A New Spin on Networking for Creative Entrepreneurs

We were about a year into Idealust and we had some BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), thank you Jim Collins for this fun acronym. (If you haven’t read it yet, check out Built to Last.)

One of those goals had a lot to do with teaching what we knew, in person. Hanging out with awesome creatives, in person. Speaking at conferences, in person. Having real conversations with, laughing with, sometimes crying with (you know how it goes!), empowering and being inspired by our industry peers, in person.

(I’m so grateful our work has paid off and we’ve been a part of incredible events that we believe in, like Creative at Heart, The Yellow Conference, The Together Experience… AND, probably even more importantly, we’ve built some incredible friendships because of it.)

In order for that to happen, we had to get out there and do some “networking.”

Bleh. Networking. You feel me?!

That word still rubs me the wrong way. All I can think of is corporate 9-5ers congregating on a hotel patio, standing there at belly bar tables in their suits and pencil skirts (I actually really like pencil skirts, don’t get me wrong!), twirling drink straws, reciting their resumés and sliding business cards across the table. It’s like it just doesn’t fit in our industry.

So, early on, Jesse and I decided we needed a new spin on networking for creative entrepreneurs. We needed to think of it differently.

Not ditch it completely. (Introverts! Did you hear me?! Don’t ditch it completely!!)

Networking is a must whether you’re working on booking speaking engagements or hoping to book your calendar full of incredible clients.

Without it, you’re leaving incredible friendships, business opportunities, money, freedom and fulfillment on the table. I’m guessing you’re not okay leaving those things on the table 😉

I’ve done a lot of networking in my 9 years as a creative entrepreneur, and I’ve definitely felt all of these things along the way:

  • Awkward (Like, seriously awkward!!)
  • “Why the heck am I here?!”
  • Not good enough

But now, NOW!, when I network I feel:

  • Empowered
  • Confident
  • Still a tiny bit nervous sometimes, but an excited nervous instead of a “I think I’m going to hide in the bathroom” nervous

I feel these things not because we’re business coaches for creatives and have all the answers (we don’t have all the answers) but because we take a different approach than a lot of other people in the room.

Networking for creative entrepreneurs isn’t about:

  • Handing out as many business cards as possible…
  • Talking about yourself…
  • Bragging…
  • Name dropping…
  • Trying to prove yourself, your business or your worth to anyone…

Yikes. No wonder networking makes so many people nervous. When you look at it like the above list, you’re really putting the pressure on!

So, how do you make all those potentially awkward introductions and conversations feel easy and natural? I’ve found the best way to feel comfortable and confident is to make someone else feel comfortable and confident!

Networking tips for creative entrepreneurs

  • Seek out anyone gravitating toward the corner; make her smile! (This might be a genuine compliment about how you love her bright blue coat or an opening one-liner about how these sort of events sometimes make you want to hide in the bathroom.)
  • Focus on making 1-2 solid connections per event you attend
  • Start real conversations beyond small talk
  • Ask for their business cards and/or Instagram handle. (I usually pull out my phone and follow them on IG right away and go back later to engage more with their recent posts.)
  • Follow up with your new connections right away
  • Not every conversation needs to be about business. In fact, I’ve found the best networking has come from talking to my new friends about things new friends talk about
  • If you do talk about business, find out what they’re excited about! What they’re working on! Is there anything you can do for them? Introduce them to a copywriter if they need a copywriter?
  • Keep your eye out for new people you can refer work to (whether a non-ideal client inquires with you or you’re booked out.)
  • If you’re a planner and need to feel super prepared, see who’s going to the event ahead of time and do a little scouting of attendees you’d like to get to know. Do some engaging on social media before the event so when you meet, you sort of already know each other

Moral of the story: Be a nice person. Forget about business and money and work experience and even yourself for a second. Instead, think about how you can make someone else shine.

When you take this new spin on networking for creative entrepreneurs, it works because you:

  • Build genuine friendships and business partnerships
  • Gain a reputation for being helpful
  • Make people feel comfortable and people don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel
  • Are revealing authenticity and building credibility as someone who’s not just out to get theirs
  • Will stay on people’s minds because of all of the above and therefore, eventually, book more business because of it all. Because, in the end, as Marie Forleo always says, people do business with people they know like and trust.

    “I’ve learned people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”Maya Angelou

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