We’ve all been there. The new kid in class. It repeats itself countless times throughout our lives wearing different masks. Every journey is different, unique to the person steering the wheel; but we all start somewhere. It can be extremely intimidating to put yourself out there, to risk being rejected…or worse, being taken advantage of. However, building a professional network is important to grow your business, and when done correctly can result in picking up some great friends along the way!
Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned about being the “new kid”:
- Reach out to more established creatives in an honest and authentic way.
Don’t just pull up google and email every top tier professional in your area; connect with those that you think you’ll mesh with. I’m not even a big fish in my market, and yet I get random emails from people that propose some sort of internship arrangement. I can tell it is just a form letter that had my name plugged in. I just don’t feel a connection over email, unless there is a common thread somehow. Did you see a recent post of mine and truly identified with it? Are you from my hometown and think we might share some friends? Find something in common and you are more likely to hear back from others with a positive response. The more you have in common with someone the more likely you are to seek out eachother in the future.
If email isn’t your thing, look for groups to join in your local area, some groups offer shootouts or even just café coffee chats about business.
- Bring something to the table.
Just because you aren’t as established doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to offer! Be available and open; share what you know! You don’t have to be the most seasoned pro to share knowledge that others will find useful. Try to remember that everyone has different life experiences outside of being a photographer, and your life experience is intrinsic to your value. Do you have kids and know some tricks to get them to behave? That can be very useful to a photographer that has never spent serious time with an unruly two year-old! Sales experience in your day job? I’ve met some salespeople that can talk their way into or out of anything! I’m however not that slick and could really use some pointers! Basically, the more you are willing to share what you know, even if it is just how to calm a cranky baby or how to close that sale…the more you are going to be able to connect to and gain the trust of your peers.
- Establish friendships that are more fun than work.
Balance is key; mix in the personal to keep a good balance in your relationships. While it is never a good idea to expect that someone will become your best friend after working with them, don’t just go to them with business matters, or when you need help with something. Go out to eat, or get coffee and keep the business talk to a minimum. Everyone loves to talk shop, but in order to actually get to know someone you need to care about him or her as a person first. Creatives can sometimes become burdened by the lack of balance in their lives, and being able to let loose and just enjoy a little time off can do wonders for the artist’s soul. Being yourself and allowing a person in is the best thing you can do when establishing new relationships — professional and personal alike.
- Be supportive, not competitive!
At some point, you are going to make friends with someone that does the exact same work that you do. Use professional courtesy when building your business, the same way you use it in your daily life to build relationships. Don’t do something that you wouldn’t appreciate being done to you. The golden rule never gets old! While I believe it is human nature to fall into that nasty comparison trap, don’t let your ego stop you from being a good person. Be trustworthy and remember that there are many fish in the client sea, someone else’s happiness should not ever result in your unhappiness. Instead of seeing their accomplishment as your failure, simply view it as a friend would and be proud of them. Supporting eachother will get us all further than knocking eachother down.
- Give credit where credit is due.
No one can do it alone, everyone has received help to climb to where they are today. It isn’t a downfall to admit that you’ve had help along the way. Did you learn something from another creative that gained you recognition? Give them public credit for being awesome!!! This is only going to strengthen your relationship with them and also build them up at the same time. Being a good friend and a good businessperson is more about the give than the take. List the incredible vendors you work with in your blog posts, refer to other photographers when the job isn’t the right fit or you’ve booked that date. By sharing the love and showing clients that you are a team player, you are building trust on all fronts.
When I see another photographer reaching out and helping the industry, even in a small way, I feel instantly more connected to that person. On the other hand, when I see someone bashing others for being less than what they consider themselves it turns me off to them as someone I would want to work with. I imagine clients that are out there seeing the same things share my sentiments.
I’m shy when it comes to meeting new people and literally have to force myself to reach outside of my comfort zone to make new connections. These tips have helped me to establish some invaluable professional connections and what’s more, I’ve gained lasting friendships. If I can do it, believe me…you can too!