The mention of networking can send some us into fits of panic and despair. The image of standing alone in a room amongst strangers and what’s more, being expected to talk to them can inspire cold sweats, nausea, and anxiety.
For some, it comes so naturally. We have all observed that one friend who strolls into these events full of beans. Who tells you to ‘work the room’ and then proceeds to strike up a conversation with apparent strangers like they are long lost brothers. It can be maddening to watch from the darkened corner you’re hiding in. People chatting comfortably with one another, laughing at each other’s amusing anecdotes and finally exchanging numbers.
Unfortunately, networking is how a large part of the photography industry operates and frustratingly, shyness as of yet has no medical certificate. The upshot of this is that those of us who are not blessed with the gift of the gab must learn how to do or die. Not an appealing thought at first, but if you follow these five steps, you might just circumvent some of the pain and get a whole lot further than you’re used to.
Bring People To You
If you’d rather not dive into a full-scale networking event, there are savvy ways of bringing contacts to your own door. One way an increasing number of photographers are doing this is by renting out their camera gear to fellow professionals locally. If you’re looking for like-minded people, gear-sharing platforms may be a good place to find them. Operating in the UK and US, it’s a peer-to-peer rental platform for borrowing and renting out high-end, specialist equipment. Camera rental can be a quick and painless way to make a little extra on the side and because lenders are insured, you won’t be risking your livelihood for the privilege.
“A Lazy Networker’s Dream”
At first glance this doesn’t seem to scream “networking”, however, since Fat Lama’s 2016 launch, it’s become something of a hotbed for photographers and filmmakers looking to make a little bit more from their gear.
One such website, Fat Lama, is used by over 50,000 creative professionals in London alone, renting everything from gimbals to DSLRs. Just by signing up, you have access to a phone book that would take years of networking to amass. One user, Tom, described the marketplace as “a lazy networker’s dream”, adding “I have met great people in the industry, some of which I will be working within the future”.
Alongside being a space to rent lenses and other photography gear, the website helps connect people with similar interests and foster connectivity within niche communities. The fact that renting any piece of equipment involves meeting the lender face-to-face makes it an ideal place to start meeting new people in the creative industry.
Know your Speciality
It’s so easy to think that turning up to a networking event is enough. Sadly, it isn’t. You need to decide what areas you want to specialize in and the sort of companies/people that interest you. If you are into adventure or sports photography, don’t hit up a Bridal Show. Not only will you be bored stiff but you won’t have anything to talk about. It’s all very well having good intentions but they need to also have clear intentions.
Do your research
The prep for these events is vital; do your research before turning up and you will avoid those pointless conversations that end up going nowhere. Your first move should be to decide your niche. Where are you interested in working long term, what area of the industry do you feel you would flourish in? Do you like working with models, or are you more suited to working with landscapes, or objects?
If these decisions are ironed out before you leave your apartment, you will find it easier to steer conversations and introductions into areas that you’re confident in. Your second move is to check the guest list. What industries and companies are being represented? Is the event going to be useful to you? Having a quick scan of who is going, means you can devise a plan of attack, rather than floating about aimlessly. Get this part sorted and you have already halved the stress of a mixer.
Set targets for your self
Having goals for the evening is also a great way to make the most of a networking function. If you aren’t naturally vivacious, then set yourself targets: “tonight I will speak to 5 different people” or something to this effect. One of the difficulties, when you’re shy, is knowing how to deal with overwhelming social situations. Setting human targets will help structure the time for you.
What Makes You Attractive?
I don’t mean your big brown eyes or great smile but rather what makes you employable? Modesty is not a strength in this situation, if you end up being bashful you will go unnoticed. This is not to say be a loudmouth. The aim is to find a voice that is confident and assertive without being cocky. The best way to think about it is that you are building a two-way relationship with a potential employer. In this sense, they need to know what you can offer them as well as the other way around.
Any Experience is Relevant
You will want to have all your experience and skills memorized. Make sure you know your portfolio inside out and can pull out relevant examples (figuratively, not literally) of work you have done if it comes up in conversation. This should also include work out with photography as well. So much of the time getting work involves knowing a specific industry, on top of having the required skills. If you are a keen skier, or cyclist, or have worked in fashion, it’s worth mentioning. This might sound a little obvious but there is a tendency for newcomers to overlook these sorts of experiences as relevant.
You’re at the door now, you know who is going to be there, who you want to talk to and why they might want to talk to you. You’ve done the prep so chill. At the end of the day, these events are meant to be enjoyable and light-hearted. Meeting like-minded souls should be fun not frightening, so once you’re in try your best to de-stress before getting stuck in. If there’s a bar to get a drink (keeping it singular is probably a sensible shout) and take a moment to settle in.
Whatever works for you
Personally, I like to get a drink and do a lap of the room. There’s no science to it, it just makes me feel a little less jittery. Everyone is different so whatever works for you go with it. I have known people who like to pretend they are on the phone when they enter and others who will always bring a friend along for the first few minutes. Anything that gives you a bit of confidence is worth doing (within reason…)
It could take weeks, it could take months, or it could take an afternoon. Networking is notoriously fickle and unpredictable so the most important piece of advice to offer is to be dogged. Go to every mixer that’s relevant and talk to the same people if need be. Being a familiar face is always a good thing in the photography industry, so don’t worry if you feel like you’re stuck in groundhog day, having the same conversations with the same people.
Following up is key
Part of being committed is following up properly. There’s no point in putting in all the legwork if you don’t finish the job off with a text, email or follow up call. My personal approach is to sit down right after an event or meeting and draft all my emails to new contacts. Let no one slip through the net. The number of names you forget or business cards you lose will increase daily, so best to just get it out the way.
Another good practice is to mention something you discussed when writing to them. If Jessica mentioned she was going on holiday, or Dan said he was moving flat, make some reference to it when making contact. A link to your portfolio will increase ‘conversion’, but be subtle, where possible!
For more tips on networking, read our Ultimate Guide to Photography Networking.