Networking is one of those buzz words that seems to be flying about. We have all heard the adage “it isn’t what you know but who you know” so often that it is cliché. But how important is it to network? How big of a role should it play in the development and marketing of your business?
Starting a business is always difficult, but finding customers is even harder. In the beginning of my portrait business I selected a market and worked hard to promote it. This was done mainly through my photography booth at art fairs and farmers markets. The first year I handed out a lot of fliers but did not get much business and the second year I went even further by taking down names of interested people and put them on a mailing list. Sadly, all that extra effort has not generated any increase of business. This was really discouraging because every week people expressed a need for portraits AND they liked my work and prices. Yet with all their excitement at the time those intentions never materialized into later sales.
After some reflection, the realization hit that almost all of my portraiture work was commissioned by people I personally know. At first that was discouraging since I felt like this indicated a failure to market myself to an audience larger than my group of friends and acquaintances. But then it hit me. Instead of thinking of this as a failure, it really was a success. People who know me and like my work will hire me. In competition with all the other photographers and voices in the world people like to deal with people they know and trust. By increasing the number of people I know, and making them aware of my quality services, should increase the amount of commissions that I receive.
I still plan to “advertise” as I have in the past, but with some changes. I will attend fewer of those events than I did in the past and instead start working on cultivating relationships. Not the false kind of “I want to be your friend so I can use you” but rather one of sincerity and, hopefully, of mutual benefit. But even if this method still doesn’t generate the amount of business that I hope, there is one blessing I will receive – new friendships.