Clients are spending more time searching and researching designers online. Nonetheless, word-of-mouth referrals are still the surest way of landing new business. As you know, you can greatly increase your chances of a referral by networking. But did you know that the most effective way to network is not to market yourself but to be a resource to others?
I recently came across an interesting article in Entrepreneur magazine by consultant Jeff Shuey, who points out that many people know they should network but often do so without any clear plan or purpose. They are hoping for some serendipitous connection that will benefit them or their business. He advises to consider carefully why you are attending a particular event. Who are you hoping to meet, and why? Are you prepared to follow up to establish a friendship or collegial relationship? Sure, the people you meet know you are networking to gain something; they are, too. The key is in what you have to offer. “Everyone is good at something,” says Jeff. “Whatever it is that you are good at … highlight it, emphasize it, and offer it to your network.”
That doesn’t mean giving away your design services. You probably have expertise in any number of areas that could be useful to someone in your network, either personally or professionally. The idea is to become known in your network as someone who reciprocates, who has a lot to offer, and who builds lasting relationships. When the opportunity arises, they will be happy to refer you, confident that their referral to a trusted professional will reflect well on them.