Posted 12 January 2023

A guide to networking and making connections

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In the creative industries, networking is among the best ways to land a job. And that’s not all – it can also lead to fulfilling friendships and new collaborations. But we know that making and sustaining relevant industry connections is easier said than done.

So here, we break down everything you need to know – from where you can network to how you can keep the conversation going, whether online or in person.

What do we mean by networking?

Simply put, networking means interacting with others to exchange information that will be helpful for your career. This typically means talking to others about your work and swapping contact details to stay in touch for job opportunities or ways to collaborate.

Whichever creative discipline you specialise in, and whether you’re a freelancer or in full-time work, networking can significantly aid your first or next steps within a career.

✋ Is networking just for extroverts?

Absolutely not – you can make connections whatever your personality type! Networking is a social activity, but even if you don’t prefer speaking to people in person, many forms of networking now happen digitally. We’ll explore this in more detail below!

What does networking look like?

It’s important to note that networking doesn’t have to be super-formal. You’ll be surprised to find that you’re probably already engaging in some form of it! This could mean:

  • Chatting to others at an event, short course or get-together
  • Sliding into your favourite creative’s DMs
  • Chiming in on a Linkedin post, an interest-based Reddit or Twitter thread
  • Joining an after-work sports team
  • Having a chat with someone in your co-working space, studio or Slack channel

A big part of meeting new people is to have fun and discover new things. The trick is to do something you genuinely enjoy or think might interest you and get to know people through that.

There are plenty of places to meet interesting people. You could check out listing sites like our Opportunities Board or our article on regular networking events. Other places to get started are:

Why is networking useful?

👷 To find new opportunities

Not everyone is blessed to have a close relative or friend in the biz. Making connections based on common interests means you’ll encounter people you get along with, and potentially establish long-lasting relationships. Many times, this can lead to opportunities for collaboration and work.

Word of mouth is also an essential part of filling many creative roles. This can be particularly true of collaboration-led industries such as TV, film, fashion, set design and VFX, which tend to rely on recommendations from co-workers, or seeing a creative’s practical work style in action on set.

💪 To strengthen community

Networking amongst marginalised groups can help build and strengthen support networks. In POC or LGBTQIA+ communities, for example, networking allows people with similar life experiences to seek comfort and openly discuss issues and frustrations in a safe and understanding environment.

Such networks also often offer roles to people of marginalised identities, levelling the playing field by actively promoting diversity and inclusion in the historically homogenous creative industry.

An essential checklist before you get started

To expand your network, you need to put yourself out there and reach out to new people. But before you do, here are a few things to consider:

🕸 Your online presence
Whether you’re networking online or IRL, it’s useful to have somewhere to point people to, like a website or social media profile. Think about creating a public-facing destination that someone where someone can find out more about you and your interests. Let others know what you stand for by sharing content that feels unique to you and your work.

🤷 What if I don’t know anyone?
It might not feel like it, but you’ve got a network already: think of your classmates, university tutors, colleagues, a friend of a friend, or an acquaintance of a family member. People know people, so start asking around for recommendations of who you should reach out to.

👀 Find out who’s behind the work that inspires you
If you’re unsure where to start, take note of any creatives, magazines or studios you admire and that you’d be interested in working with. Check out mastheads in industry magazines or platforms like LinkedIn or IMDb to find out who worked on them.

✂️ Be clear and concise when reaching out
Whether you’re hoping to connect with someone for a potential collaboration, scoping out a future role or simply to chat about a mutual interest, it’s vital to personalise your message, while being concise and clear about your intentions. For more detailed tips on this, have a look at our guide to writing and sending cold emails.

How to ace IRL networking

Online networking may be popular and accessible, but there are still several positives to meeting in person.

Meeting IRL builds stronger bonds, so you’re more likely to make deeper connections. And if you get along well, one chat could lead to meeting more people in the long run – which means more opportunities.

Don’t let imposter syndrome take the wheel. Often, many people at networking events are just as nervous and in the same stage of their careers and lives as you are!

⏮ Before the event

Before you start a conversation, here are some things to consider:

💬 Practice talking about yourself
Build up a bank of conversation starters if you feel stuck. Examples could include a recent exhibition you found interesting, a piece of relevant industry news, a new project you’re working on or an intriguing collaboration that’s just been announced.

😌 Do something that helps you feel calmer
For the introverts out there, before an event, this could be as simple as having a relaxing cup of tea, saying affirmations, doing some meditation or yoga or trying a power pose.

🔍 Double-check the place and time
This may sound obvious, but make sure you check where you need to be! Especially if you’re feeling nervous, it can be helpful to arrive a few minutes early to take some deep breaths and get ready to meet others.

It’s also a good opportunity to start conversations with others who are also early, rather than be late and find that everyone is already deep in their chats.

▶️ During the event: Starting conversations

If you’re at an event alone, an easy way to start is to identify people who are also there by themselves and begin a conversation. This way you can start chatting on even footing.

If you had your mind set on chatting to someone specific, but they’re talking to someone else, bide your time. Avoid interrupting other people if they seem like they’re deep in a discussion. Instead, try to find an appropriate time – such as during a lull – to enter and introduce yourself.

There are a few things you can do to deepen your connections while chatting:

💡 Don’t make it all about work
Find common ground – everything from podcasts and TV shows to favourite foods or travel – as mutual interests can turn into longer conversations. And don’t forget to listen as much as you talk!

👌 Prioritise quality over quantity
It’s better to form two meaningful connections than ten unmemorable ones.

☎️ Exchange contact information
If you meet someone who you’d like to stay in touch with, ask for their email address or social media handles, and share yours.

😬 Have ‘conversation enders’ ready to go
If you feel a conversation isn’t going anywhere, that’s okay – we’ve all been there. Have a few phrases to help you move on. This could be as simple as saying: “It’s been really great to meet you. Thanks for chatting!” Alternatively, excusing yourself for the loo or to grab a drink is a natural way of breaking conversation and removing yourself from the situation.

👀 A note on body language

While eye contact and actively open body language can be helpful to establish rapport, remember to be mindful if someone doesn’t follow etiquette deemed ‘typical’.

For example, socialising can be particularly anxiety-inducing for someone who is neurodivergent. It’s essential to be sensitive to different needs and not form judgements based on neurotypical social codes of conduct.

If this is the case for you, know that it’s important to be okay with who you are and try to be confident in the discussion and work you can bring to the table. People should want to know you for who you are and not what you are trying to be. Focus on talking up yourself, your skills and projects – you’ve worked really hard on them.

⏩ After the event: Following up

Following up on socials or email is a useful way of taking your conversation one step further. Use a mutually interesting topic to continue the conversation and express positivity about the new connection. It can be helpful to remind the person how you met, too.

As a conversation starter, you could lead with a common interest that was discussed, rather than jump immediately into work-related favours. An opening message could look like this:

“Hey [name]!

It was great to meet and chat at [event] last Thursday.

I wanted to send you this interview between Adam Buxton and Zadie Smith. I remember you mentioned that you loved her latest book, and this interview has some great insight!

Would love to hear what you think, and hopefully catch up again soon.”

How to ace networking online

One of the best things about digital networking is that you can connect with anyone from anywhere in the world, at your own time and pace.

Networking online also gives you greater control over who you connect with, as opposed to meeting people at an IRL event. Instead, you can target exactly who you want to speak with.

There are lots of different places to network online, such as:

  • Online portfolio reviews
  • Events specifically made for networking
  • Courses or workshops
  • Talks or presentations
  • By connecting with someone on social media

💬 How can you interact in a meaningful way?

You don’t need to join an official event to start networking. For example, commenting “I love this!” on someone’s work on Instagram or portfolio never goes amiss.

Or, if you come across someone’s work you like out in the world – on the tube, in a magazine, on a billboard – shout about it! Take a photo, tag them in it, tell them why you like it. Being authentic and saying positive, encouraging or useful things will always be well received.

When participating in a digital event, here are some tips to keep in mind:

💬 Use the chat box to connect with other viewers
Ask questions and actively participate. Sending private DMs are also a great way to ask questions, whether it’s directed to other participants or the host. Be sure to also say thank you at the end of the event.

☎️ Exchange contact details
Jot down the contact details or social media handles of attendees and speakers to connect with.

🗣 Keep the conversation going
Join an event group (if there is one) to stay in touch with other members to pick up on any conversations, and if relevant, post anything that might be of interest to the group.

What next? Keeping your conversations going

A general rule here is that the sooner you get in touch after the event or interaction, the better, as others are more likely to remember what you both discussed in your chat. The golden rules of networking apply here, too:

😊 Be confident
It’s easy to be saddled by imposter syndrome when reaching out, but try to remind yourself of your value and what you can bring to a situation.

🔁 Be persistent
Don’t feel rejected if you don’t get an immediate reply. Follow up on emails if you haven’t heard back in two weeks. Creative professionals can be extremely busy, and emails can get buried by thousands of others, or simply forget to be replied to – it’s usually not personal!

⏳ Don’t expect to get what you want immediately
If a connection doesn’t pan out in the way you hoped it would, don’t just drop it. You never know when the connection could be relevant again.

🤝 Avoid using people just for a specific goal
Networking is about making interesting connections and don’t forget that it’s a two-way street, so be prepared to give as much as you take!

🔥 Reigniting old conversations

There are many ways to keep the conversation going long after an event or meeting has passed:

🆕 Invite contacts to check out your new work
Recently updated your portfolio? Use this opportunity to give a brief update on your latest project. As with all communication, try to personalise it to the recipient and why they might be interested in your work.

If you haven’t worked on anything of late, you could also pick up the conversation by asking what they’ve been up to.

⏰ Time to get networking!

There’s a lot to take in, so take your time to find your stride and preferred style of networking. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it right immediately. Like with anything, good skills take time to hone. Be patient and kind to yourself, and most of all, remind yourself why you’re doing this!

Networking should be fun, and a process in which you can make new friends, establish potential opportunities for collaborations and even find out more about yourself and what your interests are. Now go out there and make some connections!

Written by Creative Lives in Progress