Recently, I decided to attend an educational workshop discussing interior design color trends for 2016. Having taken up an interest in getting my photography and art into the hands of interior designers, I decided it would be good for me to learn more about their process of putting a space together. After all, a print or painting on a wall is never a standalone object; it has to work in tandem with the design elements around it.
The morning of the workshop, I hopped into my car and battled rush hour traffic to get to the Michigan Design Center. When I arrived, I quickly noticed an interesting fact:
I was the only photographer in attendance.
The event was open to interior designers and related vendors in the industry, but everyone who had bothered to show up (with the exception of one painting contractor) were interior designers. I suspected this would happen. In fact, I had hoped this would happen, and came prepared to mingle with (a) my business cards, (b) a small stack of compact photo booklet handouts, and (c), a communication follow up plan.
This is what Ill be discussing today. Whenever you think theres a chance that you’ll run into your target market, you need to come prepared to leave some part of yourself behind with them. This applies to networking events, along with other opportunities, such seminars, workshops, or even just heading over to your local coffee shop.
After all, Benjamin Franklin said it well: If you fail to prepare, than youre preparing to fail.
So how do you prepare yourself?
Taking Steps To Prepare Yourself
1. Do your research in advance
Prior to attending this event, I made sure to sit down at a computer and do some research. In particular, I took note of who would be there, and what kind of work they would potentially want from me. If the event is a conference, for example, you’ll be able to find out many of the exact people who will be there. In my case at this interior designer event, I was not able to find out who the exact designers were going to be in attendance, but just knowing that interior designers would be there was plenty. In my mind, I reviewed how I would introduce myself, as well as the questions I would ask them about their businesses and the work I could possibly show them.
2. Make sure your business cards have up-to-date information.
More than a handful of times when exchanging cards in the past, I’ve watched, amused, as people hurriedly scratch out an old phone number or email address, profusely apologizing as they scribble in the current info (which I often have trouble reading later anyway.) Having updated information on your card is a must, which is why I’m surprised it’s so often overlooked.
At this particular event, I came ready with a neat stack of my cards. My mindset when interacting with the designers was that I wanted to learn more about them and their businesses. After a few minutes of chatting with each person, I would eventually ask for their business card first, stating that I want to check out their design portfolio online (which is true. I love looking at interior design work). Then, I would grab my card from an easy-to-reach pocket, hand it to them, and tell them to check me out online as well. Its such a natural exchange.
3. Bring a mini booklet, or some type of printed marketing piece to show off your work.
When you are in a visual industry, oftentimes a business card is not enough. This is so true for photographers and artists, who often get frustrated when trying to squeeze an image on one side of their tiny business card. I suggest getting inexpensive mini booklets made of your work to carry around with you. You can fit a healthy number of images into it, and yet its still small enough to carry around.
A photographer friend recently showed me his little booklet of photographs that he liked to hand out when networking. It was about 20 pages, bound by staples, and measured about half of a letter-size sheet of paper, which is conveniently small enough for someone to put into their bag or purse. It was neat, professionally done, and had so much more impact than a business card. I was impressed so much so that I decided to make a version of my own.
So for the workshop, I came armed with a stack of my own mini booklets, complete with about 16 pages of my fine art and photography. Each booklet cost me about $6.00, but I only needed a dozen for that day. There were only 25 or so people in attendance, and I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to talk to everyone (and I didn’t). All in all, people were definitely impressed, and enjoyed flipping through it. A few designers even singled out a handful of pieces for discussion.
Giving prospects a sample of your work on the spot allows them to quickly look at it right then and there. Then, let them take it with them. This is especially beneficial if they don’t have time to look you up online later.
That morning I watched, satisfied, as they slipped my booklets into their bags.
4. Have a follow-up plan.
Knowing how you are going to follow up with people after the event is just as important as showing up to the event itself.
This involves emailing or calling the people that you met that day (or that week), as well as offering any info that they may find helpful, based on your conversations with them. For me personally, Ive found that if I don’t do this on the same day as the event, it usually doesn’t happen. If you are trying to convert them into eventual clients, make a plan to reach out to them at regular intervals, such as once per month, or even quarterly.
And before you lose or throw away their business cards, enter their information into a database that you have easy access to. This is an invaluable way to keep your growing network organized. I currently use HighRise, but there are many contact management tools out there.
Also, when appropriate, connect with them via social media. For me, if its more of a professional relationship, Ill find their LinkedIn profile and extend an invitation to connect, and also sometimes on Twitter. However, if I had engaged in a deep conversation with them at the event and felt that we’d “bonded”, Ill extend a Facebook friend request, which allows them to get to know me (and me them) on a more personal level.
When out in the field, never miss a networking opportunity. Slipping your cards and mini-booklets into a permanent location in your bag or purse will allow you to be ready to leave a part of yourself with somebody, no matter the situation. Always be ready.