Hooray! My first networking event. And jolly enjoyable and informative it was too.
First of all, let me say that for a considerable amount of time one of my pet hates has been standing around at parties making small talk with people I apparently have nothing in common with. I considered it a general waste of my life, breath and energy. Networking is something I dreaded the thought of. Among friends and even slightly outside my comfort zone, I have no problem expressing my opinion (I’m sure someone anyone who knows me will testify to that), but with someone I’m meeting for the first time, I’m somewhat surprisingly reserved and bashful.
Held at the Mercure Holland House Hotel in Bristol for both newcomers and existing PCG members, the event gave a great introduction to the way networking works, how it can help freelancers, and tips on how to go about it. Featuring presentations from Kevin Brown of Business Networking International and Colin Butcher of XDelta, the speakers were easy to listen and relate to, covered a wide range of topics.
One of Kevin’s most impacting comments let me open my mind to the fact that even while it may seem to me like I have nothing in common with those I’m making small talk with, it’s still worth paying attention to what they have to say, and taking a genuine interest, as leaving a good impression is essential in order to gain access to their contacts. On average, he said, most people will have a thousand contacts. Not necessarily contacts in the sense of friends, but contacts in the sense of knowing people, who in turn know people. Thus in a room of only 20 people, meeting all of them could potentially put you in touch with anything up to 20,000 people. The chance of one’s services being desired by any of the 20 people in the room is pretty low, but the chance of one’s services being desired by at least one of 20,000 at some point in the future? Well. An eye opener to say the very least.
Getting outside the comfort zone seems to be the thing I need to accomplish, talking with people in my field is great, as it’s always good to know people that know about ‘things’, but in order to to have the need to know about ‘things’, it’s good to know people that know people.
It’s good to, when asked, be specific about what you do, but don’t go into technical details, as people will become bored. Be specific enough to be useful, and don’t be stereotyped. I shall be changing my introduction of myself to being a “Designer who specialises in web and corporate identity“, any more detail than that can then be expanded on if necessary, but that detail is key, having found people just put designers in a box marked “people who draw things”.
Colin shared a fantastic guide to the type of clients to work with in an ideal world. They come in two tiers of three mindsets. The mindsets consist of those who need something done yesterday, could need something done, and those who are in the process of deciding that it’s probably a good idea to have something done. The two tiers are based on the first question asked by the client, normally falling into “How much is it going to cost me?”, or “How can we get this done?”. The first thing to stand well clear of (in the same way you would of a nuclear war) is those in the first of both. Someone who’s in too deep, needs something done yesterday for as cheaply as possible is already in the mindset where however fast you do something, however much of a good job you do, and however you charge, it simply isn’t going to be good enough. Run, run like hell. Even someone who could need something done and wants to immediately know costs isn’t great to work with. The ideal clients are those in the last two columns of the second row; they have their priorities right, things can be thought through, the client will take advice from someone in your field (you), and the job will be beneficial to both of you. It’ll feel like you’re working with them, rather then for them.
In terms of meeting people also at the event, we didn’t do too well, we spent a little while talking to a printer, who made it very clear he didn’t like my business cards, but did at least have some useful experience from freelancing for a year; doing any job for free just doesn’t make sense. Sure, it’s okay to discount, but think of where your next work is coming from. Instead of offering to do the first job for free in promise for a second, do the first job paid, then a discount on further work.
Some other useful quick hints when talking to people included:
- Ask about people, they love talking about themselves, it’s listening that makes you valuable to them.
- The law of reciprocity; putting other people in contact is one of the best ways to get referrals from them.
- Always leave on a good note, no matter how uninterested you are; Kevin explained how networkers really like coffee, and have terribly small bladders, because they’re always popping to the bar, and find themselves needing to leave to go to the loo. (The irony of my actually needing the loo every five minutes wasn’t at all lost of me – heheh.)
Overall a really useful experience, and a great start to introducing me to the world of meeting people. Now I just have to keep persuading myself not to be such a hermit. It’ll all become a lot easier when I go full time freelance after the uni course and I’m struggling to pay the bills. Hopefully.