Don’t Be Lazy! Networking Is Work
Welcome back for another edition of “Don’t Be Lazy!”, your dose of tough love when it comes to your photography career…
It’s all about who you know. Cliché? Yes. But maybe that’s because it rings so true. Relationships are the foundation of almost any business, and our interactions with someone can influence their opinion of us even more than the quality of our work.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, I am actively engaging on social media and I feel pretty booked this season, so I don’t need to worry about networking right now…”
Not so fast, buddy.
Social media and in-person networking are similar in that 1) they are both a kind of word-of-mouth advertising, and 2) the only upfront cost to do them is your time. But that doesn’t mean they serve the same functions. More and more, social media is becoming a mini-portfolio of your work for attracting potential clients, but networking is a different story.
Networking is about representing your brand personality in the flesh—yes, you need to be able to deliver the goods when it comes to imagery, but the purpose of networking is to get others keen on the idea of working WITH YOU. People are looking to connect with professional allies that will focus on mutual gain, deliver on their promises, and have the proven capabilities & resources to build success. And that’s what you need to be looking for, too!
“A lot of photographers spend hours on their phones commenting on photos and searching through Facebook groups, wondering why they aren't getting business from these interactions. Social media is an important tool, but face-to-face meetings seem to be getting overlooked! When you spend the time to actually meet in person or set up a phone call, you stay in their minds—when they think of photographers for a client, you’re on top of their list.
“In my experience, I have connected with way more people at events and created real (not forced) relationships with them—there are only a couple people who I have met from Instagram that have sent business my way. The relationships I have built face to face have helped my business a ton, and I cherish them. I make an effort to have meetings with my circle once or twice a month.”
You need to prep before you can start networking in a meaningful way, so don’t slack off! Make sure your website and social media are on point for the post-networking-event internet stalking. And for goodness sake, bring your business cards everywhere so that folks can easily get in touch with you (after you’ve had a chance to get to know each other, of course). If chatting up strangers isn’t your forte, gather up your best icebreakers so you can get a conversation started without overthinking it.
The most important preparation you can do is to develop quantifiable goals to motivate your networking efforts. Hit that target, whether it's introducing yourself to five new vendors at a tradeshow or booking one coffee date each week with a new contact! Goals will get you focused on making measurable progress and help you decide which of your networking efforts are effective and which can be kicked to the curb.
Where should you be networking? Technically, anywhere and everywhere, since you never know when you’ll meet someone who can help your business or even hire you! But, for some more targeted networking endeavors, here are a few places to start:
- On the job
- Industry trade shows
- Publisher’s events (think photography magazine releases or wedding blog events)
- Networking events (check out local artists’ groups, small business groups, and your chamber of commerce)
- Photo walks
- Gallery/show openings
“Networking has been vital to the success of my business, but not in the 'here is my business card, please hire me' sort of way. I believe people hire and refer people they know, like, and trust. The only way for that to happen is to be at the places those people are and start relationships. Be helpful and become friends with both your colleagues and competitors—exceed expectations and take care of the other vendors you work with.”
Who should you be networking with? Ultimately, you are looking for anyone who can be a true ally and have your back as a business. There are a lot of different industries that overlap with the photography world, and many diverse types of professionals can make great additions to your network:
- Industry bloggers & magazines
- Hair/Makeup teams
- Modeling agencies
- Event planners
- Graphic designers
- Interior designers
- Event venues
- Other photographers
Did you notice that we put "other photographers" last on our list? Networking with photographers can be very personally & creatively fulfilling and can yield even more awesome connections to add to your network, but if they are the only people you are networking with then you are not serving your business to the fullest. The majority of your network should be professionals that are not photographers themselves—they can provide more opportunities for you to get paying gigs, it’s as simple as that.
If you’ve had some successful meet n’ greets, remember: the work ain’t over yet! Networking is a continuous effort, and there has to be follow-up (meeting someone once does not a network make). How many times have you swapped contact info with someone only to never speak with them again? Put in the effort to build real relationships, not just add names to your rolodex. Yeah, we made that reference #oldschooliscool
“Networking can be really intimidating, especially for more introverted people, but it's a necessity for success in pretty much any industry. When I decided to move back to Los Angeles, I sent out emails to some planners I wanted to work with and never heard back. I was so discouraged! I complained to a friend, and she asked me how many people I had emailed and how many times I had followed up. I told her I contacted five people and hadn't followed up. She laughed and told me that the average return rate for cold calls was 5%, and that was after three or more attempts at reaching out.
“That night, I emailed 30 people and followed up—I set up dozens of coffees and lunches over the next few weeks. Those meetings are what led to many of my bookings for this year and next year, as well as some great friendships and even invitations to industry events where I met other amazing vendors and kept expanding my social network within the industry!”
Networking is a reciprocal process—what goes around comes around! Your network isn’t just about helping you out. If you put in the time and effort to genuinely support your fellow professionals, you can expect the same in return. So, say “yes” to opportunities to collaborate with and help your professional allies!
“Seven years ago, I showed up to an engagement session an hour away from home and realized that my Contax had no inserts! I happened to take them out for some reason and forgot to put them back. Thankfully, I remembered meeting a girl at a networking event who lived in the area who also shot film. I reached out to her and was lucky enough to be able to borrow her inserts. Lesson learned is to triple check my gear and that it's good to maintain relationships!”
Ultimately, networking is the gateway to referrals. One of the advantages of working in a community-centered industry where lots of professionals must come together to make a shoot happen is that every time your network gets business, you have a chance to get in on that business, too. Most photogs get over 80% of their new business from referrals. Don’t be lazy—ASK FOR THEM!