Why networking is your secret weapon!

This photographer networking tip was inspired by a question I received in Office Hours in my client-only Facebook group (you can join this group if you sign up to The Accelerator, The Shutterhood or any course/resource from The Library). I thought this was such a great question and so timely that I really wanted to share with you his question and my response.

Simon asked, “Networking is something I want to get into more of, but also dread and hate. I do have a great group of photographers in my area, we meet a couple of times a year and second shoot and pass referrals on, and I’d love more of that in my life. On the other hand, I’m a proper introvert and totally clamp up in social situations. Where are good places to start reaching out and connecting with real people?”

 

photographer networking

 

THE DRAIN OF ONLINE FATIGUE

 

Right now so many people are getting online fatigue. When it comes to marketing, personally I’ve never hugely enjoyed social media in the first place, and I’m certainly finding it increasingly noisy and draining as the years go on. But I’m even hearing from friends and colleagues who do usually enjoy it that they’re enjoying it less, or they’re getting less traction and results. It feels like it’s much more of a struggle.

Obviously, there are many other types of marketing that you can do, but still a lot of them involve sitting behind a screen. So whether it’s social media, email marketing, blogging, ads, SEO… it’s mostly all still online. Most marketing today doesn’t require you to leave the house, you can just sit at your computer and do it.

Obviously Covid had a big impact on this as it dried up a lot of in-person events, work and education, and made many aspects of our jobs move more online. But in addition to this, we’re slap bang in the middle of the digital age – absolutely everything is becoming more digitised anyway, and more and more in-person activities are being replaced by online options. Covid just supercharged and accelerated what was already happening anyway. In-person human interaction is becoming less and less necessary.

 

Photographer networking

 

THE MACHINE STOPS

 

Talking about all this made me think of a short story I read years ago when I was doing my teacher training, The Machine Stops by E.M Forster. It’s a dystopian science-fiction tale, written in 1909, many decades before anyone knew anything whatsoever about the internet, or even computers, so it was incredibly prescient and really quite eerie when you consider what happened afterwards and how much we rely on the internet in so many aspects of our lives today.

The premise of the story is that in the future, humanity lives underground, each person living isolated in a small room, communicating with others and having all their needs met via ‘The Machine’. Travel and meeting in person has become almost obsolete. And then, as the title of the story suggests, the story explores what happens to civilisation when the machine they rely on breaks. If you’re interested in reading it, the story is cheap as chips to buy in paperback but you can also read the story in full online for free here (given the topic of this email I’m not oblivious to the rather hypocritical irony of me sharing this online version as a more convenient option to the real deal !)

The reason I’m going down this dorky English teacher tangent is because I felt this was so relevant to what many of us are experiencing right now with the online world. The ‘Machine’ (i.e. computers / the internet) is somewhat ‘breaking’ for many of us – it’s not working for us as well as it used to, it’s not as effective, our experience of it isn’t as positive. So, it’s important that we look at alternatives, which means looking offline.

 

Photographer networking

 

FUTURE-PROOF YOUR BUSINESS WITH OLD-SCHOOL METHODS

 

Being able to run our businesses online is so great for us in so many ways. But we can’t ignore the fact that it brings with it a lack, or at least a dramatic reduction in real human connection. There really is no substitute for actually meeting people properly in person, talking to them and hearing them speak. Seeing people in the flesh you get so much more of a clearer idea of what they’re like as a human, and you build that connection and relationship so much quicker.

Before the internet existed, all businesses relied on in-person networking for their marketing. There were no blogs, no mailing lists, no social media… Going out and actually meeting people and talking about what you do was how businesses were successfully kept afloat before any of these online tools were available. Networking, going out to meet people, has stood the test of time, and it will still work for you today, irrespective of whether your online efforts are working or not.

I’m absolutely not saying you should abandon online marketing completely. But I think many people in recent years have overlooked networking, it’s often seen as a bit of an antiquated thing to do. But actually, it’s so valuable, and is now perhaps starting to come back full circle, because people are starting to genuinely feel starved of real connection. As the digital world has accelerated and become a kind of overwhelming juggernaut, I think people actually find stepping away from the screen, leaving the house and actually meeting and talking to real people really refreshing, and are often quite surprised by how much they enjoy it.

Also, remember that making real in-person connections like this is FUTURE-PROOF marketing. It doesn’t rely on any technology that might change or become obsolete, it doesn’t rely on any algorithms, it doesn’t rely on you needing to learn how to use new online platforms or tools, it doesn’t rely on updates or paying for people to be shown your work. Irrespective of what happens with the internet, a solid networking and in-person marketing strategy will continue working for you and your business no matter what.

 

photographer networking

 

THE CRINGE FACTOR

 

Of course, as Simon pointed out, many people dread networking, and can feel quite nervous and uncomfortable even just at the prospect of it. Whether you’re introverted or not, feeling the pressure to socialise, especially with people you don’t know, can be really intimidating. Even if you’re quite a social person normally, it’s totally common to feel nervous about chatting to strangers, or that business networking will be cringey or boring. I certainly have always felt this way myself, and have often avoided networking like the plague!

However, on the occasions when I’ve made myself do it (or have been reluctantly dragged along by others!) I’ve been so glad I’ve done it – it’s not been remotely as awful as I thought it would be, I’ve met some lovely people, and without exception, I’ve got business from it. The last networking event I attended, I actually got three jobs from it – one commercial shoot and two family shoots. I know that’s not just my experience of networking, either; I’ve heard a lot of other people have had similar experiences.

It’s all very well someone seeing you post on social media how much you love your job, and it’s all very well them reading an email where you talk about what you do, but hearing you speak about it in person builds that connection so much quicker – the know/like/trust factor, crucial to people buying from you, that can take months to build online can sometimes be built in just a few minutes face-to-face. Don’t also underestimate how much it can benefit you in other ways chatting to other business owners too. It’s not just likely to result in more bookings, but you can also end up hearing really valuable nuggets of business advice, ideas for your business that you might not have otherwise thought of, and a sense of solidarity and companionship that offsets the loneliness of self-employment.

So, as much as you might dread it, remember that often outside your comfort zone is where growth happens and give it a whirl. Remember you can just lightly dip your toe in, you can be gentle with yourself. Just think of it as saying hello – you’re not there to impress anyone, you’re just letting them get to know your face so you’re familiar to them, and so that they can start getting to know you, at whatever pace you find comfortable. Don’t think of it as you being there to sell your business – actually in a networking situation, I’d find it quite off-putting if someone was really giving their business the hard sell. Just think of it as letting other people know your name, what you do, and to just see the face behind the business, to see that you’re actually a nice, normal person. You’re just building a human connection; you don’t have to dazzle them. Also – you don’t have to stay for long. Maybe just think, I’ll do 15 minutes to begin with, and see how you find it. It’s not all or nothing.

 

 

Photographer networking

 

PHOTOGRAPHERS VS NON-PHOTOGRAPHERS

 

When it comes to networking, I’d say that it’s important to network with two different types of people: photographers, and non-photographers. It’s important to get to know other photographers so you have that network of people who really understand the nature of your own work and can provide advice and support specific to photography, as well as pass on referrals and second-shooting opportunities. Start by asking any other photographers you know – are they part of any good groups or networking communities? There are heaps of free Facebook groups for photographers where you can meet others – these are a good starting point from which you can build connections that might lead to real, in-person connections with other photographers.

However, the other kind of networking that I think you should be doing is networking with non- photographers, meeting other local business owners. No matter what kind of photography you do, this will help. If you do branding photography, you’ll meet lots of other business owners who could become clients. If you’re a family or pet photographer, many of these people will have families and pets. If you’re a wedding photographer, some might be, or know, people who are getting married, as well as other wedding suppliers such as make-up artists, hairdressers, jewellers, dress designers, stationers, caterers, venues etc. Even if they’re not looking for a photographer themselves, they may well know people who are. It’s common to hear things such as, “Oh, my friend’s brother is looking for a family / wedding / pet / branding photographer.” You’re expanding the circle of people who you could potentially be linked up with, and the more connections you make, the more this snowballs.

 

photographer networking

 

SO, HOW CAN YOU ACTUALLY START TO NETWORK?

 

I feel that there are two main options – the first being a kind of ‘lite’ version for people who aren’t quite sure about it or don’t feel as confident, and the second being more traditional networking.

1) Local co-working spaces or cafés

A first thing that you could try, to dip your toe into networking, particularly if you tend to dread social situations, is to look into local co-working spaces. So it’s not a networking event as such, it’s just you taking your laptop there and doing some work. But you’re going to be in a place where other business owners are, so conversations with them are just going to happen much more naturally. Co-working spaces are becoming much more common and are popping up all over the place now. But if there aren’t any near you, another alternative you could try is just literally working in a local cafe, because a lot of local business owners will also do that for a change of scenery, paying for their time in there with drinks and/or food. With cafés you’re less likely to end up talking to people than in a co-working space, but it’s still putting you in a place where you’re far more likely to do so than in your own house.

2) Networking groups or events

Some are groups where you join and meet regularly, others are events that you can attend as a one-off. Some are free, some are paid. Perhaps start with the free ones so you feel less pressure. Google “[your local area] networking event/group” and this should turn up a few. Also Google local business hubs and business development support services as this can turn up some resources and opportunities you may well have not known existed. You could also try contacting your local council and/or Chamber of Commerce and they should be able to point you in the right direction. Ask any other local business owners you already know if they attend any good networking events. Type in ‘networking events / business events / business networking’, etc on LinkedIn and Eventbrite, as many are listed on there.

So, I hope that’s helped if you too are feeling a little weariness with the online world. Let’s introduce a little bit more humanity into our businesses, a little bit more human connection. As humans, we’re wired for connection and digital fatigue is a real thing that a lot of us are feeling it right now. So if you’re feeling particularly drained by the online grind of running your business, committing to doing some more stuff like this might actually be a breath of a fresh air and might really reinvigorate how you feel about things, as well as hopefully also introducing lots of new opportunities that you might not otherwise have found.

Do you already enjoy networking or is it something you’ve always put off?

Anna 🙂

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