learned this lesson:
      “Help other people succeed with their goals, and they will help you succeed in yours.”

    • Anna Rubio says:

      @kat song,

      Well said Kat. I think that in order to become a trusted source, you need to be consistent and offer to help clients solve a problem. If they need a referral, or advice, that is a stepping stone to many potential exchanges and possible future contacts.

  3. I have gained a lot using Twitter and Linkedin. Found wonderful resources, friends and clients using these networking sites. My old clients are my biggest network. This month itself I got six queries from new clients who were referred by my old clients. This shows your work speaks more than words. No doubt, networking of any kind is useful in expanding your base specially in today’s linked world. I will specially recommend a book written by Mitch Joel, Six Pixels of Seperation. The book says Everyone is connected, Connect your business to everyone. So true.

    I heard a oldie song “One thing leads to another” but I must say “One Link leads to another” :)

    Great Article Anna.

  4. Excellent article Anna!

    You cover some important points of successful networking. Helping others comes first, and they in turn will help you. I find that when you present yourself as a trusted resource and an expert in your field you will gain referrals. When the referral evolves into an opportunity to work together, you can gain a client – and and friend – for life.

    • @Bob Saupp,
      Extremely well said, Bob. Thank you for sharing those thoughts. I have many clients who, although I don’t do much work for them, we continue to be friends and they also send more clients my way.

    • Anna Rubio says:

      @Bob Saupp,

      Thanks Bob. Your comment rings true for me. I have gained new friends after an initial networking meetings, that eventually led to new projects.

  5. Nice Article, I agree that it’s not just about promoting your business or services but also about helping each other out. Clients really appreciate when you show genuine interest in marketing or improving their company brand.

    • Anna Rubio says:

      @Joe Valdez,

      Thanks for your comment Joe. This is very true, even if you just add a comment about a small change, clients do remember that and might come back looking for you when the time is right.

  6. thank you for this great artical.

    Thank you for this great article.

    Some of my greatest success, in the way of networking, has come from attending social events; Wine tastings, music contests, charity events, etc. I haven’t had much success from online networking sites, though I may need to start working on my consistency. I tend to shy away from things that don’t seem to work for me, but after seeing all of you obtaining fruitful results I will have to reassess this.

    • Anna Rubio says:

      @Thomas Fusaro,

      Great insight, thank you. I think if you trust that inner voice that tells you if a client is right for you or not, you will gain steady clients that enjoy the type of work you do.

  7. Awesome!! thanks a lot for sharing this helpful article!!

  8. The power of connections, either professionals or not, and of referalls it’s a never-said-enough truth.

    That’s even more true if we’re talking about the life of a freelance web designer/developer. Often when a freelance designer starts its work in the jungle of competitors out there, have the need to contact clients, spread the word with friends, familiars and so on in order to do more work, pay the bills and became a more skilled designer.

    But the most important thing is to keep active those connections and give them the right value. Every friend, familiar, work mate, passed work boss, etc. etc. can do us a favor talking about us to other persons. That can be accomplished only if we have left them a good opinion of ourself. Otherwise having 3 hundreds of contacts on LinkedIn and some thousands of followers on Twitter it’s useless.

    I’ve found LinkedIn poor and (as Preston as rightly said) not user friendly. Have connections and setting up our profile page is a long process which require too much time. In the other hand Twitter is probably one of the best tools available for we designers to let the world know what we’re doing right now and how we’re doing it. In this months is gaining success also Dribbble which allows also to show directly a little snapshot of the work the designer is working on. (No one have an invite for me? :P)

    Attend to offline meetings and keep with us a business card to give to every possible client and/or point-of-junction-with-another-client it’s another best way to expand our connections.

    That’s all. And that’s enough. Sorry for the long comment! Great article Anna!

    • @Unique Design,
      These are some great thoughts, Mattia. While Linkedin, isn’t quite as fun as the other services, I think it serves a good purpose for connecting with professionals. The only downside of twitter is that many times we connect with other designs – not likely clients. Dribbble as well is a great service, but I think it connects designers with other designers more than with potential clients.

      Thanks for sharing, Mattia.

      • @Preston D Lee,
        honestly, I agree with you. Twitter and Dribbble are more useful to connect with other designer hand have some review about our works/articles.

        My idea is that is difficult to find a client that is really active on a social network like the one we’re talking about (even LinkedIn) for sharing with him/her the progress of the project. The best way to communicate with clients will be forever by email and phone.

  9. The whole carrying your business card everywhere you go aspect is SO right on. One client I found was while I was shopping for shoes. She was the person selling the shoes to me, and we got lost in conversation. First about why I needed these certain shoes, and then the conversation went on to what I did for a living. She instantly said she needed a website for the Red Cross. Pretty neat!

    I use twitter as my best networking tool. Along with keeping in close contact with my friends and family. Though twitter has become such a valuable tool for me and I have mad some wonderful friends and business partners.

    • @Hillary,
      Thanks for sharing! Would you mind elaborating on what exactly you do on twitter to build your network. I think a lot of people use it, but I wonder if people are using it well.

      What are your thoughts?

      • Hey @Preston!
        Thanks for the reply back.

        One of the greatest ways I have built my network is doing research to find other peoples design blogs. (The ones I like of course that have high quality work). I then, in turn, leave comments on their posts when I feel that the post was done well.

        I also leave my twitter link as the link to my “Website” on my blog comment. That’s just one technique I use. I also find that posting in the morning, and mid afternoon are more popular times to get traffic on my twitter account. I am more likely to get replies to tweets and RT’s.

        I am genuinely interested in other people online. I am want to be involved in their lives and the design community. I make sure that my tweets are not constantly about me, but how I can better improve someone Else’s net worth. In turn, that helps me develop a community with high quality designers and friends. :)

  10. Nice post! :)
    thanks for sharing…
    I always love to read your blog post!

  11. Interesting reading :)…. What Linked In Groups do you recommend?

    • Anna Rubio says:

      @Lisa Kalandjian,

      Depending on the type of work you do, I would recommend groups where one might find potential contacts such as marketing, pr, and communications. I personally belong to national creative groups, small business groups and marketing groups, just to give you a few examples. It is good to be active so that people can begin to recognize you name under different article threads. Sometimes you might get a new contact that way.

      I hope this helps.

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