We love creative networking because it organic and genuine. Rather than simply using each other as business contacts for personal gain, creative networking is based on sharing interests and making personal connections. Remember, experiential marketing is the biggest marketing trend right now, and it’s all about interaction and personalization. Most people working in creative industries, such as event planning, rely heavily on networking for business reasons. But they also reap the welcome rewards of meeting other creatives, being inspired by the visions of other artists, and enhancing their own creative development.
Here are some creative networking ideas for small businesses to help establish, expand, and improve your business. Let’s do this- together!
Initiate Relationships with Peers and Leaders in Your Industry
This might sound like a no-brainer, but sometimes it can be hard to break the ice. As tempting as it is to dive headfirst into networking, you don’t want to scare people away by bombarding them with business propositions. (Similar to the dating world, most connections don’t happen at first sight- and those that do take time to nurture and grow). It’s a much better idea to let your business relationships develop naturally. Although social media and the Internet are as vital to brand-building as oxygen is to breathing, making in-person connections often builds even deeper bonds between you and others in your line of work.
How can you meet people in your industry? Well, you can start by attending local industry events and simply socializing as if you were at a party. If you’re attending an event alongside creative directors, tech leaders, designers, or performers you admire, don’t hesitate to show your interest. Strike up a casual social conversation, and the industry conversation will naturally flow. A word of advice: Don’t be afraid to ask open-ended questions that lead to in-depth conversations.
Social events are great ways to develop organic relationships with valuable contacts in your industry. But if you’re a little shy or introverted, sometimes may feel like a fish out of water at these events. Remember that you don’t have to create a likeable or inspiring persona- if you do this, people will sense that you’re trying too hard, anyway, and might not make a connection.
It may sound overly simplistic or cliche, but just be yourself, and your natural qualities and gifts will shine through. For example, your shyness might also be discernment, and can be an asset to you because you instinctively gravitate toward people who will be of real value to you (personally and in your career). Most often, genuine people recognize other genuine people, and it doesn’t matter if conversations start out slowly. Once you start talking, you’ll get to know people better, share creative interests, and even have a good time in the process.
Small business and brand owners want success- there’s no doubt about that. But they also want to feel belonging to their industry, to a creative movement and values system bigger than themselves. Attending networking and other social events where you’re likely to encounter successful peers and leaders in your industry is a great way to become a real part of your industry.
Also, something as simple as exercising your listening skills will take you a long way in networking. For some of us, especially when we’re nervous, it can be tempting to “listen just to talk”. We all know someone who seems to listen with the sole purpose of formulating a response, giving the other party the feeling that they’re trapped in a one-sided conversation. Let’s face it, we’ve all been that person at one time or another. Instead, try listening intently with the purpose of really hearing what the other person has to say. You’ll learn about absorb and retain much more information that way. Not only that, but you’ll give the other party the impression that you truly care what they have to say. That means they’re more likely to feel a connection, and be interested in what you have to say as well.
Still, social settings and networking events aren’t your only options (although you’ve got to learn to master them gradually). If you prefer a little more structure and want to get right down to business, another option is to attend a conference or workshop dedicated to a topic in your field.
If you’re going alone, remember that you won’t really be alone- there will be plenty of newcomers to the scene who are feeling just as nervous and lost as you are. Being new to your industry means taking the initiative to make friends and connections in your field, and that sometimes means being the first to reach out. Once you do, one conversation will likely lead to many introductions, and before you know it, you’re leaving with your first small network of business associates. Who knew?
If you’re not sure where to go to meet others in your industry, use social media to find out. When you follow people in your industry on Twitter and Instagram, you’re sure to see daily posts about upcoming events and who will be there. Which leads us to social media (you knew it was coming).
Use Social Media to Create Meaningful Connections and Expand Your Reach
As a small business owner, it goes without saying that you should be on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook along with your own website. Each social media page has unique benefits, so the ones you focus most on should be determined by the culture of your brand and niche audiences. Twitter is a huge networking tool because it’s mainly used as a platform to discuss media and current events on a massive scale. Admittedly, it isn’t the best for building personal connections; users are only allowed to craft 140-character Tweets. (Actually, it recently made it possible to post 280 characters per Tweet, but who’s counting). It’s a great networking tool because it allows you to follow and Tweet with anyone using it, including celebs and influencers with massive followings. The point of following celebrities is not to get a direct response back from them. It’s to be exposed to and start conversations with people in your industry who follow the same big names and networks you follow. You can also “retweet” people, and they can “retweet you”, making your post visible on their pages.
Instagram is probably the best tool for experiential marketing. Because of its highly visual design, including filters that make modest photos look professional, Instagram catches the attention of others in your industry. (Also, although it’s a much less personal platform and “snaps” only last for 24 hours, don’t miss out on Snapchat for this reason).
Consider the recent, female-empowering “me too” movement, the recent popularity of plus-sized and curvy models, and the seeming overnight celebrity of popular influencers. Many social media influencers with moderate to large follows forge careers from networking on social media alone. Even if today is your first day on Instagram sharing your new business, don’t be afraid to follow and reach out to major influencers in your industry. (A good rule of thumb: Follow all the influencers you encounter and admire, but start out by connecting with those who have moderate followings, as they’re more likely to have time to connect with you). This doesn’t have to be a business proposition. Ideally, your social media presence could eventually lead to sponsorship, but it doesn’t have to. Just having a popular influencer write about or share your business or products is enough to boost your brand in a major way.
If you’re an artist of any kind, we recommend checking out DeviantArt, too. As the name suggests, DeviantArt is an online artwork community. The platform that allows users to showcase photography, videography, digital art, traditional art, literature, filmmaking, Flash, and even skins for applications, operating system customization utilities, and others. It’s not only a great place to network with other artists and be inspired, but it’s also a learning experience. DeviantArt features top-notch infographics by talented digital artists, downloadable tutorials, and stock photography. It also allows you to keep online journals and start or join online groups of people with similar interests.
Keep Your Mind Open!
Whether in person or online, we know it can be tempting to focus mostly on people who share your exact interests and realm of expertise. But the truth is, that mentality limits us as professionals and potential leaders in our industry. Don’t be afraid to branch out and connect with people who are experts in different areas of your industry- or even outside of your industry. If you’re an event planning business, talk to tech startups who might have valuable insights about tech personalization. If you’re a traditional artist, talk to digital artists. This could lead to innovative future collaborations and expand your network.
Start Your Own Industry Blog
You don’t have to dedicate a lot of work and time to your blog. Use a simple yet aesthetically pleasing platform like WordPress, Tumblr, Wix, or Squarespace. Then post at least once per week about what inspires your work, current trends in your industry, or really anything your creative heart desires! To make your blog visible among many, create a unique hashtag for your brand, and hashtag other phrases associated with your industry beneath each entry. You should also take advantage of SEO, or search engine optimization. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, SEO involves using words or phrases that people frequently enter into search engines. You can find these special “keywords” for your topic by visiting Google Ads. Simply search for keywords associated with whatever topic you have in mind.
Blogging not only builds your network, but it gives you a feeling of community, of learning from and giving back to your peers. If you’re not interested in setting up your own blog space and keeping up with it long-term, there are platforms like Medium, which give you a space to share blog posts on their page. To get ultra-creative, share videography, podcast episodes if you have one, and a link to your website.
Attend Meetups- or Create Your Own!
Attending meetups is one of the most effective ways to make personal connections and build lasting relationships in your industry. We’re sure you’ve all heard of the Meetup app. It allows you to create or join groups with people who share the same interest, and attend events posted by the group. The Meetup app is great- but we’ve created something even better for small businesses looking to for creative networking opportunities.
With Meetup, events are generated through groups, and group activity varies. You can join a super active group this week, only to find that its organized meetups trail off over the next month. To avoid this inconsistency and add more personalization to the user experience, we’ve created an event organizer app called Plans. Plans suggests events based on your shared interests, as well as those of the friends you add. By allowing you to add individual friends and populating your daily feed with events that you’ll all like, Plans helps you meet more people in your industry. Stay tuned for its upcoming arrival onto the scene!
Keep Up With the Modern Joneses
No, we don’t mean to have a competitive attitude and frantically try to emulate successful people in your industry. But it’s always a good idea to be aware of current trends so you can make them your own. When you stay on the cutting edge of knowledge and innovation in your industry, you not only learn what you need to be doing to optimize your business, but you’ll have lots to talk about! Knowledge is power, and being armed with it gives you confidence- and fodder for conversation!
Hopefully, we’ve given you a starting point when it comes to creative networking for your small business. When you’re just starting out, it’s normal to feel to wonder how you can possibly make yourself somebody in your industry. It happens to everyone- we’re all novices at one point! But once you shift your attitude to realize you already are someone, you’ll see the truth: All you have to do is let people get to know you, and get to know them. Our best advice? If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. So let down your guard, shelve your expectations, and share your passion with the world!