Networking Tips for the Busy Designer

Professional networking is an important part of being a designer and working towards a challenging and rewarding career. Unfortunately, most designers are so busy with client work, or trying to find more clients, that networking-related activities are more of an afterthought that get attention whenever the time happens to be available. While networking is critical, it doesn’t have to adsorb huge amounts of time that prevent you from getting other essential tasks completed.

In this article we’ll look at a series of tips and suggestions that are aimed at designers who want to network more successfully, but without committing large amounts of time each day or each week. The idea is to get as much benefit as possible from a reasonable time commitment that can be accommodated by just about any schedule.

1. Organize Your Contacts

Whenever efficiency and minimizing time commitment are the goals, evaluating and improving organization is a great place to start. If you are wasting time trying to find an email address, a phone number, or a name from someone that you met a few months ago, that is a lack of productivity that could be avoided with better organization.

There are any number of ways you can organize your contacts. You can use a program like Outlook or Thunderbird, or you could choose a full-feature CRM like Highrise. How you organize your contacts is less important than the fact that you actually have a method for doing so. Each person is different, and you should consider your own needs work habits in deciding on a solution.

For more, see 12 CRM Options for Freelancers.

2. Take Advantage of Useful Tools and Resources

Aside from organizing, another part of achieving efficiency involves making use of resources that are available to make networking less time consuming and more effective. Particularly when dealing with online networking, there are a number of resources available, some free and some for pay. Two examples that are highly useful for designers are Skype and TweetDeck. With Skype you can talk to people all over the world to get in touch whenever necessary. TweetDeck makes it possible to use Twitter effectively without spending all day reading and sending tweets. Personally, my usage of Twitter multiplied exponentially after I started using TweetDeck while still not losing productivity.

Skype and TweetDeck are certainly not the only options, they are simply two examples. Make an effort to find resources like this that can help you to get more out of your networking efforts while keeping the time requirements low.


3. Set Aside Time in Your Schedule for Networking

Because networking activities tend to get pushed to the back burner in favor of other more urgent tasks, it may be necessary to build blocks in to your schedule in order to find time to network. Simple networking activities won’t require that you give up large amounts of time away from your income-generating work. For example, you could block off an hour to update your LinkedIn profile and look for some new connections, set up a day to meet a contact for lunch, or even to simply read some blog posts and respond in the comments.

Of course, some types of networking activities will require more time (such as traveling to a conference or an event), but just building in small amounts of time in your weekly schedule can make a noticeable difference.

4. Think About Your Career Path

One of the reasons that networking is so important is that it can play a crucial role in career advancement and development. Knowing the right person and being in the right place is just as important as having the right skills. However, in order for your networking efforts to truly be effective in helping you to get the career that you want, you’ll need to think about which direction you want to go with your career.

Networking without a plan may lead to some great opportunities, but networking with a plan will give you a much better chance of getting the results you are looking for. Take some time to think about your future. For example, if you goal is to be a freelance designer, making connections with people who can help you to land more work would be very significant. On the other hand, if you are freelancing with the goal of being hired by an agency, you would be more likely to meet your goals by working towards making some contacts with designers and/or managers from various agencies.

5. Identify Key People

After you have given consideration to the path that you would like to take with your career, you should take some time to identify key people who would be able to have an influence. Once you know who you would like to get to know, make an effort to connect with them in one way or another. If they have a blog, you could start by getting involved in the comments on their posts, linking to their posts and writing your own responses, or you could even contact them about writing for their blog. If you know what groups or professional associations they are involved with, you could make an effort to get involved there as well.

Knowing specifically who you want to connect with will help you spend your time in the right way. Your efforts will lead to better results, as opposed to networking with whoever you happen to come across.

There are a few things that should be pointed out here. First, while identifying your key contacts is a good habit, always keep in mind that networking is a two-way street and simply using them for your own gain is neither ethical nor effective. The most effective way to network is to find ways for mutual benefit, so first you should be looking at how you can help them or what it is you can bring to the table.

Second, keep in mind that if you have identified these people as being key, chances are many other designers like you have done the same. Getting connected to an influential person is not easy because they most likely have a lot of people contacting them on a regular basis, which is all the more reason why you need to know what you have to offer them.

Third, have realistic expectations. Depending on your level of experience, you may want to work on your designing and networking skills for a while before reaching out to those key people that you have identified. It may be more effective to dedicate the time to improving yourself as a designer and building up your network of people who are at comparable places in their careers and work your way towards your key people.

6. Integrate Networking into Your Work

One of the most effective ways to build your network without losing valuable working time is to combine the two activities. The are a number of ways that you could do this. Personally, I stumbled across one method a few years ago without even realizing that it could pay huge dividends. In my situation it was freelance blogging that allowed me to go about my business and build my network at the same time. I started to write for other blogs as a paid contributor because it gave me a way to make some money in addition to designing, but what I found out is that it was an extremely effective way to get to know influential people in the industry. As a paid writer for a number of successful design blogs and publications, I’ve had the privilege of getting to work with some very talented and well-connected people.

Many freelance designers do some work that agencies choose to outsource. Just like the freelance blogging example, this can be a very effective way to build your network without neglecting the income-generating work that you need to do. If you already maintain a blog of your own, one effective method would be to interview other designers and post the interviews to your blog. Most designers are open to accepting interview requests, and it will give you a good opportunity to learn and to build some ties to the other designer while simply producing content for your blog. Regardless of what your approach may be, if you can find ways to strengthen your network while still focusing on your work, you will be well on your way to building the network that you need without much time commitment.

7. Pursue Collaborations

Building on the previous point, collaborative efforts are great for strengthening your network while still staying focused on your primary business objectives. Your collaboration could be the sharing of referrals with someone who offers complimentary services, developing an app with someone you know, starting a multi-author blog, working with someone else to design and develop templates for sale, and the possibilities are endless.

Collaborations are great because they allow people to focus on what they do best and to complement each other’s skills. Additionally, it allows you to build very strong relationships with other professionals that can often lead to bigger and better opportunities. Like point number 6, it also allows you to earn some money and make very productive use of your time while strengthening your network.

8. Maintain Quality Relationships

A strong network is based more on quality of relationships than quantity. Rather than trying to get some contact with every designer out there, make an effort to build a few very strong relationships. Making the most of the connections you have may be more important than dedicating time and effort to making additional connections (of course, this depends on your situation and your existing network).

In order to maximize the connections that you already have, make an effort to stay in touch with the people who seem like they would be the best fit for your network. Find new ways to work together or just get to know more about them. Stronger relationships and connections will be much more likely to lead to something significant than several casual connections.

9. Up the Level

There are a lot of different ways to communicate with others and different levels of networking. This would include things like leaving comments on blogs, responding to forum postings, using IM, tweeting back and forth, email, phone, face-to-face, etc. If you’re looking to get more impact with your networking efforts, take it to the next level. If all of your contact with someone has been done via email, make an effort to get on the phone with that person. If you’ve always spoken on the phone, try to set up a face-to-face meeting. Different levels of communication and networking will produce varying results. Getting to interact with someone on a deeper level can lead to a stronger connection.

Of course, it may not always be feasible to take it to the next level, such as a face-to-face meeting, but try to consider the situation thoroughly. If you are trying to build a strong network while still maintaining an active business that involves plenty of design work you will typically be spending only small amounts of time networking and slowly developing some connections. On the other hand, if there is a convention or conference in your area that you could attend for a day or two, you would miss some time for client work, but you could have a better impact with the time that you allocate for networking.

10. Minimize Meaningless Activities

Since you want to achieve greater efficiency with your networking activities, pay attention to the results that you are getting and dedicate your time to those activities that are producing results. If you are spending an hour every day on social media sites hoping that your Diggs and Stumbles will send enough traffic to someone that they will notice you, most likely you could be more successful with other methods.

What’s meaningless and unproductive for one person may be very effective for someone else, so give it some time and evaluate your own results to make the best decision for yourself. After you have been consistently networking for a while, adjust your strategy and your schedule accordingly so that you are getting the most out of your time.

What is Your Experience?

How do you go about building your network while still maintaining focus on your primary services to clients?

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41 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Treavioli, January 6, 2010

    There’s also places like CoHabitat, Jelly and other coworking hangouts/events that allow you to work AND socialize with others.

    http://cohabitat.us/ (Dallas-area)
    http://workatjelly.com/

  • Kimcool, January 6, 2010

    I think the No.5 [Identify Key People] is important.

  • Laia, January 6, 2010

    Great tips! I don’t think I spend as much time networking as I should, but with the new year, I decided to make networking a small part of my daily routine.

  • Owen, January 7, 2010

    Some of these principles could be applied to more areas of life than just working as a designer.

    • Vandelay Website Design, January 7, 2010

      Owen,
      Yes, much of it could definitely be relevant to others aside from designers. I wrote it from a designer’s perspective, so that’s why I titled it the way I did.

  • discount codes, January 7, 2010

    Wicked posts, thanks a lot. Time is money as they say, so these tips should help me make more money in 2010. Fingers crossed.

  • Ben Hurley, January 7, 2010

    All I do is try having fixed times at the day for everything. Times for networking and a couple of hours a day where i force myself to do productive, goal-oriented things.

  • Sarah, January 7, 2010

    I think spending time networking every week is essential. A large percentage of my web design projects are gained via face-2-face – organised networking meetings such as http://www.bni.com/ . I find social media such as Twitter a great way to maintain and develop connections with people initially met through offline networking.

  • SEO Preston, January 7, 2010

    I can totally agree with using tweet deck to save time the other great thing is that it also works with facebook so if you’re looking to keep your social profile high it’s an ideal tool.

  • Vandelay Website Design, January 7, 2010

    SEO Preston,
    Good point, TweetDeck is not only for Twitter. I’m not an avid Facebook user so I tend to forget about that aspect of its functionality.

  • Ohio Website Design Advice, January 7, 2010

    A couple things I didn’t see and just based on my original experience of what works for networking and what wasn’t very productive.

    1. Since as a new designer or developer a lot of people are not going to trust you or let you charge them a decent amount of money to produce a site. Let alone other business owners that are networking typically may not have a large budget to spend on a new site which is why they are networking also possibly? BUT when your networking be honest and don’t overstate your skills but let them know you will do there site for a very low amount in exchange for them working with you.

    You will get more new jobs even though your making less it will help build up your portfolio. Once the project is done then you charge them a higher hourly but still low. Just make sure you treat these clients really good and make sure they are overly satisfied with your work.

    After awhile you will build up many clients that all potentially refer you to other people. With each new person it just keeps growing until you have many new projects coming in. DO NOT instantly raise your rates but schedule these projects out over time making sure you dedicate the time to each. Once your scheduled out 2-3-4 months out then raise your rates and let the business take it from there.

    2. Other than networking one thing we found that worked when our company started is find people like attorneys, accountants, pc repair companies, people that own office space, etc.. and start bartering services. So maybe for office space or a small portion you can do a property management companies site or accountants to help you get your personal design business in line to not get into money troubles with the IRS. That way the client gets a site for very little and you either get a credit for or trade for a service or resource you need. If you do a great job these resources will also refer you off to others in the same industry over time.

  • telefon başvurusu, January 8, 2010

    This is a good point but wich one can do this

  • Alicia Crowder, January 8, 2010

    Thanks for the great article! Time is such a valuable commodity and one of the most difficult aspects of life to manage for business owners in the technology field….always soooo much to do….soooo much to learn and of course sooo little time…

  • Orlando Web Design, January 9, 2010

    Great article. Definitely have to make time to network. Thanks for sharing.

  • Chethan, January 9, 2010

    Liked Your Tips Man..
    Nicely Written!
    You Rock!

  • Tomas Varil, January 9, 2010

    This is really nice article. It is showing that, getting well known on the internet is the most powerfull, cheapest, and most underestimating solution. I started to use own pages, twitter, linkedin, my blog but i am still rejecting to use facebook, even if i personaly think that, it could help a lot in brand or name exposure.

    From the other side:
    These times (wars, terorism, politics etc) are still pushing me to think more about the hidden idea of this social services, which i personally think is to get more information about peoples private, habbits, interests etc…especially all these linked together google services or facebook. Maybe i am starting to be paranoid, but i think there is something about it :-)

  • jeff c, January 9, 2010

    In the era of technology the poor knowledge about networking is time sharing and so to take benefits this blog is very appreciable to occupy great knowledge…

  • Reni, January 9, 2010

    Thanks for 10 pointing, I think useful & helpful.

  • Web Design Cambridgeshire, January 9, 2010

    These are all great tips. Thank you for these – particularly agree with no. 5. I do have to put more time into networking…

  • Chantelle, January 10, 2010

    THANKS for the great article, I’ll definitely incorporate some of your tips into my workplan!

  • SEO Nepal, January 10, 2010

    nice article. applies to all people than just designers actually.

  • Mike, January 11, 2010

    Nice post! Another great Twitter/Facebook tool (I know, there are a TON of them out there) is HootSuite, which also allows you to manage multiple social networks either from a web browser or downloadable app. Cheers!

  • Bex White, January 13, 2010

    There is a lot of good honest and simple common sense advice in there, I realised that I am doing quite a lot of those things but am missing out on a few ways to maximise my efficiency with my networking. This post also acts as a good checklist to ensure the reader isnt falling into any of the pitfalls such as concentrating on the method they think will work rather than ones which have proven to have sucess in the past.

    The only thing I would add is consistancy. I for one find my twitter usage has temporarily gone down just recently as I am quite busy – but really I need to prioritise setting aside a few minutes a day for Twirl to stay in touch, otherwise I check back and find I had comments and questions from relevant contacts and collegues that I just didn’t see in time – my lack of response will also have put them off using that medium to interact with them dispite my usage up to that point being quite high. I would say – choose the channels you feel get the best response and be consistant with them. If you only have time for one channel – then figure out which is best and stick to that one if that is the only way to keep your usage consistant.

  • Joe, January 22, 2010

    Excellent post. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day stuff and neglect the areas that actually bring in more work. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I second the HootSuite recommendation.

  • Netbooks, January 28, 2010

    You are right – minimizing meaningless activity is the best tip but so hard to actually do ! I waste hours every day just putting off work !

  • Cambridge Who's Who, February 5, 2010

    Then 10 tips in this article are great for any business owner who wants to network. In my opinion number 8 is the most important, but all 10 should be used when you want to network. Every business owner should read this article and should consider following these steps to improve their business.

  • Florida web design, May 4, 2010

    Good stuff! Any little thing to save time is welcomed. I’ll try to implement some of your suggestions.

  • Cheri Wenger, May 18, 2010

    This article was another great example of valuable tips and insight gained by subscribing to your newsletter. I especially agree with maintaining quality relations and integrating networking into your work. I regularly submit articles and projects to industry related magazines to maximize exposure and was able to start selling my digital designs on http://www.mygrafico.com through a contact I kept in touch with through our blogs & email. Maintaining relationships with people who share common goals and interests helps you to trade ideas, support one another’s efforts and often give you the courage to try new things! Terrific article!!!

  • Tina, June 1, 2010

    As someone else stated above, these are not just designer tips.

    Setting aside time for networking is always the most difficult part for me. I do get caught up working for myself.

  • Sarah Jones, October 6, 2010

    Great tips. I like all the points that you mentioned above. I would rather take a small seminar on this to my designers.
    Great post. Thanks