See this photo? From left to right here's how I met each person: April emailed me, I emailed Nicole, Pei and I met at a networking event, Katie and I went to the same conference but didn't meet up until after she emailed me to work with me, and I've known Stephanie for over 12 years. I consider this group of women my village.
Of every aspect of working for myself this is the most important to me personally. When I moved to Austin and I started trying to work for myself two things became very clear.
1) I can't do this alone.
I am such an extrovert. I thrive most when I am part of a team. I work best sitting across from someone with a pot of coffee and a plate of donuts between us, which is exactly how I'm writing this right now. I began searching for friends via all the mediums I possessed, which at the time was basically Instagram & then mutual friends on Facebook. I decided I had nothing to lose and that if someone thought I was crazy because I emailed them and asked them to coffee... well that was their problem and not mine. So I sent the email. I befriended people on Instagram. I talked to people at the coffee shops I was frequenting. If I recognized someone from the internet I would say hello. These are all tricks that are not confined to moving to a new place-- you can use them now. Do you know that cool girl that lives in you city and seems to know all of the coolest spots? Email her!
2) I realized that marketing yourself online means nothing outside of personal relationships.
Having an online presence can be incredibly beneficial to a business. About a third of all of my inquiries come from Instagram which is AMAZING. But do you know where the majority of my bookings come from? Friends of friends. Someone who saw some great work I did for someone they adore. Generally this person will then keep me in mind until they have a project for I can work with them on. Yes, a lot of these people do get referred to me through social, but it isn't because I say 'hire me, hire me, view my complete portfolio.' For the most part I post photos of food or me dancing or who I'm hanging out with on my Instagram feed. I keep the work at a minimum unless it's what I've been staring at all day or it's something I'm really really proud of.
I've had the honor of meeting some pretty cool people by working for myself. I do not take that for granted because for me, that's everything. I'd much rather meet someone face to face and find out that we get along on a human level before I take on their project. I think that's how most people work best.
And networking can be great for this! You can meet all kinds of people at events meant specifically for networking. They can be your new BFF or they can be someone that might hire you down the road. One time at a networking event I had a 30 minute conversation with the marketing director of a company here in Austin and I learned so much about the restaurant scene here & where to get the best margarita. The information was so valuable. I just walked up to her and complimented her haircut and now we're BFF's on Instagram. Has she hired me? No. Do I friend love her? Yes.
Don't be afraid of networking. Go to networking meet-ups! Host them, if you can! Be someone who can introduce a CEO of a great company to a graphic designer that you're creative BFF's with. That's who I want to be. Sometimes networking can be just as much about getting someone else's name out there as it is about getting your own name on someone's desk.
And as a caution please please please don't use people to propel yourself further. Everyone deserves to be treated like a human being and no one want's to be used. The point of networking is to meet people. Is there job potential there? There always is when you meet new people in the creative field, but that's not what it's all about. Help propel other people. Build your village & be a part of helping other creatives succeed. When one of us secures a win, we all do.
Amazing graphic by Libby Vanderploeg.