How Emerging Designers Can Turn Networking into Something That’s Actually Useful
The word “networking” makes a lot of entrepreneurs and professionals roll their eyes. I know that networking has the absolute worst connotation to some people. Immediately a picture of stuffy corporate settings, passing out business cards that no one ever looks at again, glazed eyes, waxy cubes of cheese and barely drinkable wine in plastic cups, materializes in front of our faces.
But for me the word “networking” just means meeting with, learning from, and connecting to people in the business world– fellow designers, industry professionals, service providers, potential customers, and the like.
I don’t know. Maybe there are some other words or phrases we could use to describe it? How about… Professional get-togethers, industry meetups, business gatherings? Whatever. Choose one that you like and keep that in your mind as you read the rest of this post because, contrary to what a lot of people think and do, meeting people and talking to people is one very important aspect to growing your fashion business.
The process of getting out there, talking to others about what you’re doing, learning about what others are doing, and building genuine relationships is a practice that will do wonders for your business.
The pressure of networking can be nerve-wracking. Don’t look at it as a task where you need to act a certain way, or say certain things. Approach networking as you being a catalyst, shifting the focus from you and your business to the needs and interests of fellow business owners.
You have the power to create collaborations and collisions between your own creative ideas, other people you may know, and the people you are meeting now.
So let’s break this down into some ideas into where and how you can network, as well as what you can do to make all that networking useful for your fashion business.
Where to Network
- Business classes
- The gym
- The airport or train station
- The coffee shop
- Entrepreneurial groups- look for a niche (location-focused, industry focused, gender focused, etc)
- Industry tradeshows
How to Network
Once you decide to begin actually turning up at an event or starting up a conversation in the airport, the conventional “What do you do?” is not the best way to start; to be honest it’s so boring and cumbersome. You don’t want to use an elevator pitch. You want to ditch the stuffy talk and speak like a human being.
So what should you say when attending a meetup-type event or an entrepreneurs group? I attended an event not too long ago where I was asked a different question when I met someone. She said:
- What’s currently challenging you?
- Then she asked, What did you most recently celebrate?
What should you do/say when attending a trade show?
- Well first, if possible, schedule meetings with people you know are going to be there. If there’s someone in your network who you’ve loved connecting with but have only had a Twitter relationship with until now, then reach out and set up a time to connect at the trade show. Ask if they have 20 minutes to grab a coffee in the cafe so you can finally meet in person after all this time.
- If you’re in a booth and see what seems to be a fellow designer, comment on the fabrics they’re looking at like “That one is lovely, would be incredible as a blouse”, or some such thing. The point is to start a conversation around something that you both have a lot to talk about.
If you’re sitting it the seminar room at the trade show, waiting for it to start, mention to the person who is sitting next to you how excited you are to check out this talk; that it seems like a really relevant topic or that the speaker has some really impressive credentials.
What should you say if you meet someone in an airport, train station, or coffee shop?
- Clearly, you don’t want to walk up to a random person and just start talking. The point I’m making about networking in these situations is that if find yourself in close proximity to someone you don’t know, rather than putting your head down and waiting for it to be over, do something novel. Say “Hi”.
- Then, depending on where you are, ask things like “Headed somewhere exciting?”, or “Taking an afternoon coffee break?”. Here’s an example: I take a Monday afternoon Pilates class. The other day I casually mentioned to another woman in the class how nice it is to be able to take a break mid-day to recharge. She agreed and mentioned it’s definitely one of the privileges of entrepreneurship. Before I knew it, we were chatting about our businesses (she’s in PR) and sharing tips and info that we’ve each accumulated along the way.
How to Continue the Conversation
- When people are placed a room all trying to succeed, it’s only human to get nervous and talk someone’s ear off, eager to make a connection. This is because you can get so caught up by trying to convey a certain message that you forget to listen. Listen to those you are talking to, try to take mental notes on any unique projects they may mention, and really try to get a grasp for their vision for their fashion business.
- Ask questions; focus on the person you’re talking to and make them feel like the most important person in the room
- Exchange business cards if you think you’ll use it
- But also think more 2016. I’ve been really into asking for the Instagram handle of the person I’m chatting with and following them right then and there.
What to Do Afterwards
- Send an email. Always make the follow-up email about the other person, don’t make it about how they can help you; focus on how you can help them.
- Leave them a comment on Instagram about how nice it was to connect
- Connect on LinkedIn
- Follow them on Twitter
- Make a note to check out their feeds and engage a few times a month
This may seem like it’s easier said than done, you may be saying “I’m too introverted for this.” or “Is it really worth it? Nothing ever seems to come from my attempts at networking.” Well, yes, it does work.
And remember that it’s not necessarily something that happens immediately. You don’t always connect with someone and then immediately start collaborating. You’re building a Community that over time becomes a major asset for your business as well as a way for you to give back and help others! That’s important to keep in mind.
But here is an example of when I (a self proclaimed introvert) “networked” effectively and quick collaboration did come about…
At the last Texworld USA show in January, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen or spoken to in a long time, Nima Katz of Fashion Law Studio. She was speaking during the seminar series (she’s speaking again in July! See the seminar schedule here.) Anyway, we re-introduced ourselves. We got to chatting, networking if you will, and we talked about her business, how it was going, what I could do to help, and we talked about my business, how it was doing, and what she could do to help. It was great. She wound up contributing articles to our blog (a benefit for both of our businesses) and I gave her some (hopefully) helpful advice on building community and the real needs of emerging designers. It was lovely. And she’s now someone I feel comfortable calling on when I have a question as well as someone I’m happy to help whenever I can.
It was beneficial for both of us, we each helped one another, and it never once felt like corny “networking” even though that’s exactly what it was.
My point here is this: you can sit at home because “networking” is uncomfortable and cheesy and awkward while simultaneously wondering why your business isn’t growing or you can get past the negative vibe associated with networking, give it a new name, and start attending the events and gatherings that are important to the growth of your fashion business.
I’m hoping you’ll choose the latter.
As mentioned, Texworld USA and Apparelsourcing USA are happening next month. Below are the details. Will I see you there? I hope so!
When: July 12-14, 2016
Where: Javits Center, NYC
You’ve heard us talk about Texworld USA many time before, they are one of our sponsors because we really believe in the importance of attending shows like this as a means of learning, connecting, and building a stronger business.