Creative networking - what to (and not to) do

Tonight I went to a creative networking event in NYC, something I do as often as possible (this was my third this week). While each of these events has their own style and protocal, there are certain consistencies.

The first is to realize who you're dealing with, which is people just like you, just at various levels. This simple fact should make most of the other things I have to say rather obvious for most - but not all.

When I go to these events, my greatest hope is to meet someone rather symbiotic but different from me. If I meet a fashion designer, a rep, an editor, a stylist, a makeup artist... well you get the idea... then I had a successful night. Lately I've been almost exclusively meeting other phtoographers. I'm not sure if they're the hungriest (read most desparate), the most prevalent, or if I've simply been going to the wrong parties. I'll be figuring that out soon. Whatever the reason mostly I meet other photographers and frequently less experienced than myself that are happy for advice or offer to assist for me. I love teaching and helping and I do need assistants from time to time so this result is not unwelcome, and the events are always fun, but it's not ultimately giving what I'm looking for. That said that has little to do with my point here, which I'll move onto now.

There was one guy - and only one, that had his full 11x14 printed portfolio with him, pushing it on anyone that would look. I somehow managed to avoid him, but he roped my friend in, who was too nice to say no, but not nice enough to fail from giving him a fairly brutal review of his work. I overlistened (and overglanced) and my friend was right with what he was saying, but it was probably tough for the guy to hear. That's what you get for forcing your portfolio on someone in the wrong place and time. So this is what you don't do: don't bring your portfolio to a creative networking event.

Now I assume this guy had never been to anything like this, and maybe you haven't either, so let me explain. Events like this are generally held at photo studios, bars, clubs or anywhere else that can be procured and used for this purpose. They're marketed to creative people (which can mean anything from a facebook page invite to an invite only list) and there is nearly always alcohol and music involved. What happens beyond those loose typicalitiies varies, but those generalities set the stage for just about everything like this I've ever been to. You talk, introduce yourself to new people. After introductions the first thing said is nearly always "so, what do you do?". Once that's out of the way you've paved the way to converse about work or anything else, and if the conversation lasts more than 2 minutes or so, you're sure to exchange business cards at the end.

And that leads me to the second part of this - what you should do. Always carry an abundance of business cards and hand them out copiously. Put yourself on the other side. You meet someone, talk to them, find them interesting and maybe have some ideas in mind for a future collaboration. At any rate you definitely want to communicate with them again. At the end of the conversation you pull out a card and give it to them, at which point they stutter and admit that they're out of cards, forgot them, are getting new ones or whatever. If that's true they're an idiot and lost credibility for coming to something like this without cards. If it's not true maybe they thought completely differently? More importantly, you now have no way of getting in touch with them other than twiddling your fingers and hoping they email or call you. So back to you being the one without the cards, maybe that person you didn't have business cards for had an incredible idea that will never ever happen now. So my DO here is always make sure you have business cards that lead to an updated site of your work.

Most importantly they're always fun, you know you're going to be in a room filled with like-minded people, most of which you don't know so it's a pretty awesome way to make new friends and just have a good time in general. And the more you go with that attitude the more likely you are to actually meet people that will help you in your career. The more you go looking for that boost to your career the less friends you'll make and thus the less likely you are to turn that into business. So that's my final word on it - this is where business and friendship meets and that's vitally important. So relax, have fun and the rest will come on its' own.