Networking is a powerful marketing tool that helps to cultivate long-term professional relationships. Whether you are a freelance photographer or a seasoned professional, having a strong and far-reaching network is one of the key aspects of building a successful business. Some estimates suggest around 85 per cent of positions across industries are filled by networking.
While its benefits are well documented, successful networking is an acquired skill. That is because networking is both science and art. Creating meaningful human connections and building long-term relationships requires strong interpersonal and communication skills. At the same time, networking also requires strategic thinking around how to gain access to your industry’s top professionals, find collaborators, mentors, or even your next job.
The past two-plus years of living through multiple COVID-19 waves has made networking more challenging (and overwhelming). As the world gradually limps back to normalcy, here are some great tips to help you get started.
Here are 11 easy tips to help you ease back into networking and reconnecting with your professional community.
- Understanding the goal of networking
- Find your photography community
- Develop your online presence
- Create an elevator pitch
- Commit time for a pre-event prep
- Set your own event agenda
- Stay virtually connected at offline events
- Develop your communication style
- Post-event follow-up
- Focus on building connections
- Create your own networking events
Understand the goal of networking
The first step to be successful at networking is to understand its myriad objectives. Networking is crucial for career development, but it is important to not approach it with only a sales mindset. Knowing more people raises your profile and increases your visibility in your field of work. It can lead to innovative collaborations. Meeting people from diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise will not just be good for social well-being, but also push you to develop a learning and growth mindset, an important life skill to cultivate. Networking will also help you become a good communicator and listener.
Find your photography community
Networking is all about meeting new people. Depending on your goals and aspirations as a photographer, spend some time scouring through the web to find offline and online ways of building your community. Neighbourhood meetup groups and mixers are great ways for amateur photographers to meet like-minded people. Professional photographers looking for referrals, collaborations, or a peer review of their portfolio, should be well-informed of the conventions, workshops and industry conferences happening in the city. We had compiled a list of Top 25 Photography Workshops around the World in 2023, to help you learn new photography skills and dive deeper into your niche.
You can create email alerts for popular events, sign up for photography newsletters and blogs, and join photography groups on Instagram and Facebook for digital networking. Keep yourself abreast of new photography trends and how you can apply them to your unique photography style. Here are the top 14 Popular Photography Trends for 2023.
Develop your online presence
Whether you meet someone online or in-person, they should easily be able to find you online and discover your work. One key networking tip is to have an active and well-curated online presence. Here is a complete guide on how to create an online portfolio and showcase, sell and share your work. An online portfolio website is a must-have for photographers and creative pros to market themselves and grow their business.
Social media has democratized photography, levelling the competitive playing field for everyone. To compete and thrive in this ecosystem, you need to develop a distinctive digital brand. Start with the basics - create social media accounts, where you regularly post your best work, add hashtags to increase the reach of your posts, as well as comment on other people’s posts. Prioritize your social media strategy based on your target audience. If you are a photographer catering to a younger demographic, you might want to up your game on TikTok and Instagram. Those focused on corporate work would find LinkedIn to be a better engagement medium.
It is also imperative to create an online portfolio or website that contains curated work samples, previously published work, client testimonials, as well as your resume and contact details. Be sure to include marketing and SEO features to drive more traffic to your website. Pixpa can help you build a comprehensive online photography portfolio complete with galleries, e-commerce tools, blogging tools, a client-proofing platform and more. Check out examples of some of the best photography portfolio websites and get inspired to create your own!
Create an elevator pitch
While an online portfolio increases your brand’s global reach and visibility, you also need to know how to effectively market yourself in person. What makes you stand apart from your competitors? What is your photography style? What is your brand’s unique selling point? What sort of services can you offer to a potential vendor or collaborator?
In short, if you were stuck in the elevator with your dream employer, how would you introduce yourself? This is an often overlooked, but important, aspect of professional networking. Instead of small talks and casual conversations, a carefully crafted introduction that you’ve memorized can be a powerful tool to communicate your value proposition. Popularly known as elevator pitches, they are typically no more than 30-60 seconds long, and usually end with a call to action.
Commit time for pre-event prep
To gain the most value out of a conference or industry event, it is advisable to do some homework in advance. Go through the RSVP list, and determine specific people that are on top of your target meeting list. Try connecting with them ahead of the event to schedule a quick meeting during the coffee break. Having pre-confirmed meetings during busy networking situations will lessen your stress on the actual day, allowing you to be more relaxed and confident. Another helpful tip for networking, especially for introverts, is to create some icebreaker questions that will also help you ease into conversations with strangers.
Set your own event agenda
If you are new to networking, start with small and achievable targets for your next big industry event, such as meeting one new person or exchanging a minimum of five business cards. You might also find it helpful to bring a friend along. Networking pros, meanwhile, typically have a few strategies to gain maximum value from a limited-duration event. Doing a quick scan of the room on entry, for example, can help in determining the nature of the crowd, and your appropriate networking strategy. If you’re at a conference and are keen to introduce yourself to a high-profile panelist, for example, hover around the stage right after the end of the panel. Standing in a high-traffic spot like the coffee cart also increases the odds of casual conversations.
Stay virtually connected at offline events
Almost every event or social mixer is now promoted on social media to increase engagement. Another helpful networking tip for photographers is to announce your presence at the event on your Twitter or Instagram page with the event’s hashtag, and post some live updates. This will increase your visibility amongst the event attendees, and might also translate into some real- time virtual networking opportunities. You can use facebook as a professional networking tool and live-stream your event or gathering on facebook. If you want some more ideas, do read our article on 12 uses of social media marketing to grow your photography business.
Develop your communication style
Your verbal and non-verbal cues have an important role to play in building connections with new people. Being aware of your communication style is key. Be approachable, personable, curious and ask questions. Remember people’s names. Read up in advance about the people on your list to network with, be familiar with their photography endeavours, and how you might be able to forge a collaborative partnership.
You might develop casual acquaintances or find your next big photography assignment at an event. Neither will happen in just a few hours. If you meet someone interesting, make sure to exchange contact information. A business card scanner app can be a useful tool to efficiently store new addresses on the cloud. Another crucial tip for newbie networkers: don’t forget to follow up. The usually recommended approach is to send a casual note or a thank you message, with a link to your portfolio, within 24-48 hours of meeting someone. The message can also conclude with a call to action, like suggesting a coffee or lunch catch-up.
Focus on building connections
A common mistake people make is to expect an introductory meeting to result in assignments overnight. Building meaningful relationships requires an investment of time and effort. Focus on giving, not receiving, in the initial days. If you come across an article or event that might be of interest to someone you met, share it with them. If you like someone’s work, send them a note of appreciation when they publish something new. Be open to giving references and sharing freelancing opportunities.
The goal should be to build a stellar reputation and authentic connections with your industry peers.
Create your own networking events
If you live in a city that does not have a lot of photography events, start your own. Bring your friends together for an evening of photography-focused activities - it could be a photo walk in a scenic neighbourhood, a photography movie night, or spending time reviewing and providing feedback on each other’s portfolios.
Do check out these articles on photography
- How to start a photography business in 2023- The Ultimate Handbook.
- How to become a successful Freelance photographer?
- How to become a Professional Photographer - A Complete Guide.
- Photography Pricing Guide - How much do Photographers make in 2023
- Commercial Photography: A Complete Guide.
- Top Photography Schools in the World.
- Top 20 Photography Contests to Enter for 2022-2023.
- 30 Photography Magazines You Should be Reading in 2023.
Like every other skill, learning tips and tricks of efficient networking will require you to challenge your existing beliefs, push you out of your comfort zone and demand consistency and patience. Do it right, and the long-term results will enrich every aspect of your professional and personal development journey.