5 Principles of Effective Networking

For freelancers and independent designers networking is a critical part of building a successful business. Even designers who work as full-time employees have a need to develop a strong network since designers and developers often find out about new opportunities through their network, and many also freelance on the side.

Regardless of where you are in your career as a designer, networking should be of significant interest. If you’re just getting started you may want to focus on reaching out and meeting new people. If you’re more established you may want to focus on strengthening the contacts that you already have and turning them into mutually beneficial relationships.

In this post we’ll look at 5 simple principles that can help you in your professional networking, regardless of where you are in your career. These are basic principles that can and should be applied in your own networking efforts.

1. Win/Win Situations Produce Strong Connections

Having a strong network is extremely valuable because of the long-term impact it can have on your business. The relationships that you are building today may benefit you for years to come. That being said, if the relationship is going to have that long-term impact there must be a win/win situation where both parties benefit.

In the world of web design, having a professional network is often desired because of the possibility for getting referrals. Let’s look at two potential scenarios to illustrate why win/win situations are important. In the first scenario there is an experienced web developer who doesn’t do any design work. You are a designer, and you met this developer recently. You’ve received a few referrals from this developer but you haven’t sent any clients his way because you already have another developer friend that you refer clients to.

In the second scenario we’ll look at a potential relationship between a freelance designer (you) and a design agency. Your work on client projects tends to be with small businesses, blog designs, and other projects that you can handle on your own. From time-to-time you get inquiries from potential clients that are looking for help with a large project that is beyond the scope of something that you would handle on your own. You refer these people to a friend who runs a design agency that has a team of designers and developers and is better equipped to do an effective job on larger projects. In return, the agency sends you a fee for every referral you send their way that results in a paying client.

In the first scenario there is no win/win situation. The developer is sending referrals to you, so you are getting something out of it, but there’s nothing in it for him because you already have an established relationship with another developer. The developer will eventually stop sending referrals to you if there is nothing in it for him, since he can find a better situation with another designer.

In the second scenario there is a definite win/win situation. You are sending quality referrals to the agency and when they result in business you are getting paid for those referrals. Unlike the first scenario, this one is likely to last because both parties benefit.

When it comes to networking, many designers concentrate on what they can do to get referrals, without giving much thought to what they can offer others. In truly effective networking situations there will always be some benefit for both parties. It may be referrals, money, services, advice and help, introductions to others, or just about anything that may be desirable.

When you are working on building your own network make sure that you understand the importance of finding win/win situations and look for opportunities to build these types of relationships. A good place to start is to examine the connections that you already have. Approaching these people will be much more effective than reaching out to someone that you have never had any contact with. Look at the people that you already know. How could you help them, and is there a way that they could give something back to you as well?

2. Give More Than You Get

As I mentioned in the first point, many designers approach networking as a way to help their career, but often times they don’t consider what they could be doing to help others. In general, if you are willing to help others, in some way they are likely to return the favor when the opportunity arrives. It’s like the old saying, “what goes around comes around.”

Focus on getting to know more about the people already in your network. Look for ways that you can do something to help them, without focusing on what you will get in return. Those who are genuinely helpful to others will be appreciated and will likely benefit greatly from their network.

3. Activity Beats Inactivity

There will be times when others reach out to you and great opportunities fall in your lap (especially if you are more established) but in general it is a good practice to be proactive in your networking. Don’t sit around and wait for others to approach you, make an effort to initiate contact and get to know someone.

Networking for designers can come in many forms. Twitter and other social networking sites are popular hangouts for designers. Email is also a great way to connect. More traditional face-to-face networking with those in your local area or at professional conferences and events is also highly effective.

Whatever your approach, be proactive and don’t leave your networking to chance.

4. Quality Over Quantity

A small network with fewer, but stronger, connections will be much more effective than knowing hundreds of people but not having any depth to the relationships. If you’ve been a designer for a while chances are you already have a number of contacts in the industry or in related industries. You may not need to meet a ton of new people in order to strengthen your network, you just need to get to know the people in your existing network better.

Particularly when it comes to social networking we tend to be consumed by numbers. Twitter followers is one example. But someone with 100 followers can have a bigger impact than someone with 10,000 followers, it’s all a matter of the quality of the relationships. So don’t be concerned with getting to know everyone out there, just focus on developing some quality connections.

5. People Do Business With People That They Like

While this may not always be the case, in general it is human nature to want to do business with people that we like. Just from my own life I can think of my real estate agent, the guy I bought my cell phone from, a car salesman, restaurants that I go to repeatedly, and the place I take my car for repairs. In every case I could take my business somewhere else, but I chose to go to someone because I like them and they are easy to work with.

The same concept applies to professional relationships. There are a lot of talented designers out there who can get the job done. People in your network will want to work with someone that they like, not just someone who is good at what they do. Be yourself, be considerate of others, and be pleasant to work with. It will go a long way.

Looking at the same principle from another angle, it’s not always necessary to have a specific purpose for networking with someone. You may get to know someone and enjoy connecting with them, but there is really no tangible benefit to either of you. That doesn’t mean that there is no reason to continue to network with that person. Aside from friendship and comradery, at some point in the future a situation might arise where there is a possibility to work together, and at this point if you already know and like each other you are that much closer to a win/win situation.

What’s Your Experience?

What principles have you observed in your own networking efforts? If you have something to share please leave a comment for our readers.

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18 Responses

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  • Toronto Web Developer, June 10, 2011

    Taking some serious mental notes, This is going to help me a lot! Thanks!

  • Tracy, December 9, 2010

    Good advice.

    This is something I struggle with. Not because I’m introverted, I enjoy building relationships and communicating with, helping and learning from others. But, like bluemorpho, I feel I have little to contribute. I also find it difficult to build relationships via social media as I’m much more of a face-to-face person.

    I know I need to overcome these hurdles, so thanks for the timely article!

  • Elizabeth Whelan, December 7, 2010

    Great article!

    And bluemorpho, if you have a local chamber of commerce or other business organization in your area, those can be great places for a designer to network in person. I have a tactic I use to get over being nervous at a networking or business event: I pick out someone who is standing by themselves, and introduce myself. It’s likely they were feeling awkward too!

    Networking – online or otherwise – is a lot easier if you take the approach that it’s not about helping yourself, it’s about helping others. Listen to the other person — is there someone you know who could help them? A connection you could help them make? The favor of a good referral will be remembered, and makes for great business.

    • Vandelay Website Design, December 7, 2010

      “Networking – online or otherwise – is a lot easier if you take the approach that it’s not about helping yourself, it’s about helping others. ”

      Well said Elizabeth. Not only is it easier with that approach, but it’s also more effective.

  • Arthur Art-Faux Designs, December 6, 2010

    Great post! I have been networking on and offline for years and you have great advice but it is just the tip of the iceburg when you look at it. I have studied internet marketing and network marketing and have found that “blogging” is an integral part of doing business now and in the future. Like you said people want to know “who” they are doing business with and by incorporating a blog into your daily routine is vital. I have made many changes in the last few years and starting a blog was one of the best moves I made.

  • bluemorpho, December 3, 2010

    Thanks for the advice. Can you tell me how to go about finding local networking events in my area?

  • bluemorpho, December 2, 2010

    Any advice for someone who is an introvert by nature, and finds it hard to even interact online with others? I know that participating in social media is important, but I am new to freelancing and I feel as if I don’t have much to contribute.

    • Vandelay Website Design, December 2, 2010

      I think my advice would be to start small, but force yourself to keep moving forward. Several years ago I had a job that required me to go to local networking events, which I was really uncomfortable with because I am also an introvert. But once I started doing it I saw that it wasn’t as bad as I had made it out to be in my mind, and other professionals are interested in networking too, so most people are very receptive. I would start with small steps like opening a Twitter account, following a few other designers, and make a goal to interact with at least 3 people each day (just a random number).

  • Swoppers, December 1, 2010

    I agree with @flavio .. I always make it a point to “over deliver” thanks for this article

  • voley, November 13, 2010

    thanks for this article. it came in handy

  • Flavio Mester, November 11, 2010

    It’s hard to image an area in which networking is more important than design. I think the most important point you made is “Give more than you get”. It’s an often forgotten rule, but it works.

  • David Webb, November 7, 2010

    Always put more in that you expect in return, then you’ll be a winner.


  • Nic Lucas, November 6, 2010

    Networking is everything on business. It always has been. Those who are able to network are those who become the ‘rainmakers’. Your 5 pointers are a great start, and what I like to remind people is that if “networking” is good, then online networking can be better in terms of the number of contacts you can make, the non-threatening mode of communication, and the increased chance of encounters that would not happen if we were restricted to just face-to-face communication

  • Abhinav Sood, November 6, 2010

    You make some powerful points that every designer must act up on. 2 and 4, especially, form the fundamental of my professional networking strategy and help me a great deal in scoring work.

  • Fort Collins Web Design, November 6, 2010

    Finding people you like to do business with can be difficult, but if you can do it.. wow at the results. BTW, “Give More Than You Get” sums up the only way to do business.

  • Web design hull, November 5, 2010

    Thanks for the article, you make some great points… I’ve only just really started to realise the importance of networking after working on my own for six months or so. As mentioned above the benefits are not instant but I’m now starting to reap the rewards of efforts made months ago.

  • Andy Walpole, November 5, 2010

    I can’t over-emphasis the importance of networking, but you need to think of it as a medium to long term strategy… much of it is about building up trust and that takes time…

  • Marcell Purham | Webdevtuts, November 5, 2010

    Great article. I actually need something like this at the moment. I think networking is very important and you can make some good friends while doing it.