What is networking? Why do you need to network?
Some people hear "network" and they think, "Thats for sales people". Well it is, but we are all sales people when you really think about it. Whether you are an artist, a writer, a real estate agent or just have a side hustle, you are a sales person. You have to sell yourself before you sell your product. Sell yourself? That sounds dirty, but that's not what I'm referring to here.
Those who are looking to sell their work or products, first need fans and partners. Most sales books - which are surprisingly good resources for writer's - describe networking as the key to success in any venture. So what is networking? To put it simply, networking is meeting people and forming relationships. But, that's not enough. You have to meet the right people, and form the right relationships. You do this by putting yourself where your target audience is or by liking what they like. Does this mean that you go stalking shoppers at a grocery store because you want to find people that might like your baked goods? Again that sounds dirty to me, but, no. It would make sense to attend conventions centered on your craft. If you're a writer go to BookCon, if you're in the film industry go to film festivals. At events like these, you will meet both professionals of the trade as well as fans already committed to loving it. But networking is also simpler than conventions, social media has made it so.
Say you have a craft and you can't wait to get it out there. One way to build a following is setting yourself up on social media. A sales book I picked up once says that you need to build visibility, before you connect with your following. You need a game plan that details what you want people to know about you or your product. Package yourself or your product first, come up with the look and style that defines it best. This is called branding (on a smaller scale). Once you think that you are ready to show yourself or your product off, then I suggest to start with social media. Social media platforms like Twitter have amazing communities of fans for every product, hobby or passion that there is. Let's say you are an aspiring writer (cheeky of me to make it about my passion, I know, but you can basically delete 'writer' and [insert] your product in it's place and it will still make sense) and you are itching to get word out about your work, great! Start by creating your twitter handle, one that identifies with your brand. Then start searching for people that congregate towards your craft. As a writer you may want to look up trending hashtags like #books, or #amreading. Just type things in to see what pops up. This will lead you towards people searching for the same thing. In essence, this is the first baby step towards what's known as the Author Platform. Jane Friedman, a guru to most aspiring and professional writers, says this in her book Publishing 101, "...new authors often believe their potential audience is very broad...but this attitude does not make for a workable marketing strategy. You may have dreams of reaching millions, but to reach millions, you have to start with the people who are your target market or demographic." She also has an entire chapter on Author Websites and Blogs.
In any business, you want to put yourself where the people that like your product are. In that mix you will always find professionals, para-professionals and amateurs, and that is a healthy mix to have. You need the amateurs, because at this point you yourself are one and its nice to be in good company. You learn together, and hopefully if you are good people, you look out for each other. It's obvious why you would want to connect with the professionals, in The Irresistible Consultant's Guide to Winning Clients, David A. Fields says, "creating strong relationships with decision makers is critical...nurture them...and leverage those relationships into rich opportunities." While this quote sounds like it's all about money, and my writer self wants to stick my nose up at the pretentiousness of it, networking is about spreading the word for your product. No better way to spread the word than by connecting with professionals. More so because it helps give you credibility. People think, "Oh, so and so follows him, maybe I will too!" And that's the beginning. The more you engage, offer, share, participate, the more your craft makes the rounds.
For those of you snorting at Twitter as an old fashioned platform, you're wrong. So many businesses and professionals use Twitter as a means of communicating and connecting with clients. It is still a viable source for news, trends and information. But, you can use the same methods for all social media outlets. I used similar methods with Instagram, and the results are the same. But, each media source has its own language and style and therefore may attract different cross-sections of your target audience, so make sure you learn the language of the platform you select if you want to appeal to its users. The biggest key is to find the correct people to connect with. You don't go to a car show to push handcrafted dining furniture right? If you decide to build a following on twitter, I strongly suggest you check out tweetdeck. Tweetdeck works in conjunction with your twitter account to help you maximize your reach. I am new to tweetdeck, and at the moment I am using it to pre-schedule tweets. If you are a busy person (who isn't? check out my post on work-life balance) then tweetdeck can help you pre-schedule important tweets and notifications so that you don't forget.
I'm in sales and marketing, and the company I work for puts incredible focus on being at the right venues. Equally, they know that it takes a strong media presence to shine above the competition. I've learned that networking goes hand in hand with marketing. And what is also true, is that you get what you put in.
Things to consider if you're serious about marketing your product:
Join social media outlets to build a network that is in line with your product or passion.
Create a website or central area where people can see your work, besides the bits and pieces they get through your tweets or IG posts. Wix is an obviously awesome website resource [insert wink emoji], but there is also blogspot.com or wordpress.com, among others.
Look into conventions that people you are following are attending, and check it out yourself.
Read books on sales, marketing, your craft and about others that trekked your path before you.
Check out this post for more info on joining a writing community: 11 Top Writing Communities You Should Join and Why.
This one too! Want to join a writing group? 8 Places to look.
I'm still nervous about sharing my own work, but success doesn't come from hiding. Going public means opening yourself up to criticism, rejection as well as love and compassion. It's a trade-off I am willing to work with.