Can networking with your competition really grow your design business?

networking-for-designers-graphic-design-blender

You know as a designer you’ve got to market yourself in order to find new business.

But if you’re only selling your services using “marketing” techniques, you’re missing a vital piece of the puzzle: networking.

Get Connected.

You may think your client pool exists outside of the design realm, but as Preston points out in this post, your best clients might also be your competition! That’s right, design agencies, in-house marketing/graphics departments, fellow freelancers, and production houses all can make excellent clients (read why here).

That’s why it’s so important to get connected. Make friends and acquaintances within the design field, and when someone needs your specialty, they’ll already know who to call. You won’t be just another name on a business card or another pretty portfolio.

Use Social Media.

With social media, it’s never been easier to get connected and to do so globally. LinkedIn, Twitter, ReferralKey, etc. allow you to connect with other design professionals, view their profiles, and share information.

Of course, you have to take the time to not only fill out your profile, but do it well. You want your peers to be impressed by what they read!

I rely on LinkedIn as my primary source of networking, and it’s been a huge success for me. I belong to many design groups and I regularly comment on discussions, sharing tips, ideas, opinions, and information.

This has led me to receive “connect” requests from professionals from all over the world – Greece, Cincinnati, Toronto, Seattle, Kentucky, England, etc., and I’ve received several clients/jobs from LinkedIn as well.

I average about 10 profile views per week (see my LinkedIn profile), and I’m always looking to improve that number.

Blog.

Another great way to get your name out there is to write posts (or comment) on design blogs. Become a familiar name on your favorite sites; someone who others look forward to reading.

I, of course, now write here.

At first, I was just a GDB reader.

For a few months I didn’t comment on anything…I just absorbed, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Finally, I decided to comment, and as GDB became a favorite with a bookmark on my browser window, I felt like a regular.

Some time later I realized I thought I had a legitimate post to contribute…something Preston hadn’t written about yet. So I asked, and he obliged, and then he asked me to post regularly (and yes, we do have a contract – remember goal #9).

Leave your Desk.

Eeep! I know, that’s scary…going out into the real world.

Find a local design club or professional group in your area and actually go to the social events. Agree to have lunch or coffee with other freelancers or design professionals in your area. Enroll in a continuing education class.

I’m not a member of any professional group – I am very choosy about subscription-style business spending – but I do still have face-to-face meetings with other designers.

Last year I took 2 continuing education classes and looked forward to each class not only for the information and design improvement, but also just to talk to other designers like me.

I also was invited to a brainstorming session for a local non-profit’s month-long marketing campaign, which was tremendously fun (and productive). Out of 23 professionals in various design/marketing fields, I was chosen to create the logo!

Occasionally I have lunch/coffee (in my case, chai) with design professionals in my area. I don’t promote spending business money on food as a regular habit, but especially to get to know one another and start to feel comfortable and confident in the business relationship, I find that there’s no substitute for a casual meeting.

Never Burn Bridges.

I always say, “never say never,” but in this case I make an exception.

Never burn bridges.

You never know where your next client might come from, and who they know.

Networking doesn’t guarantee that a single new client will come knocking on your door, but neither does an ad in the local paper. Done right, however, networking plants the seed in someone else’s mind that you are competent, professional, and trustworthy for an introduction, a referral, or their own project.

Most of my business has come as a result of professional networking. There’s a lot of truth in the the saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Plenty of designers have great portfolios and talent but no connections. So get out there and get connected!

Network with me and Preston!

Go ahead, practice on us.

Leave a comment and connect with me and Preston and the other designers who read GDB! If you’re already a pro, share a comment and tell us how you make new connections and sustain professional friendships.

About April Greer

April is a go-to freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy. She is available for subcontracting and speaking engagements – visit Greer Genius for more information.

Comments

  1. What I have found with my fellow professionals is that we have all carved out pretty specific niche’s in the marketplace. I send potential clients to my “competitors” at least 3-4 times a month and probably 20% of my business comes from clients sent by “competitors.” What is essentially happening is the formation of informal virtual agencies where the objective is to keep our customers happy and if that means referring them to someone else, so be it.

    • Great policy, Michael. It sounds like you’ve got a great system and that it works well for you. It’s also great that you know your limitations and take business on that fits well with your strengths, while finding a better fit for clients whose projects aren’t your niche.

  2. Hey, thanks for this useful article. I have just decided to start out on a freelancing “career”, and am doing my best to read up all that I can about the design business, as well as brush up on my skills. Although I have a diploma in design (about to graduate), I regret to say that I have made some mistakes in my youth, and have burned some bridges. (Bad client relationship because of slow work pace, ‘bad attitude’…) Is there any way that bridges can be repaired? Should they be repaired? Or is it better to just move on and avoid burning more bridges?

    • Fion,

      I’m glad you’ve realized your mistakes and are aiming to correct them! As for repairing your bridges, let me put together a post about this, as I’m sure you’re not the only one who has this question. My response might be a long comment otherwise! So stay tuned in the coming weeks!

  3. I have to say that I’ve had the most luck networking with my clients. My clients tend to refer work to me frequently, and almost all of my clients have come back for seconds or thirds.

    I have a tendency to refer work to others more frequently than I receive referrals from my “competitor” contacts. I don’t mind redirecting some business as long as my customers are happy, though.

    • Josh,

      That’s very true – client networking and client referrals are wonderful means of getting new clients.

      I find in my own work that I rarely have so much work that I need to pass on a job I’d like to take. However, if the job isn’t a good fit, I like to have a referral in hand so that I facilitate their need.

  4. I enjoy networking with other designers, and never really even think of them as competition. Technically they are, I suppose, but graphic design as a service is unique in that each designer truly is unique. Therefore, when a client picks one designer over another it’s not because one is better than the other, it’s that one is a better fit to the clients style/needs than another. Unlike say, a house cleaning company, where usually at the end of the day its simply who bids the lowest wins*, because both will get the house clean.

    There is so much we can learn from each other, and at the end of the day we are all in this together, so it just seems like it would be foolish not to network with each other.

    *Now I’m not naive, I realize there are those clients that are just looking for the cheapest designers possible, and don’t care about the uniquely creative things somebody brings to the table. But the kind of “designers” that take on that kind of client (the kid that just downloaded a pirated copy of Photoshop and watched a 2 minute YouTube video on how to make a clipping mask, and now calls himself a graphic designer), isn’t my competition to begin with.

    • Jason,

      Wonderful comment through-and-through!

      I rarely look at other designers as competition. One of my good friends (and fellow designers) has a beautiful style and I’ve always envied her pattern-making ability. My style tends to be more simplified. We used to work together in-house, and it was great to give projects to the best person for the job.

  5. Super duper article…yes, it’s so so true…“it’s not what you know, it’s who you know…”.
    You can’t stay in the cave all day and expect someone to notice you and come around with food supplies, which I think is the main gist. We’re creative people, we can’t be holed up all day. Get out, talk to someone, anyone, you’ll never know what goes around.

    Have fun, good luck!

  6. This is very worthy article for the designer, to build their networking with their clients good, n as for me i am logo designer, so this is the same things apply on me!
    So that thank you for this nice nice article here :)

  7. I’m active in LinkedIn groups and have connected with a number of designers that way. But it seems the ones who are most active on LinkedIn are the least busy – hence no extra work to refer. “Slow” seems to be the norm these days, tho I’m glad to hear there are still designers with too much work! Years ago, I did get referral work.

    • Louise,

      It’s true that a lot of companies have tightened their budgets and aren’t hiring designers (freelance or otherwise) like they used to. Many are feeling the crunch. Keep at it on LinkedIn…I found 2 repeat business-clients that way! You just never know…

  8. Thanks for the tips April. I’ve been designing for about 16 years, but I’m new to this networking, Facebook, Linkedin, people connecting stuff (Eeep!), so I appreciate the pep talk.

    Glad I found this site.
    I really like your style of writing. (I love a good chuckle! Eeep! LOL, still chuckling.)
    Kindly,
    Tamian

    • Tamian,

      Thanks! I’m glad I speak to you well.

      Networking takes more work than it sounds like sometimes, but in the end it’s been very worth it for me. I track my time networking, and if it makes financial sense in the future I might use HootSuite or something similar to manage my social media.

      It’s not difficult, though it can be hard to break through your fears or insecurities!

  9. Looking forward to reading more. Great article.Really thank you! Will read on…

  10. What a great article! Thanks for inviting everyone to be a part of GDB. I love the site. It has such practical advice for the working designer. This article being one. Thanks again!

    • Thanks, Shauna!

      GDB is a community of all levels of design entrepreneurs – new, experienced, starving, over-worked, happy, future, stressed, stuck, enlightened, refreshed…you name it. We want everyone to feel comfortable learning and commenting here.

      If you have any topics you’d like to read about, please do let us know!

  11. Networking with “the competition” is probably my best-spent marketing time. I read blogs, I am part of several e-mail lists, and I network with other designers and developers (and copywriters, and marketing professionals, etc.). This has several benefits for me:

    1. I get some human contact every day instead of living in a social vacuum. I love my animals and my family, but they don’t “get” what I do, and it’s wonderful to talk with people who understand what I’m talking about.
    2. a. I don’t have to do everything myself. I’m a much better developer than I am a designers, so by networking with designers, I now have people I can sub the design work to, while I spend my time doing what I do best.
    2. b. My design and copywriting colleagues don’t have to do everything themselves either. They can sub development work to me while they spend their time doing what they do best.
    3. I’ve been able to collaborate on a lot of very cool projects with a lot of very cool people.
    4. As others have pointed out, when a potential project isn’t a good fit, or when the workload doesn’t allow it, I have people to whom I can refer work. I get work referred back to me as well. Everyone wins.

    In the last ten years I have gotten way more work from my “competition” than I ever have from an ad or by any other form of direct marketing.

    • Margie:

      Thanks for sharing all of your points! Collaboration is great because it allows you to work on a project that’s larger than one person could generally take on. It’s fun sometimes to do something “big.” It’s also nice to have someone to do that part of the job that you don’t particularly like to do, and vice versa.

  12. If you have an online business or an e-commerce website, social networking can be really beneficial for you. It is an important tool to promote your website and thereby generate traffic to it. As a result, you can enjoy increased sales and earn more profits from your business.

    • That’s a great point, Shrink. Social networking is a great resource to drive people to your site, and to get more exposure with people who might not otherwise see your business.

  13. Great advice there April.

    To use my own personal example, I started to network with the creative community in my local area through regular networking events and ‘Tweet ups’ last November. The people I have met may not have sent any paying work my way, but creating these links has helped me to build my profile (both on and offline). I’ve also recieved invitations to other events, one of which directly led to me being put onto a design agencies freelance roster.

    I love using social networks online, but you honestly can’t beat just getting out there and shaking a few hands.

  14. Thanks, Andrew.

    That’s great that you’re getting out into the “real” world. Too many of us hide behind our desks!

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  1. […] today we’re going to talk about networking with people who might not be a client (hey, you never know) but can be absolutely essential in improving the quality of your work and increasing your […]

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