Everyone remembers their first time, networking that is. Propelled by a force beyond my control (poverty… desperation), I found myself standing outside the imposing door of the Institute of Directors filled with the kind of social anxiety I haven’t felt since I was invited to a popular girl’s Bat Mitzvah and basically made friends with the snack table because no one spoke to me.
So there I was, alone, poor… OK I’m being dramatic but your get the general gist – going to networking events is nerve wracking, even if you’re a seasoned networker. But this post isn’t about overcoming ‘the fear’, maybe I’ll do a separate one about that. This post is about why networking is the best thing you could do for your business and my personal review of some popular networking groups in London.
Can't I just cold-email?
NO! Stop hiding being your computer. I say this as someone who hid behind her computer for the first 2 years of freelancing. I didn’t know networking events existed, but then this isn’t really an excuse, I could have easily just looked up ‘London networking events’ or meet-ups. But I was scared, and didn’t see the point in ‘wasting’ train fare and an evening to stand around with strangers. So instead I spent my time cold-emailing, cold-calling and generally hiding.
I got absolutely nowhere despite working seemingly every hour of the day and night (literally, I had to get a bar job to pay rent). The leads I got tended to ghost, and the work I landed was low paid and often a one-off, most importantly, I wasn’t building a network of industry contacts. Let’s face it, this freelancing thing is a lonely game, your co-workers are other copywriters / founders / designers. Get out there and meet them, face to face, like a person. 100% of my valuable leads have come from client referrals or friends of people I met networking. If I could give any advice to me 4 years ago it would be: ‘start networking! Future you will thank you’.
You don't need to go to networking events..
Shhhhhhhhh networking is basically just ‘being social with a business agenda’, you don’t HAVE to pay £800 a year (+VAT) to do that. Example – I started chatting to a marketing agency over insta because I liked their posts about launching eco-friendly brands. I popped in for a chat and 6 months later they sent over a lead for a super cool project.
It’s handy to get all your networking done in one hour, but really, it’s better to cherry-pick people you think you’ll click with and set up a meeting. Don’t say ‘let’s have a coffee’ and it really needs to be mutually beneficial – networking with a prospect isn’t networking, it’s a pitch. Network with people in your industry, share your successes, fears, dreams… whatever. They’re more likely to send a lead your way in 6 months’ time.
London networking events I recommend for creatives
Go industry specific, I found the events that work best for me are food & drink ones (Bread and Jam, Grocery Accelerator, Forward Fooding). I’ve had a few good leads from IoD99 which is free to attend and you don’t need to be a member of IoD99, I hasten to add that any leads I’ve had have come almost a year after the event and usually from the person I ended up bonding with over something random.
Nothing has ever come from handing out a business card. Ever. Save the paper and don’t bother with these unless you’re meeting an actual prospect.
Also, with IoD, there’s free wine! A good social lubricator but also can go very wrong – I’ll never forget walking out of an event at 9pm to see some poor chap who had previously been staggering precariously up the vast stone staircase fully passed out, like FULLY on the front steps of 116 Pall Mall – head up against the white stone pillar, floating in a pool of his own vomit. Ah, how we laughed (and then made sure he was OK).
Events I’ve personally not had any success with
BNI – I met a bunch of cool people and convinced myself I was a serious networking / business type person by dressing up all smart and braving a 5am commute to Thursday morning meetings in Clerkenwell. My personal experience is it didn’t work. Writers are massively undervalued, and the industries – branding, marketing, digital marketing, copywriting, design are separated out with one member ‘owning’ the … sector? Niche? Area of jurisdiction, whatever.
There isn’t an understanding of how creatives really work and I wouldn’t recommend it for a creative with an interest in more than one discipline, or who wants to combine brand strategy with design or writing.
OK I won’t go into a massive blah blah about BNI because I did make my investment back more or less and did meet some super cool people but those are 6 months of Thursday mornings I’ll never get back.
Like BNI but worse. £40+VAT for a chicken burger? Give me a break. Many people I know find it useful, none of those are creatives so I’ll say proceed with caution if you’re a creative and are thinking of joining. WIBN costs £350+VAT and meetings are monthly – cost of a meeting plus lunch is aforementioned. I did meet some really great girls, and it’s a great support network for ladies who feel mixed networking events are too ‘cockwavey’, the one good thing I’ll say about WIBN is how welcoming the all-female events are, it’s really quite beautiful to see.
Business Junction – Avoid unless you like pervy old men
Meetups – there are some good ones out there, I personally haven’t found them hugely useful but a few of my fellow networkers have, really I should give these more of a go (added to to-do list).
WeWork events – avoid the ‘startup’ ones. In fact avoid any event with ‘startup’ in the name if you’re a service provider.
Athena – Like WIBN but worse. I’ve never personally been but even my WIBN friends tell me Athena is for women who have a business hobby rather than an actual business.
Conclusion - get yourself out there!
There are many creatives I know who have an actual overflow of work but those creatives have been on the scene for 10 years +. If you’re starting out, you need to start meeting people face to face, show people more than your portfolio, show them what it might be like to work with you.
Approach networking events with caution, especially paid ones and spend at least 1 or 2 hours a week scanning your network for fellow creatives, agencies or brands you want to network with. On or offline. Drop them a DM, say hey, tell them you like their work then see if you can meet face to face.