Why and How Designers Should Build a Strong Network
The “why” of building a strong network is simple: your future as a designer is dependent upon your ability to build a strong community of clients around you. But many designers fail on the most fundamental aspect of building a network – namely, they build networks of other designers, not customers nor even networks that can connect them to clients, such as an online printing company, photography company, design company or even a marketing company.
Instead of networking with just fellow designers on sites like DeviantArt, Facebook, Behance, and the like; you have to build relationships with people who might be clients one day. With this key aspect in mind, here are some tips for how to build a better network. Therefore, the focus is on creating a community of clients, not just peers.
Explore Online Social Media Resources
Consider creating accounts across many different social media platforms. Social networks such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter provide a great starting point. Go further and create a Wikipedia page. Add listings on Craigslist and yellow pages. Link these sites together in the various ways they are designed to tie-in with other sites. Your goal should be to create a strong web that allows for you to net traffic landing on any of your individual accounts, providing road maps throughout your entire network.
Remember the goal is not just to find other designers. Look for creative directors, marketing firms, and other companies that regularly need designers.
If you are a graphic designer, consider starting accounts on graphic design networking sites. These sites create a forum of information sharing, simply generating communication within your specific field of interest. Go to this link to view a list of graphic design sites. Definitions of each site and its use are provided on the link as well.
Here again, non-designers are the goal. So build your accounts with non-designers in mind. People looking to work with a professional designer may be intimidated by hyper-creativity or else may not “get” a certain design style. So tone it down and make these pages appeal to your ideal customer.
Take an active role within your online community. Keep up with new developments within your industry. Market your online network as a reliable resource for any information your clients need or want about the service or product you provide. Improving the perception of your expertise in the field will increase the quality of your online brand. Don’t wait for others to make the initial contact. Go onto the pages of others and reach out to those who you are looking to network with.
Your Words Have Power so be Careful
The online community is not always forgiving or understanding at times. Avoid careless statements and set up strategies to check yourself before publishing anything with a questionable tone or inappropriate content. Proofread your posts to ensure you avoid making mistakes that would misrepresent your cause and lower your brand equity. Utilize privacy settings to filter your messages.
The goal is to reach your intended market and no one else. If you are mad or upset, as a rule, don’t go online until you have regained control of your emotional state. People will work with you if they like who you are and what you represent. Make sure you understand the importance of the words you choose. Keep your tone informal and engaging. In the end, building trust takes time and consistency in the quality of content you share.
Think of ways to give back to the community. If you expect others to invest in your online networking product, be creative. Any strategy to add incentive onto the initial interest your websites might offer will become a powerful tool toward establishing a well-known brand.
Competitions, contests, and giveaways to print brochures are just a few examples. Bear in mind that these should be aimed at non-designers, so avoid too many contests for the best logo design since your potential clients probably can’t design logos.
Disclaimer: Don’t Be Rude
Okay, so I’ve emphasized just how important it is to network to prospective clients, but this does not give you license to ignore the design community around you. If a designer “Follows” you on Twitter, follow him or her back as an act of common courtesy. Reply to any comments on posts, your website, or your Facebook wall, no matter who the person is. As stated above, be careful with your words and be polite to all with whom you interact. Being rude only hurts you in the long-run; being polite is a positive move that will improve your appearance as a partner for future clients.