I've written a lot about this topic over the years. With ShutterFest coming up next month (April 18-19) it's the perfect time to write about it again. In fact, one of my workshops at ShutterFest is about the "care and feeding" of your network.
At every convention, workshop, monthly meeting of a local camera club or PPA chapter you attend, you have an opportunity to build a stronger network. For the purpose of this post, I'm focusing on the building of your network while at a conference or convention, but many of the same rules apply to people in your community, especially those you define as opinion leaders.
I know there are still people who pride themselves on their stack of business cards, but just collecting cards doesn't cut it anymore. That's also why so few of you even know what a Rolodex is. It's not just the issue of collecting cards that's become ineffective, but what you do with the information.
Here's a ShutterFest game plan for networking outside social media with real live people!
- At every program/workshop/class, you attend make it a point to get to know the people sitting around you. If you're all there to listen to the same presentation, then right off the bat you've got something in common. Introduce yourself and listen as much as you talk.
- Never go to breakfast, lunch or dinner by yourself and never go with the same people every time. Getting together with old friends is terrific, but see if you can bring a new person into the group each time you head out. You don't have to make it into a major event - just the casual time over a meal.
- Get to know the people who sell the products and services you need. The number of vendors at ShutterFest has been growing every year. Check out the list below - it's a stellar cast of people who are there to help you build a stronger skill set and business! This industry, along with your success, is built on relationships. Meeting somebody whose products/services you've worked with will buy you so much in the long run. Even better is meeting the key executives and senior managers of the companies whose products you use...or should be using. These are the people driving the bus, and they're at ShutterFest because they want to meet and talk to you!
- Diversity is the key to having a great network. Work to develop a network of people with skills who compliment each other and fill the gap you might be missing yourself. For example, let's assume your goal is to do more commercial work, but lately, you've had a request or two to shoot weddings. Get to know a few wedding photographers whose work you respect, so you can refer business to each other and also learn from each other.
- Use social media to set up meetings in advance. Whether you're on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin, whatever - use social media to find out who's going to the same programs you are. For ShutterFest attendees you should be part of the Facebook forum. Social media gives us incredible reach, but it's even better when you can shake somebody's hand who you've been talking to online or reading about.
- Talk to the speakers! Most people get a little shy when it comes to a Q &A session at the end of a presentation, but there's nothing stopping you from going up to a speaker after the program and introducing yourself. There are even a few speakers, who make it a point to get to know as many people in their program as possible BEFORE things even get started. It's also a trademark of ShutterFest - every instructor is there to be accessible throughout the event, not just their scheduled classes.
- Use your camera! Okay, so it might seem pretty basic, since so many of you take advantage of the hands-on aspect of ShutterFest, but I'm talking about getting images of you interacting with other photographers and instructors. Build a stash of images to use for publicity and future blog posts. And, don't forget the vendors you meet as well, along with products you decide to bring into your business.
- Stay in touch! This is the hardest part of maintaining a good network, but you've got the most vehicles in history, e.g. Twitter, Facebook and even your phone to make it happen. Stay connected - it can be done so easily. And, if I went any further into this topic I'd be cutting right into one of my ShutterFest workshops! LOL
Meeting other photographers face to face, from your own backyard or other parts of the country and world, is one of the very best reasons to attend ShutterFest or any conference/workshop, but remember - you snooze you lose! You've got to get involved in every possible program and introduce yourself to an industry loaded with creative people willing to share their ideas.