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How do you feel about design business networking?

For some people, networking comes naturally. Put them in a crowd and watch them work their magic. But to other people, the thought of walking up to a stranger and starting a conversation fills them with dread.

I know, I was that guy. Growing up, I was as introverted as they get. Unless I was with my small group of friends, I preferred to be by myself. I was quiet, shy, and tended to avoid eye contact whenever possible, especially with those of the opposite sex. I was not one of the popular kids at school.

Then I got a job working at Sears and met my friend Mike. Mike and I worked together throughout high school and college. We didn’t work the same departments, but since we were the same age and had the same breaks and lunchtime, we started hanging out.

Mike was the complete opposite of what I was. I was quiet and kept to myself. Mike was loud and outgoing and treated everyone like they were great friends, even if they had just met. From the day we met, Mike set a goal to get me out of my shell. And he eventually did to an extent.

I’m by no means a converted extrovert. I still prefer to be by myself than spend time in large crowds. A small dinner gathering with a few friends, I’m in. A large party or gathering with dozens of people, I may take a raincheck on that one.

But I am much more outgoing than teenage me was. I have no problem striking up a conversation while in the checkout line at Walmart, or asking a perfect stranger for advice at a store. But stick me in a large gathering of people and tell me to go network, and I still feel that apprehension creep back.

Therein lies the problem for many designers, the apprehension towards networking. However, to grow your design business, you need to get out there and talk about your design business. You can’t just sit at your desk all day and hope the work comes to you. You can’t keep your fingers crossed and hope that your SEO efforts pay off, and clients start arriving in droves. It doesn’t work that way. Or at least for most designers, it doesn’t.

If you want your business to grow, you need to get out there, meet new people and talk about what you do.

So how do I get over the apprehension towards networking? I stopped thinking of networking as “networking.” Instead, I try to think of it as “relationship building.” I don’t attend gatherings with the intent of getting new clients or growing my business.

Don’t get me wrong. That is the desired outcome. Otherwise, why do it at all? But I don’t set it as a goal. Instead, I set a goal of starting and building relationships with people. I’m not there to win them over or sell them. I’m there to get to know them.

Removing the burden of being a salesperson makes it much easier for me to interact with perfect strangers. I present myself as an interested bystander as I get to know people. You see, Landing a new client is a byproduct of building relationships. Not the other way around.

I’ve talked many times before on the Resourceful Designer podcast about the importance of building relationships with your clients. And yes, you should be trying to build a relationship with every client you have. But relationship building isn’t exclusive to existing clients. Relationship building can be a strong precursor for someone to become a client eventually.

I do work for a media agency. I got the gig because I had built a relationship with the owner of the agency. Because of that relationship, when it came time for him to find a designer, I was the first person that came to mind.

But how does that help you at networking events? It doesn’t, but it does show you the power of relationship building. So what if you’re an introvert and the thought of networking or relationship building still terrifies you?

Here are some tips to help you network.

Start with people you know.

It’s a lot easier to have a conversation with someone when you’re familiar with them. Talk with your doctor and dentist, the mechanic who services your car, your landlord, parents of your children’s friends. Old schoolmates. Anybody with whom you’re already familiar. Have conversations with them and be sure to mention small tidbits about what you do.

Find small gatherings.

You don’t need to attend large conferences to be successful. Start building relationships at a small gathering.

If you have kids, try talking with other parents at their school events. Don’t have kids? Look in your local area and attend events where you can meet people.
Check Facebook for events happening near you, or try meetup.com.

Check to see if there’s a WordCamp near you. It’s a great place to meet people, and you’ll probably learn something while you’re there.

Listen and ask questions.

The best part of building relationships as opposed to networking is instead of trying to sell yourself; you’re trying to get to know people. Ask them questions about where they work and what they do. Then listen and follow up with more questions depending on how the conversation goes. Be sure to mention what you do, but don’t’ try to sell yourself.

Set a “People quota.”

Before attending an event, set a goal for yourself to meet a certain number of people. Tell yourself I want to meet X new people today. And once you’ve accomplished that goal, permit yourself to leave if you feel inclined.

Attending large conferences.

Before attending a large conference, join in the community. If there’s a Facebook group or such associated with the conference, become a part of it and get involved.

Follow the conference hashtags on Twitter or Instagram. Use the hashtags yourself. Take note of other people who are also excited about the conference and ask them if they would like to meet up once there. It will give you a reason and a base to talk to people.

The best thing about conferences is the people you meet. Given a choice, I will always skip a session or speaking panel to keep a great conversation going with someone I just met.

Get out there and do some design business networking.

So there you have it, tips to help you get over the fear of meeting new people and growing your design business. In the next episode I'm going to share ways to network that don't involve face-to-face meetings.

I know networking to grow your business can be difficult, especially if you’re an introvert. But if you want to grow your design business, you need to get out there and talk about it. But like everything else in life, if you take it one step at a time, you’ll manage.

You may never become entirely comfortable having a conversation with a stranger. But hopefully, that feeling of apprehension will diminish, allowing you to give it your best effort.

Have a look in your local area and choose an event to attend. There’s no time like the present to get started.

What's your experience with networking?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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