Networking For Creatives: The Why And How
Did you finish design school fully booked?
I freelanced through school, between jobs, and in the evenings, building my portfolio, my network, and my savings account.
Getting to be a full-time freelancer took a few — thirteen, to be exact — years of preparing myself.
If I had started full-time freelancing thirteen years ago, I would have zero clients. OK, maybe I would have one.
But that’s not enough – freelancers should have many clients. Or at least, enough clients to pay rent. And maybe eat a nice dinner every so often.
But how do you get to that point? Why do some freelancers have as many clients as they want, and others aren’t sure where the money will come from next month?
The Start Of My Marketing Hustle
For the last two years, I’ve been freelancing full-time, and it’s been going well. Really well, like, so well that I have to turn down 90% of the clients that approach me well – just because I don’t have the time to work with them.
But that didn’t happen overnight. And when I look back, trying to understand what got me to this point – I can see a pattern. And I want to share it with you so you can skip a few years of “not enough clients”.
When I just started, people told me you should be marketing! – but that wasn’t what I expected, and definitely not part of my dream career as a designer.
And yet, I found myself working on marketing and networking all the time. Because it works.
It doesn’t have to take thirteen years, but it will always take time and effort.
When I started playing the networking game, it felt sleazy. I was playing a game that I didn’t want to play.
All of the successful freelancers I met said I had to network, though, which made me picture shaking sweaty palms and handing out business cards.
Heads up: It’s not like that.
I mean, it can be like that, but it doesn’t have to be. Because, from what I’ve learned, networking is mostly about being nice.
Parties, coffee, and Facebook groups were enough. And they weren’t painful — they just took energy. And guess what? After thirteen years of this, I can tell you in retrospect where 99% of my clients came from.
My clients didn’t come from Dribbble (I don’t have one).
My clients didn’t come from my online portfolio (that I spent ~2 hours building).
My clients came from referrals from the network I built over those years of coffee chats, blog posts, and participating in Facebook groups.
Here’s how you can start building your network today:
Join industry Facebook groups and participate. Share articles, share work, leave comments, send messages, make friends. Don’t be shy.
Invite people out to coffee! You’re not too busy, and neither are they.
Go outside once in a while. You never know who you’ll find. Whether it’s the dog park, your best friend’s birthday, or a high school reunion, your future client could be sitting right next to you — but you’ll never know if you don’t talk to them.
Go to meetups. Meet people who do the things you do — or want to do. Network within your industry and the industry you want to be in. Make a name and place for yourself.
Share. Share things people have written, and share what you’re writing. That means you have to write too. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to happen.
Make a story for yourself and stick to it. If you want to work with startups, find the startup people; if you want to work with fashion brands, go to their stores. Find the people you want to work with and make them a part of your network.
I know what you’re thinking – that’s so much work!
But you’re not here to take the easy way out — you’re here to build a long-lasting career.
As someone who’s been doing this for years, I can assure you – it wasn’t easy.
Easy was staying home with my wife, or going for whiskey with my friends.
This was all what I took upon myself because I wanted to build a business of my own — pretty much the opposite of easy anything.
Because, it’s important to remember, you’re not a freelancer because it’s easy. You’re a freelancer because you want it.
The Next Step (Shameless plug)
For some freelancers, marketing is the hard part of freelancing.
I’m not talking about creating a Facebook page – anyone can do that. That’s easy. I’m talking about the things you haven’t thought of, or you’re scared to try, or you want to but don’t know how.
Today I’m launching a new class – Marketing For Honest Freelancers. Here’s the gist:
Ran is head of product, designer and co-founder at the nuSchool. He's also a freelance designer working with Startups, the a mentor at The Designer's Pricing Class. He's now working on a new class - Marketing For Honest Freelancers.
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