Okay, I’m about to date myself, but in the “old days” everyone’s network consisted of business card files. In fact, it became a collectible if you actually had all of a person’s career cards, with different titles, previous companies etc. It was the adult equivalent of my grandsons collecting Pokemon cards!
Today, everyone’s network is in their iPhone. It’s phone numbers, email and snail mail addresses, often birthdays and meeting dates. But here’s a question for you, what are you doing to maintain contact with your network? How are you at the care and feeding aspect?
Your network is a critical component in building your business and that's why it makes it into the top ten steps of One Step at a Time. So many photographers underestimate the value of their network, but the reality is, it really does "take a village" to build your brand, your skill set and a business.
The advantage of building a great network in the first place is all about your support group. It’s about having resources to draw from when you simply need help. Unfortunately, so often, we’ll go to chase down somebody in our network and either have obsolete contact information or be embarrassed to be making contact when we haven’t talked to the person in a year, since the last convention, first meeting, etc.
Here are some things to consider to help maintain a healthy network:
Identify twenty people in your network who you really can’t live without. This isn’t just about respect and friendship, but people with skill sets that compliment your own. These are the twenty rock-stars you want to be able to count on.
Make sure all your contact information is up to date for the twenty person core of your network.
Keep in touch via email. It’s so easy to just drop a one liner to keep in touch.
Pick up the phone! Phone calls are simply fun. Yeah, I’m using the word “fun”, one of those long lost concepts in business today. It’s okay to have fun and keeping in touch is a great way to do it. Just be sensitive to friends being buried in work when you call and don’t be offended if you just happen to catch them at a bad time.
Be active in social medial! Facebook and Twitter are terrific for keeping in touch! Check your friends and followers and go off in search of those people in your network.
Try and track birthdays. I’m the worst at this one, but Facebook certainly helps. Plus, it's fun to remember an associate's birthday and make contact.
How’s your holiday card list? It’s another one where I don’t do the best job, but I’m at least better than I used to be. We all have such busy lives. Taking the time to remember a friend in your network is so easy to do if you just keep your addresses up to date.
Websites and Blogs: Make it a point to follow the work of your network, especially your twenty person core. It’s not that hard to do if you put aside time each day. In fact, it’s a great break from the stress of deadlines and projects to just spend a few minutes looking at images a friend in your network has recently put up or read their blog.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner: At a convention? Take the time to keep in touch with your network over any meal in the day. NEVER eat alone! Being able to catch up to friends and associates over a meal is a great way to build your network and expand your knowledge of each others expertise.
Be generous with your time. When somebody asks for help in your network, do the best you can and give them as much time as they need whenever possible.
Participate in a few of the forums out there with photographers who are aligned with your specialty. There are several hundred thousand people with more than just a casual interest in photography on Facebook. Like any association, 10% of each forum does 90% of the participating. Each of these forums are a good way to stay on top of the trends within your specialty.
Attend every convention and workshop you can! I'm convinced that building a strong network is a key to success in virtually every industry. In photography a good workshop or convention becomes an outstanding launching pad for ways to strengthen your skill set, improve your marketing and it's all through your growing network.
Don't forget your Vendors! Every vendor you work with is a resource in your network and most of you should have somebody from your lab, album company, hosting/website services and camera shop/equipment supplier in your core group of twenty. Here's a prime example:
Steven Irving, Rudy Pollack and Tom Panico are the sales support team for Venice Album in the United states. They talk with hundreds of photographers every month on a wide variety of issues, not just their album needs. One of these three should be in every photographer's network, especially wedding shooters. The same goes for the SmugMug heroes who are literally there to help with challenges far beyond just your website and your images - plus so many of them are outstanding photographers as well.
Maintaining a great network is an art form. Clearly what you get out of it will be directly related to the effort you put into keeping it healthy. Just remember to be helpful and give more than you take!
Bob Burg wrote: “The successful networkers I know, the ones receiving tons of referrals and feeling truly happy about themselves, continually put the other person's needs ahead of their own.”
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