Happy Tuesday! I’ve been living in central Florida for over five years now and getting connected to the community around me has helped my business and my blog. When I started designing, everything was online strictly for me. I didn’t have a license as a 15 year-old so I made connections with people online and ran my business that way. My business is totally different today. Most of our clients are local and I prefer it that way. So today, I’m going to chat about getting local as a designer and branding consultant and how it’s really helped me.
Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone
Earlier this year, I talked about creating challenges for creatives and for those who started our businesses online, networking locally falls under that category. I’m not an introvert but I started working in design as a teenager. It was intimidating to be a 19 year-old, living in a new city, newly married, and having to jump into networking for myself. To be fair, I did attend networking events when I worked with mom for her business so I had an idea of how things went. No two industries are the same when it comes to networking and that was challenging!
One of the things that helped me was starting small. I connected with a few entrepreneurs at the church we chose to attend, who would later become some of my closest friends and clients! We just talked about things and over the months, I was asked to do some work for them. I’ve been working with them on design and brand management ever since. If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to networking, here are some things that can help you out.
- Talk to your friends and family! Getting to work with local clients usually starts within your social circle. Talk to your friends and family about their businesses or work place. It’s no harm to ask if they need any work done when you’re being genuine.
- Be visible. Don’t be afraid to talk about your business when meeting new people. If you’re at a party and the topic of careers come up, share some insight on what you do. You’d be surprised at who would be interested.
- It’s ok to start small. It is easy to get overwhelmed seeing all of the networking events happening in creative industries online. You don’t have to start your own event to connect with others. Carry business cards and that is more than enough to get started.
Attending Industry Events
I didn’t attend my first industry events until I’d been a creative entrepreneur for over seven years. You definitely don’t have to wait that long to get connected! I’ve met so many students and graduates and local events and it’s so fun to get to know other designers. My business relationships have gotten so much better since going to local events. Even though I don’t live near downtown Orlando, making the time to drive out there has helped me so much. In fact, this week, we have four events on the calendar.
Going to your first event can be terrifying! Don’t worry, I have some tips on what you can do to get out there and make the most of each event.
- Take a friend! I usually attend events with my business partner/husband so it’s easy for me to feel comfortable. I always have someone to rely on if I feel overwhelmed and we reach twice as many people separately. Having a friend also helps you out if you attend something that might have been a bad choice. We’ve definitely done that once or twice and having each other got us through the night!
- Connect with the speaker/organizer. I know speakers and organizers seem unreachable during events but they are usually some of your most important contacts. They usually know the most people in the room and they love getting feedback from how events are going.
- Be genuine. One of the biggest issues at events is being overly-networky. In our industry, it’s a bit more about genuine relationships other than just connecting to get business. I really enjoy knowing other designers and developers in the city. We always help each other out when it comes to work. I often recommend others for jobs that I can’t do. We’re not very competitive in my area and it makes it so much easier to connect.
- Be prepared. There are often potential clients at industry events. I’ve met a couple of our clients just for chatting over coffee or sitting next to each other. You should always be “on” without being too over the top. Be prepared to answer questions about your business process, have business cards, and be sure to follow up on leads the very next day. Sometimes clients are shopping around and that’s ok! You still want to make an effort to reach out and keep your connections active.
Once you start connecting with clients and industry partners locally, you want to be sure to keep it up! If I’d known I would have so much fun at conferences and events, I would have started attending them years ago. Since we consistently make an effort to show up, we often get introduced to new people and it allows us to deepen our relationships with other. I also try to connect with people I meet via social media often just to support them or to see how they’re doing. You never know what kind of relationships you may make by being visible. They aren’t always good but you learn quickly! Often the bad seeds have interacted with several people and it’s easy to spot them out. The more you put yourself out there is the more you become comfortable with it! Here are some ideas to help you stay visible locally.
- Try new events! If you have been to the same meetup or event a few times, try something new. Try taking someone out for coffee just to chat or see something in a different area. You never want to do too much of the same thing or it gets boring quickly.
- Use social media. Connect with people all of the time via social media. I love it when people reach out to me via Twitter after meeting them. It just makes me feel like they are interested in what I said or they felt we connected. It’s almost like dating lol!
- Don’t overwhelm yourself. You should definitely know your limits and stay within them. The moment you commit to too much is the moment you find yourself burned out.