Let’s talk networking

Date
Written by
Sarah Trounce

We asked you – our wonderful readers – to tell us what networking means to you. What are the benefits? How do you actually go about making new contacts? What tools do you use online or in person? And what are the biggest barriers to networking you’ve faced?

Below is a summary of your responses, as well as some reflections and tips from Charles Olayinka of SXWKS and Zosia Swidlicka of Opening Line – two business founders who have nurtured their own creative networks in unique ways.

Networking can be scary

Meeting new people in the creative community can be hard, and traditional networking spaces can be intimidating. When we polled our If You Could audiences, they flagged social anxiety and uncertainty about how to start the initial conversation as being the primary barriers to making new contacts — especially when approaching someone whose work you really admire. Our readers expressed a fear of being annoying, or coming on too strong.

Many people feel excluded

Introverts particularly struggle with reaching out, and other readers told us being Black or Neurodivergent made networking more challenging. And once people do find someone they feel comfortable talking to, they worry about making the conversation naturally flow. Some of our readers have experienced cliques and gossipy environments where people fixate on ‘coolness’, rather than meaningful work.

Industry events can be expensive

Those who are actively networking use a variety of tools and spaces to build their circle: from design festivals and online talks and events, to Instagram and LinkedIn. But some readers expressed frustration that there were few organised events available despite living in a city with an established design scene. Cost was also cited as a major challenge to overcome. For those not living in London – where many UK design events take place – travel expenses are an additional expense to consider. Meanwhile, there are also London-based creatives who find tickets to local conferences and other networking events prohibitively expensive.

The best way to build a network is to be yourself

Challenges aside, you told us that at its best networking can help you meet like-minded creatives and connect you to inspiring people with big ambitions. Remember: it’s not only about what you can get from networking, but what you can give. If we can find the confidence to believe we have something unique to offer, we’ll find ourselves in a better place to gain from networking opportunities when they arise. Here are Charles and Zosia with some ideas for building your creative community and support system by staying true to your values and personality.

Charles Olayinka, Founder and Director of creative collective SXWKS

What does networking mean to you?

Networking is about connecting with people that have aligned goals or that require services I can fulfil. I spend a lot of time grabbing coffees and having lunch with potential clients as well as collaborators. The vast majority of these meetings either lead to nothing or take a good while to materialise into opportunities. I’m always trying to refine my approach but you tend to get a lot more nos than yeses in my line of work. It never really feels like a failure or a loss though as I just enjoy getting to know people.

What benefits have you gained from networking during your career so far?

The work I do is pretty much 100% predicated on the relationships I’ve built. I’ve spent the last eight years working with amazing creatives. I was building my network without even realising how useful it would be. Now we’re collectively using our skills to deliver great work for some cool pretty clients. So in a nutshell, if I hadn’t been networking I’d have no one to work with and no one to work for.

How do you go about networking?

I love LinkedIn and The Dots. I use them to get an initial conversation going and people get to see my past work before I even send them a message asking to meet up. It’s perfect for me as I’m still trying to figure out how to do more traditional networking in person. A lot of the time I prefer meeting people at events or parties. It’s a different vibe to the usual meeting rooms and cafes.

What are the biggest barriers to networking you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

My overthinking mind: I’m always wondering if the person I’m talking to is even interested in what I’m saying. In all honesty I haven’t completely overcome it — but for now I just try and ignore that little voice.

I’m always wondering if the person I’m talking to is even interested in what I’m saying. In all honesty I haven’t completely overcome it – but for now I just try and ignore that little voice.
Charles Olayinka, Founder and Director of creative collective SXWKS

Zosia Swidlicka, Founder of copy studio Opening Line

What does networking mean to you?

I am not what you'd call a 'natural networker' at all. The thought of voluntarily entering a room full of wonderfully talented people terrifies me. I try to do good work with good people and that's basically my networking philosophy: create fewer, deeper connections and nurture them long term by being authentically yourself.

How do you go about networking?

When I started my business, I worried about how my inner introvert would cope. So I divided my 'network' into an 'inner core' and an 'outer circle'. The inner core consists of clients, collaborators, and close peers. These are the people I have a lot of time for, and relationships I am actively invested in. We share ideas, resources, stories and solutions that feed each other's souls. We Slack, we WhatsApp, we get long email threads going, we grab coffee, and sometimes we even send each other bits in the post for a change. This group gets about 80% of my networking energy. It's not big but it's responsible for most of the work that comes my way.

The outer circle is my wider peer group: thought leaders, people I'd like to work with some day. I comment on their posts or subscribe to their Substacks when their views align with my own positioning. This group gets the remaining 20% of my networking energy, and I always have a specific aim in mind for every interaction to make sure I'm not wasting anyone's time. The outer core connects me to the wider industry and puts my name out there, which often results in enquiries.

What are the biggest barriers to networking you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?

I think networking is easier when you know who you are. I take on the character of a confidante in my work (and often in life), so I just apply that persona to networking too, and that makes me more comfortable because rather than talking about myself which I find hard, I ask questions and get curious about the people I meet. People who first appear inaccessible immediately open up — and it often leads to interesting conversations.

Any tips for how to extend your network?

I cannot overstate the importance of looking outside the industry. I've had some amazing leads come in via people I've met at the school gates, a former colleague’s grandmother, at yoga class, in my local coffee shop… Seriously, these are the connections you want to cultivate because they allow you to work with people who are curious about your craft and aren't jaded by the industry. I think it's what the industry calls “the real world”. Being generous is another one: pay it forward, help a mate out, and you never know when it will come back around.

I try to do good work with good people and that's basically my networking philosophy: create fewer, deeper connections and nurture them long term by being authentically yourself.
Zosia Swidlicka, Founder of copy studio Opening Line

On our radar

Some further reading on the themes explored in this article:

10 Reasons Why Networking Is Essential For Your Career: Bianca Miller Cole tells us importance of forging connections for Forbes.

Learn to Love Networking: Harvard Business Review teach us on how to embrace networking by Francesca Gino, Maryam Kouchaki, and Tiziana Casciaro.

Ten regular creative networking events across the UK: Jyni Ong shines a spotlight on regular UK events to get those creative conversations going for Creative Lives In Progress.


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The If You Could Jobs Journal is a space for the creative community to share their views and opinions into the creative working world. If you're interested in contributing in the future please get in touch hello@ifyoucouldjobs.com.

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