I Like Networking. You can too.

Written by
Isabel Sachs
Illustration by
Michael Kennedy

Isabel Sachs, Founder of I LIKE NETWORKING discusses the myths and all-too-real challenges around networking – as well as highlighting the huge opportunities connection can bring. So, panic not! Isabel shares two smart strategies for growing and nurturing your own creative community.

I have been working in the creative industries for 18 years and I’m the founder of a platform called I LIKE NETWORKING. The truth is that I’ve been networking for most of my professional life without knowing that I was doing it. And I bet you are too.

Most people think of these things when they hear the word networking: Men in suits (selling things and themselves). A bag full of business cards. Overflowing LinkedIn messages. But here’s the thing: we don’t connect with business cards or job roles. People connect with people. If you’ve ever called a friend to ask her to help you get into a party or talked through someone’s career woes… congratulations, you’ve networked! Thus, we all have a network to start from: our friends, family, fellow students or colleagues. Networking isn’t anything other than an informal association of people exchanging information and knowledge, not unlike a friend group. So, if you’re reading this because you want to learn how to network, let me tell you: you already know. Our goal is to offer a new view on networking as a positive tool, a force for good even.

I LIKE NETWORKING got its name after a friend told me she’d pay someone to do her networking for her, as that seemed to be the only way into the creative industries, and she hated it. She thought you had to attend events and pitch yourself. She’s not alone. Data gathered by LinkedIn in March 2020 showed that women around the world are 14% – 38% less likely than men to have a strong network and a recent report told us we have at least 100 more years to achieve gender equality.

But I know a bunch of people in the industry, people that have supported me at different stages of my own professional life. So in the middle of the first lockdown, I asked them if they would like to do something to create a more diverse industry. I asked people to give up some of their time and expertise, and most people said yes. Everyone shared the information with their own connections and in 24 hours we had 100+ applications. It’s about identifying something you can bring to the table, not what you can get. This is, I think, a nice way to network. That’s why I want to present the two key strategies to network intentionally:

Add value

No conversation is a one-way street and nor is networking. If you don’t do anything else, choose to show up to the 5, 10, or 100 people who know you or follow you online and share things that can add to their lives. This will create conversations organically and you can take it from there. I think this makes sense especially for the creative industries. Think about an artistic project of any kind: a play, a concert, a film. Perhaps there’s a star talent on stage, but that person needs a roadie, a stage manager, the box office clerk, and hundred more people in order to be on that stage. And an audience to give them feedback. It’s a collective effort, a moment of community. So why shouldn’t networking be the same? I call this technique “flip the script”.

Be curious and show up authentically

Be as curious as you’d be about a friend. Because if you’re not genuinely curious about the people you interact with, you won’t ask great questions, the conversation won’t flow, and the process will be painful. What are you curious about? Who would you like to meet and why? People usually like to talk about themselves, so if you can ask people some questions about them – great – you’ve started a conversation! And this can be done online as well.

Like this: Hey Julia. I’ve been following your work on X for a while and love what you did with Y. I am trying to find my place as a graphic designer working within the music industry as well, and would love to ask you Z about this aspect of your career. Could I buy you a coffee, online or IRL sometime?

Asking people about themselves is also great in real life. You can say your name, and immediately ask why they are there, what they like about their jobs, how they got there. Activate your curiosity button and you’ll likely find common ground to keep the conversation going. No need to pitch yourself!

If you meet someone who you think could be a potential client / boss / collaborator you will have collected some insights into what it is they need. Then you can go home and craft a message explaining how you can be the one adding value to them. And in most cases you’ll meet interesting people, learn from other experiences, and lay down the foundation to create your own community of inspiring people. That’s a great aspect of networking. Creating a community like this takes time, so be consistent. But if you show up in these ways, it will develop.

Online networking is more direct and can help to ease us in, especially if we have any social anxiety. Social media platforms such as Instagram, and especially LinkedIn, exist for people to socialise online and offer a snapshot of who you are and who you’re talking to. So the chances of you asking something relevant that ends up becoming a great connection is higher.

Think who you want to meet and figure out where they are. Are they hanging on Discord? LinkedIn? The Association of Something and Something? That’s where you should be. Try to write as if you were speaking to someone in real life. Bring a bit of that YOU flair to your online presence and ask yourself what value you’re adding to the conversation.

Found something interesting? Let them know. Is there a job or opportunity the people who follow you could benefit from knowing about? Share it! Have an article everyone should read? Tell everyone why. Found a solution to a problem others might have? Go ahead and publish that.

A final tip: read messages out loud before posting, especially those when you’re introducing yourself to someone new. Sounds lame, but if you cringe hearing yourself, then there’s something you need to change. This also happens in IRL situations: after hearing yourself recite your own messages for a bit, if someone asks about you, your memory will kick in and bring back some of those “scripts”. See, no need to panic!

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