The most efficient way to start forming a network?

I graduated with an associate’s degree in graphic design last summer and currently have a full-time job at a print shop but unfortunately, the company doesn’t pay that great or meet my expectations in what I want to do in my career. I’ve been relentlessly looking for a new job and finding it extremely difficult. I want to start building a strong network of graphic designers in my area to find potential job opportunities and I’m wondering what is the best way to go about doing that?

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Concentrate on building networks of people who need your services. Knowing other graphic designers in your area is a good thing, but they’re unlikely to be the ones getting work for you — they’re your competitors.

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good point…so do you feel my time outside of work would be best spent doing freelance work and building relationships with my clients?

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I think it depends on your goals. If you’re looking for employment opportunities, knowing other graphic designers to give you leads and recommendations is great. If you’re building your own side or full-time business, it’s probably better to start networking with those people.

Building up a client network takes time, but it sort of snowballs at some point. You do a good job for someone. That person tells others who hire you. They tell others who give you good reviews on Google or wherever. Somebody else sees them and gives you a call. They pass your name along to someone else. I think you get the point.

Throughout this process, you ask for recommendations and contacts — you follow up and stay in touch as a friend — not a sales person. If you’re focusing on, say, restaurants, get to know these people and their businesses. Visit social media groups where they hang out to get a feel for what they care about. Make suggestions, cold call a few, give them useful information and advice. None of these things are magic bullets, but it adds up over time. It does take time, though.

Graphic designers are in the business of communication and convincing others through their work. This makes it ironic that so many designers seem reticent to use those same thinking skills to promote themselves.

If a store came to you and asked for your suggestions on attracting customers, what would you say as a communication specialist? Wouldn’t the same sort of advice you might give to them also work for you?

A year or two ago, we had someone on this forum who was starting a graphic design business. This person joined the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce for the very reasons I mentioned — getting to know the very people who needed what she was selling.

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Early in my career, a potential client came to see me and discuss his issues. It was a Commercial Real Estate firm. They held the contract to sell new condos that had just been built in Lexington. The first thing I said was, “Let’s go see these condos together.” This company turned into a state-wide $120,000-a-year client for me.

Some years later, the CEO of this firm said, "Do you know why I gave you my account?’
“No, why?” I replied.
"It’s because when I first came to see you, you didn’t give me the standard answers and show me industry charts like the other agencies and design firms had done. You said “Let’s go see the project!” and that sold me on you and your agency right then!—you didn’t give me answers until you saw my project first. You showed personal interest in what I was doing and I liked that.

There are many ways to go about getting new clients, but in the end, it is all about relationships. If a potential client likes you, they will do business with you and you will keep that client for a long time by keeping that relationship strong.

Two other things Just-B didn’t mention. One is LinkedIn. It’s another way to network, even locally, and they regularly post available jobs as well. Second is looking into joining your local Ad Club. Get to know ad agency creatives who hire both freelance designers and in-house design positions. You might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

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I left out LinkedIn on purpose, but I did think about it. I know some people say they’ve had great success from LinkedIn, and I don’t question their statements. These people haven’t primarily been designers, though — they’ve been more along the lines of corporate office workers.

For me, LinkedIn hasn’t worked. I’ve had a profile there for about ten years, but nothing’s ever come from it. Every now and again, I’ll fine-tune my profile to match all the best-practices advice I can find. I’ll join various LinkedIn Groups, then participate in the discussions. I’ll ask for and give recommendations, show examples of my work, and do whatever else seems warranted.

The results, however, have always been zero, as in absolutely nothing coming from it other than spam recruiters hounding me to apply for jobs that have nothing to do with anything, as in warehouse order fulfillment or long-haul truck driving.

I’ve sort of let everything languish on LinkedIn a result, which isn’t good. But I can’t seem to find the motivation to dig into it again when experience has taught me that it adds up to nothing. I’m half tempted to just delete my profile there, but I keep reading that a LinkedIn presence is a must-have thing, so I end up leaving it.

I keep getting emails that someone has tried to open a LinkedIn account using my email.
There is absolutely no way to contact them to sort that out, which also means there is no way to contact them if you need support on something else for some reason.
So who knows, I may have a linked in account under a different name and not even know it. :angry:

The other thing worth mentioning is, if you are a printed collateral designer or signage designer, one of your best references could be your print vendors. If I’m looking for someone for a small design project, and the people I know are too busy, I ask my print resources if they know anyone who can handle the work and whose files they like to deal with (that’s the important part, if your printer is happy with how your files breeze through their production workflow, they will recommend you so they get more of them. Always keep the print vendor happy in that regard.)

I’ve handed off design work to some local just-starters that way. Granted they’re small jobs, but totally worthwhile portfolio work. Things like donor walls, honorarium plaques, office space decor, wayfinding and even small corporate exhibit work (like a company timeline for their conference room.) I’ve also handed off production work too, mostly photoshop stuff beyond my skill or speed level.

I think it’s a good idea to build a network of professionals that are potential clients or potential sources of referrals as well as a network of others in creative fields. How do you do that? Meetup.com groups, LinkedIn, Facebook groups, your local AIGA chapter, other local ad club type groups, and formal networking groups (such as BNI, but there are others, too). If you don’t have one of these in your area, why not start one?

The success I’ve had with LinkedIn is using it as a way to reach out to people rather than being found. I can’t say I’ve ever gotten work from the site because someone viewed my profile.

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