Almost by definition, photographers are introverts. Not saying we don’t like people or are antisocial, but as a rule, even those who specialize in portraits or weddings are still more comfortable looking for angles and calculating light than they are with small talk.
Some people, on the other hand, seem born to network. They love working the crowd, meeting new people, and pressing the flesh. The majority of these folk end up in politics … or sales.
There’s a reason for that.
In this day and age, networking can be a key to making the sale: in a world were so many companies sell virtually indistinguishable products, it makes sense to buy from a PERSON, someone you know and trust.
“That’s great,” you say. “But my ART speaks for me: I don’t need to sell.” It’s pretty to think so, but no: there are lots of average-or-better photographers in the world. Yes, you need to supply a superior product, but what you’re selling is YOU. Word-of-mouth is your best resource, but you can’t depend on that to happen. To grow your business, you constantly need to work on expanding your exposure … networking is the most efficient and effective way to do it.
Self-proclaimed business evangelist Guy Kawasaki defined good networking as always thinking “yes.” There is a lot to recommend this approach: even if you never say it out loud, expecting yes helps you project a positive attitude that is attractive to people. In fact, some experts go as far as to say that even smiling when you’re on the phone can make a difference to the person on the other end of the line.
Networking can take place at a wedding, over coffee, or in an organized event. Sometimes it’s better to start small. Sometimes it may be helpful to enlist the help of a more gregarious friend. It may seem impossible, but we’re here to help. We’ve compiled a list of 10 easy-to-follow ice-breaking techniques to make your networking more effective.
- Ask for help or advice. This idea, coming from none other than Ben Franklin, works on the theory that people are more likely to do you a second favor after they’ve already done something for you. Requesting a favor or friendly advice tends to force that dynamic.
- Offer to help. The flip side of item #1 is to offer your aid to people. Not as in “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” but more to demonstrate that you’re easy to work with (note: don’t offer advice unless asked).
- Get pumped. If you don’t consider yourself a networker, it’s hard to get excited about it … but it’s necessary. Focus on the possibilities that come from creating new relationships. You can’t fake excitement … you need to find ways to make networking exciting for you.
- Skip the elevator pitch… Not every encounter is about making a direct sale. The most useful networking is aimed at creating genuine relationships. You don’t have to work your pitch into every conversation. It’s more about paying attention to the other person.
- … But have it ready just in case. If someone asks what you do or wants more information, you need to have a response that answers the question quickly and concisely. Write it out beforehand. Focus on what you can offer. Practice in front of a mirror to build confidence.
- Update social media. Online sites can be part of networking. If people decide at some point to look you up on LinkedIn or Facebook, you’d better have a profile that clearly shows what you are capable of. And of course, keeping your OWN website current is crucial.
- Scrub your online image. Take a second look at your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Any embarrassing or inappropriate posts should be deleted, or at least made private. Any portfolio work that doesn’t show you in the best light should be removed.
- Be interesting. It’s a whole lot easier to strike up a conversation if you have something to talk about besides photography. Reading up on a few current events or other interesting topics will help people know there’s more to you than what you do.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Nervous? Most people are. But starting conversations with others who are also uncomfortable doesn’t just build your network; it also helps build your people skills.
- Follow up. You don’t want to send a LinkedIn invite to someone the second you meet. But you DO want to reestablish contact within a day or two. While you’re talking with people, ask what avenue of follow-up they prefer: text, phone call, email, whatever.
These tips can help whether you’re at some type of networking event, or just talking to someone you randomly met. Practice them on family and friends–or, as we mentioned, in front of a mirror. Just like everything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become.