Recently, I gave a presentation to a number of students at the virtual Student Opportunities Festival. The event was partly organised by NaSTA, the National Student Television Association, to make up for a number of student media events that were postponed or cancelled due to coronavirus.
Following my talk, I took a few questions from the audience. One of the questions I was asked was “Are There Any Creative Industry Networking Events That You’d Recommend?”
This got me thinking about my approach to business networking, as well as how I network with peers in the industry. You can hear my answer in the video above, or keep on reading for my expanded thoughts on networking in general.
What Is Networking?
Everybody, no matter what they do for a living, engages in networking at some point in their lives. It’s quite literally impossible not to – we all have families, friends and colleagues that we know and interact with. You could even argue that we start networking from the first day we go to school, or even nursery. The process of building a “network” can be as simple as making friends in your day-to-day life.
In a professional context, networking is about meeting people that you might be able to do business with at some point. There are plenty of events that specifically aim to enable networking, like business shows and exhibitions. The idea is that you go to these events, you meet people, and maybe you’ll do business together one day. (Or you can put each other in touch with people you can do business with.)
Building a network is a really powerful way of growing your business or developing your professional career. When you need help with a particular problem, calling upon a trusted person in your network is far better than handing the job to a stranger. Equally, people in your network might also call upon you when you can solve their problems too. (Like needing a video for their business, in my case.)
How To Find Worthwhile Networking Events
If you’re a student or recent graduate looking to get into the creative industry, one of the best things you can do is grow your professional network. In fact, networking is important for everybody in every industry, not just newcomers to the creative industry.
One of the easiest ways to grow your network early on is by attending networking events, although that advice comes with some caveats.
Unfortunately, most of the networking events I’ve been to have been a waste of time. By that I mean that the vast majority of people at those events were only there to sell their products or services, which isn’t the point of networking. The point of going to a networking event is to build your network, not to collect orders.
To weed out those “time waster” events, here are a few things I consider when I go networking…
Avoid Free Networking Events
I tend to avoid free networking events. Firstly, if you’re not paying to attend then there’s a good chance you’re walking into a sales pitch. Secondly, if there’s no barrier to entry for who can attend, you’ll get any old chancer turning up. If attendance costs money, there’s a good chance you’re going to be in the company of other people who are serious about networking. There are exceptions to this advice, but in my experience it’s generally a good rule to follow.
Don’t Frequent One Specific Networking Group
There are lots of networking groups that have weekly or monthly meet-ups for their members. Whether it’s a Chamber of Commerce or a similar networking group, you only need to attend every now and then to grow your network.
If you’re going to an event every week or every month and seeing the same faces, you’re no longer growing your network. Once you know everyone there, and they know you, your network has grown. The job is complete. Most of these groups don’t completely rotate their member lists quickly enough to justify going all that frequently.
Many networking organisers will try to encourage you to go every time that they have an event, but that’s because their job is to get bodies through the door. If there’s a legitimate reason for you to go every time then that’s OK, but you can easily reach a point where you’ve exhausted all value from a specific group or event from a purely networking perspective.
Avoid Scammy Networking Groups
There are quite a few scammy networking groups out there. They lure you in by promising that you’ll be their exclusive supplier of, say, video production at the group. If you pay hundreds of pounds to join, they practically guarantee that you’ll meet people who are eager to pay for your services.
Many of these groups have onerous terms and conditions. Some will even penalise you if you don’t turn up to meetings every week. Some, which are worse, will impose requirements on you to reach out to your own network and pitch to your contacts about joining the group. They might even penalise you if you don’t convince anyone else to join.
Avoid these groups at all costs.
Go To Multi-Day, Industry-Specific Conferences
In my experience, the best networking events I’ve been to have been multi-day, industry-specific conferences. These include the NaSTA Conference (when I was a student) and the sadly discontinued Wistiafest. Both of these events were weekend events, with a welcome party on the Friday and social activities on the Saturday night.
By being multiple day events, and by organising social activities for delegates, these conferences made it much easier to actually get to know people. I’ve made genuine friends at both of these events. That, in turn, has led to me working with some of the people I’ve met at them. I couldn’t recommend this format for events more highly.
(Both were ticketed, and tickets cost upward of £100. If you’re thinking of going to an expensive conference, make sure you check out what people have said about it in the past before you splash out.)
Go To Industry-Specific Events – Full Stop
Finally, continuing on from my last piece of advice, go to industry-specific events. If you want to work in the creative industries, go to events for people who work in the creative industries. Try to avoid general business networking events. In my experience, they aren’t very valuable.
When I first started my company we exhibited at all kinds of non-specific business events. We exhibited at regional business shows in Portsmouth, Southampton, Basingstoke, and never really had much success. We were being sandwiched amongst solicitors, hotels and car leasing firms. It wasn’t the right environment for us.
However, we’ve had much better success at events which focus on a specific industry or market sector. So have our clients. You want to make sure you’re in an environment where you’re meeting people who might be interested in what you can offer, who can offer something to you, and who might be able to put you in front of other people who can do the same. That’s the point of networking!
Networking In The Creative Industry
For creative industry networking events, there are organisations like Creative England and the Royal Television Society who regularly hold events for people in television and film. Personally, I find that a lot of these events are too film and TV focussed to be of any use to a corporate videographer like myself. But your mileage may vary.
If you’re still a student, the best networking event I’ve ever been to was the NaSTA Conference, which is usually held every April. If you’re involved in student TV (and if you’re not, why not?) it’s an absolutely must-attend. Some of my best professional contacts have come from NaSTA.
There are also a growing number of regional creative networking groups in cities around the UK. Until recently, the local authorities here have run the Creative Growth Southampton networking events, which have been well attended.
Additionally, there are networking groups like SO:NG, which is organised by our friend Tom Gibson, that lets people in the local music scene meet and network over drinks. I’ve definitely made some great, professional connections through these events.
You can find a lot of these events on Eventbrite, or by looking for local community groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.
While online networking is a whole different kettle of fish, it’s a really great way of getting to know people. If you’re reading this and thinking “I’d like to have Rowan from Southpoint Films in my network”, well here’s your chance!
If you think I’d be a good part of your network, and vice versa, and you’re not simply trying to sell me something, please get in touch. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn. (Don’t just silently follow or request to connect – send me a message!)
You can also reach me through our various communications channels at Southpoint Films too.
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