Day 27 - Learning to Network



Welcome to Day #27 of the 31 Days to Better Branding series! To learn more about this series, click here to find link to the other days so you'll be able to follow along or catch up if you happen to miss anything.

This week we've been looking at marketing your business for your brand. I've heard time and time again from photographers and small businesses I work with that they want exposure but aren't sure how to get themselves "out there." We all know it takes more than just a nicely designed ad somewhere to make people stop and take notice of you. So be prepared to get busy because today's tip could be HUGE for your business.

Today we're going to talk about networking. 

This is another idea that might make you cringe because of what comes to mind - manipulating to get what you want from another business/blog is not the type of networking I have in mind...being extroverted and "salesy" is not a prerequisite. When I bring up the idea of networking, I'm talking about a like-minded team all working together for the same goal. Everyone is bringing their strengths to the table to mutually benefit from each other and accomplish something they couldn't do alone.

The reason I suggest networking and teaming up with other businesses as a key marketing strategy is because it accomplishes three huge goals all at once -

1) You gain a lot of exposure by doing something cool in your community (and from gaining your team members' followers) 

2) You are doing something interesting that creates both word-of-mouth marketing and may even get you published

3) You are learning from other experts outside your field and stretching yourself creatively

So now that you know WHY to network. Let's talk about HOW.

A great way to network is to come up with an idea for a team to accomplish together. 

I'll focus on photographers again as my example but these same principles can apply to all creatives. If you're a photographer, maybe you want to put together an event or project to showcase your work. This doesn't have to be complicated. It could be a styled shoot, a day of sessions to raise money for a cancer patient, a free mommy & me day for single mothers, a mini-fashion show, a bridal event, etc. The key is choosing something that makes sense with your brand and that would give you opportunities to shoot things you couldn't when other people were paying you. You and your team will get to call the shots. You can make this as fun as you want!

Once you have your event idea, think of what you will need and who could possibly be a team member.

Let's say you're doing a styled shoot or bridal event. You could ask a designer to create invitations, a hairdresser or makeup artist to style the models, a bridal shop to supply the wedding dress, a rental company to rent out linens and lighting, a florist to supply arrangements, models to be the bridal party members, food vendors to create an elegant cake, maybe even an event stylist to get it all to come together well. You don't have to have a team this large and you can get a lot done with even one or two other members. But keep in mind that the more members you have, the larger your reach will be considering their existing followers and clients.

"So why would all of these businesses offer their services for free?"

They are getting the very same exposure and marketing that you are. They get the opportunity to expand their following, possibly get published in a newspaper or magazine, and of course free high quality images of their work. The images alone are so valuable to most businesses to add to their portfolio, website, brochures, etc. Plus if you happen to work with future brides that need a florist or a hair dresser, etc. guess who you're going to refer? There's not a whole lot for them to lose. Just make sure that you're taking the time to show their work in the best possible light and giving them due credit. If it all goes well, they'll probably refer you too.

"I'm not outgoing. This all sounds a little too outside my comfort zone."

If this is your first thought, I hear you! A lot of creatives would rather exist behind the scenes and talking to strangers can make us all a little squeamish. But all you really have to do is make that initial contact with a potential team member. Be friendly, compliment their work, ask questions about how they do things and then ask if they'd ever be interested in letting you showcase their work. Then throw out your idea and tell them why they'd be perfect for the event/project/etc. Don't get discouraged if they tell you no. Just count it as their loss and move on to another potential business. Once you have your team in place, your only mandatory leadership role will be keeping everyone in the loop, (Telling them where to be and detailing what you need from them). No big speeches, sales experience, or center of attention stress should be necessary.

"My business is mostly online. Are there any networking options for me?"

Yes - definitely! You could put together an online event with multiple vendors like hosting a large giveaway or offering an e-course featuring different experts in your field. If you have a blog, you could ask others to guest post or let you interview them. Throw a link party and ask others to link up their posts on a specific topic. You can still get that extra exposure working through social media and other online avenues. You'll just have to stretch yourself creatively to come up with a project that benefits everyone involved.

Homework: Jot down any networking ideas that popped into your head as you read this. If you had a project idea, what are some possible needs you might have or businesses that would be interested in working with you to make it happen? Again, don't get down if people reject your idea or don't have time to work with you. Keep asking around and looking for creative alternatives. Maybe even work with students or those in need of some experience. You'd be surprised what you can come up with together.