How to make the most of social situations to boost your connections, your profile and even your profits
It may be a bit of a cliche, but the adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” certainly rings true in the photography industry - just like for anything else.
Getting your name in front of important people, those with power and influence (such as editors, gallery curators, buyers, other influential photographers and so on) is half the battle. Making the most of every opportunity to meet and make a good impression on these kinds of people is very important.
These days, a lot of networking is done online, but there’s still plenty of “real-world” opportunities available to boost your profile, too. The latter may be a little more daunting, especially for those who are not used to networking, talking about themselves or perhaps are in the introverted side.
Never fear, these tips can be used by pretty much everybody - hopefully giving you the confidence you need to be a successful networker.
1 Attend lots of events
It might be an obvious tip, but the best way to get yourself known in your industry, or on the local “circuit” is to attend as many events as possible. The more you attend, the m ore people will start to recognise you, and you’ll become one of the familiar faces in the crowd.
"Once you start attending events, you’ll likely find that information and invites for more soon start to appear."
That said, it’s worth making sure that events you attend are relevant, otherwise you might find your calendar becomes overwhelmingly full, taking you away from other important jobs you need to do.
There’s lots of photography events that might necessarily seem relevant at first - for example a local photographer’s get together / photo walk. But you might find that the organiser of the event is a business owner, or has a connection to an editor or a gallery owner, for example. It’s also worth trying these things out as you never know who you might meet.
If you’re not sure where to start with finding events, make sure to scour social media for local events, sign up to newsletters, ask other photographers you know about any events they attend, and check local newspapers, magazines and websites for listings. Once you start attending events, you’ll likely find that information and invites for more soon start to appear.
2 Research the guests
If possible, try and find out who’ll be attending an event before you get there. If there’s no guest list provided by the event organiser, then take a look at who’s speaking, or if there are corporate attendees with stalls and so on.
Knowing as much about a potential contact before you get there will help you know exactly what to say to them, and will also help you pinpoint those people who are most likely to be helpful to what you need.
Look out for other photographers, especially those who do similar work to you, vendors (such as printing supplies), editors, gallery and business owners.
3 Prepare conversation starters
If you’re a little shy, having a few conversation starters already in mind can help you to overcome the nerves when speaking to a new person.
It can be as simple as “have you been to many of these events before?” or “have you had to come far today?”, just to get the conversation started.
Again, if you’ve already done your research into potential attendees, you could prepare some specific conversation starters for that person.
4 Get there early
We don’t mean hanging around outside before an event starts, but getting there ahead of a main speaking event or a talk gives you maximum time to network before something begins.
If, for example, a talk is happening at 7pm, but the doors open at 6pm, don’t wait until 6.45pm to stroll in and take your seat - that's an hour of networking time you’ve missed out on.
This is also a great opportunity for conversation starters, such as “have you seen X person speak before?” “What do you think the main topic of the talk will be?” and so on.
5 Wear something unique
This one is far from obligatory, but wearing something bright and colourful will help you stand out in a crowd of black, brown, beige and navy.
Again, this can be a great conversation starter, and you may find people naturally gravitate towards you if you look vibrant. Perhaps more importantly, it will ensure you're just that little bit more memorable after the event too. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be “wacky”, but staying away from the neutral tones can be a simple trick to get you noticed.
6 Be approachable
Looking like you’re happy to chat will help if you’re struggling to be the one to make the first move. That means keeping your head out of your smartphone, smiling at people, not having your arms crossed and being ready to engage should someone speak to you.
For those who are nervous, it can help to stand in a high traffic area, where people are walking by naturally - such as near the kitchen, for example.
"Looking like you’re happy to chat will help if you’re struggling to be the one to make the first move."
7 Have business cards ready
Although we live in a digital world these days, business cards still have a useful function to play - particularly at real-world events.
It means that people don’t have to remember your name and contact details after the event, and once again, they can be a great conversation starter in themselves.
Photographers should get business cards with one of their images printed on the reverse. Some companies will even allow you to create multiple different designs, giving the potential recipient a “choice” is another great conversation point.
Make sure to include on your business card all the relevant contact details, but also a link to an online portfolio - such as your Picfair store or website, so that people can quickly look at your work when they get chance.
"Photographers should get business cards with one of their images printed on the reverse. Some companies will even allow you to create multiple different designs..."
Gratefully accept any business cards you receive in return too. Keeping them well organised at home or at the office so you can refer to them later is a useful idea too.
8 Listen and note down details (later)
Listening is a skill that not everyone has mastered, which can help you stand out if you do a good job of it.
Really pay attention to what the other person is saying, don’t cut them off, and don’t try and ‘one-up’ someone who is telling an anecdote.
Take mental notes of what the other person saying, making quick notes later when you’ve got a spare moment (using the notes app on your phone is ideal) so that you’ve got something to refer to later on and you don’t have to rely on your memory.
"Listening is a skill that not everyone has mastered, which can help you stand out if you do a good job of it."
9 Take a friend
If you’re really shy, taking a friend can be a big help if possible. That's especially true if you’ve got a friend who is also a photographer or in a related industry.
If possible, take a more confident friend with you who is happy to do all the introductions or to start the conversation, leaving you to pick up the flow once you get going.
Once you’ve attended a few events, you’ll likely to start to make friends with regulars, who you can rely on to help introduce you to others at the next event, too.
10 Attend the “after party”
A lot of connections are made after the main event, when often groups will decamp to a nearby cafe, pub or bar to carry on the conversation.
It might not always be possible, but if you can, try to attend those and don’t slink away - people will often be more relaxed and more open to chatting at this type of “after event”, particularly if the speaker or the host is also attending and can now relax a little.
11 Follow up - in a timely fashion
Making sure you follow up quickly after an event can be really crucial.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start bombarding your fellow attendees with emails, but you can follow people on Instagram and other social networks, find their online portfolios and so on.
If you do need to directly contact someone, try and do it within a week of the event, which you can reference in your email.
Try not to worry if someone doesn’t reply to you straightaway, or perhaps even at all. Emails are easily missed or forgotten about, so be prepared to follow-up for a second time once a reasonable amount of time has passed - at least a week, unless it’s particularly urgent.
"If you do need to directly contact someone, try and do it within a week of the event, which you can reference in your email."
12 Don’t get disheartened
Not every networking event will go amazingly well. Perhaps nerves get the better of you and you don’t make any connections. Perhaps you don’t find anyone that is useful for what you need. Perhaps the speaker you were hoping to talk to left quickly after finishing their speech.
There’s lots of things to go wrong, but having the confidence to turn up in the first place is a big win, and there will always be another event just around the corner that could well be much better.