Guides — How to reach out, make connections and build your dream network
From perfecting your portfolio website and personal branding to navigating finances, preparing for the world of work is no easy feat. That’s why, in partnership with Wix, we’ve developed four guides designed to help you step into your creative career with confidence.
“It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” We’ve all heard this adage, which may be less true than it once was, but still very much reflects the world we live in. In fact, when it comes to the working world, it’s been found that a large number of jobs aren’t publicly posted at all – with a 2016 study claiming that 85% of all jobs (not just creative) are filled through networking.
This makes things very tricky when you’re just starting out, especially when you don’t have a magazine-editor aunt or creative director next-door neighbour. Plus, “networking” is a term that makes many of us shudder, bringing to mind bad jokes, forced chat and name badges – ultimately, an experience that’s downright awkward.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are more and more organisations set up to help all kinds of people get a foot in the door. And actually, networking shouldn’t be so different from regular socialising – a skill that university, side jobs and life in general can provide excellent training in. Think of networking as making new friends, rather than “connections”.
Our guide will help you gain the confidence and skills to start building your dream creative network. You’ll be filling in your own little black book in no time.
1. Prepping Your Online Presence
Even if you meet someone IRL, you will likely always end up connecting online later. This is why it can be so important to start by prepping your socials so that they reflect you in your best light to a potential employer or collaborator.
Depending on your craft, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter will be of varying importance. Illustrators tend to find Instagram the most useful, such as New York-based Timothy Goodman, who has used the platform to develop a large following. However, writers often prefer to share their work on Twitter. Look at how people within your discipline tend to share their work.
Timothy’s fluid, doodle-like illustrations have appeared across walls, packaging, book covers and even cars. Since graduating 12 years ago, he’s also designed a line of T-shirts for Uniqlo, created viral social experiments, like 40 Days of Dating, and amassed an Instagram following of more than 160,000 people.
“Networking is a dirty word and I get that,” says Timothy. “Try to redefine what it means. It’s about finding like-minded peers or mentors in your industry that you generally like, want to learn from and work with. I still don’t take anything for granted. I’m constantly trying to meet new people and let my network know that I’m alive.”
When Timothy first started reaching out to people about his illustrations, he was working full-time as a graphic designer. He emailed various art directors at magazines and agencies, getting contacts from friends and peers in the industry. “If you’re not the kind of person who wants to go out to industry events, you can always email people,” he says. “Keep it short. Say hello and show them your work.”
“Networking is about finding like-minded peers or mentors in your industry that you generally like, want to learn from and work with.” – Timothy Goodman
Over the years the artist has built up his significant social following by regularly posting his work and personal projects exploring topics from love to mental health. Along with posting on social media, he suggests sending email newsletters every couple of months to let people know what you’ve been up to.
Given that Timothy often puts himself and his emotions at the centre of his creative projects, it’s no surprise that sharing his work online came naturally to him. While he understands that social media is not for everyone, he sees it as an essential tool for self-employed creatives to help get their name out there. “People worry that sharing their work is shameless self-promotion, but it’s not about that,” he says. “When you work for yourself, you have to be willing to share your work. It’s literally part of your job. Anything you’re excited about and working on, just share it.”
Here are some key steps to keep in mind:
• Refine and update your bio
Make sure your bio on any platform where you might meet professional contacts is appropriate and clearly sets out who you are and what you do or make.
• Post the work you love
Get into the habit of sharing your work, especially the kind that you’d love to do more of. This will help you attract more dream commissions.
• Express your interests
Whether it’s French cinema or intersectional feminism, post about the things you care about. This can help attract people and work that align with your interests, as well as showing potential employers that there’s more to you than just your craft.
• Engage with other people’s work
When you find other people’s work on social media that you admire, shout about it! Share it, like it or leave comments about why you find it inspiring. This a great way to start chatting to the creatives behind it, and helps others discover your great taste and opinions.
2. Going From Zero to Hero When Reaching Out
There’s no getting around the fact that to expand your network, you need to put yourself out there and reach out to new people. While this can feel scary, remember that everyone goes through this and whoever you are contacting has been there too. The trick is to think carefully beforehand about who you are contacting, how you should do it and what your message should say.
It might not feel like it, but you’ve got a network already. Your schoolmates, colleagues from your side job or uni alumni are all part of your professional sphere. People know people, so start asking around for recommendations of who you should reach out to.
Take note of what inspires you
When did you last see something that you would love to have been involved in? It could be a magazine you like, a brand you admire or a company you’d like to work for. When you see something you like, take note.
Find out who’s behind it
It doesn’t take too much detective work to find out who is behind a piece of creative work these days. Teams get credited in magazine mast heads, in Instagram tags or captions, on platforms like IMDB and in industry magazines. It’s sometimes best not to contact the most senior person listed, like the executive creative director or editor-in-chief, as they may be the most busy. And look for the person that shares your skill set or interests.
Quiz: Which of these is the most popular way to communicate?
Short, clear emails
Yep! Email is still the most popular way to communicate, with 3.9 billion email users globally, compared to 1 billion on Instagram and 660 million on Linkedin. Email is probably the most professional way of communicating, too.
If you don’t have their personal email address, try connecting on social
It’s essential to email people rather than places. If you don’t have someone’s personal email address, try asking them for it on social media via LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram. Make sure you explain why you want their email address, and take note of their bio in case they’ve explicitly asked for no DMs. No one knows this better than Amanda Aspeborg, who – after graduating in 2019 – sent around 200 hopeful emails to no avail, before changing her approach to be more personalised, resulting in responses from industry heavyweights and numerous internship offers.
How would you go about getting someone’s email address?
Amanda Aspeborg’s story
After graduating from Kingston University with a fine art degree, Amanda Aspeborg started emailing her portfolio out to as many studios as possible. “I didn’t really have a strategy,” she says. “I thought that eventually someone would get back to me and offer me an internship.”
Emailing her work far and wide wasn’t a bad idea in principle. The problem was that she was using generic studio email addresses. These were the addresses listed on the company’s websites, such as ‘[email protected]’ or ‘[email protected]’. “I must have sent an email with my portfolio to more than 200 studios and I didn’t get a single positive response,” says Amanda.
Ditching generic emails
Then, at a portfolio review event, Amanda learned that many of these email accounts are not monitored and if they are, it’s usually by someone junior. “I was advised to start reaching out to people in a different way and to not be afraid of bothering people,” says Amanda. “No one is going to find you annoying for reaching out, and everyone I have emailed [since] has been incredibly kind and encouraging.”
Making the most of LinkedIn
Amanda’s change of tack involved messaging the heads of her favourite studios on LinkedIn and asking them for their personal email address, so that she could send them her portfolio. Within a week, she had several interviews and an offer from a studio she had previously emailed four times. “I hadn’t changed my portfolio at all, the only difference was who I was emailing,” says Amanda.
Spreadsheets and reminders
She recommends keeping a spreadsheet of people you have emailed to keep organised. “I also think you have to not take things personally if people don’t respond,” she says. “Most of the time people are just busy. If you haven’t heard anything in a week, don’t be afraid to remind them.”
The average office worker receives 121 emails per day! So if you want your message to get noticed, it has to get to the point quickly. Having a clear, punchy subject line will also help.
Be specific about what you’re asking for, as this makes it easier for the person to reply. For example, you could ask about are whether a company is running internships, if they ever hire emerging creatives, if they have any events you could come along to, or if they have five minutes to take a look at your work. You could add that if they have time to meet for a coffee, you’d love to ask them about the above in person.
Make it personal
Let the person know why you have chosen to contact them specifically. If you’ve enjoyed something they made, tell them. Or, you might tell a design director that you’re inspired by the way they’ve evolved their magazine’s design. The trick is to make your message thoughtful and personal. This was something that helped Stacie Woolsey build a professional network, as she set about creating her own alternative education platform, Make Your Own Masters.
Stacie Woolsey’s story
Designer Stacie Woolsey dreamed of doing an MA after graduating, but couldn’t afford the high course fees. Determined to find a way to keep learning, she decided to create her own Masters programme. Having completed the course herself last June, this January she welcomed her first cohort of 10 students.
Stacie’s custom-made curriculum includes briefs set by people from the creative industry that she admires. But prior to the project, the idea of networking scared her. “The idea that you weren’t just talking for the sake of having a nice conversation felt wrong almost,” says Stacie. “It felt like you were chatting with an agenda and that didn’t sit well. It made me nervous and overthink what I was saying. Then you fumble and just crash and burn.”
“It’s not about throwing the net really wide, it’s about being selective and considerate.” – Stacie Woolsey
However, she found that her Make Your Own Masters project gave her something to talk about. “I wanted really direct help and nothing from people that they couldn’t give,” she says. “I just wanted to learn. And that made it so much easier because it was a really direct, simple ask.” When asking for help, Stacie advises making your message personal by telling people that you’d like to find out more about a specific project of theirs, for example. “It made people feel like I hadn’t just picked them out of a hat and there was a reason I was contacting them,” she says. “It’s not about throwing the net really wide, it’s about being more selective and considerate.”
3. How to Nail Networking IRL
While creative people are increasingly connecting online, to make a lasting impression on someone, nothing beats meeting face-to-face. Not only is it easier for someone to remember you if you’ve met personally, but it helps them feel like they can trust you. One study found that in-person requests were 34 times more likely to get positive responses than those made by email.
There are lots of free events going on in the creative industries all the time. Try searching sites like Eventbrite and Meetup for relevant gatherings in your area. We’ve also listed some groups and resources at the bottom of this guide to help you get started.
For many of us, meeting strangers IRL can be nerve-racking, especially when we’re starting out and possibly battling with imposter syndrome. But remember that it is ok to be yourself – whether you are more naturally introverted or extroverted. And thankfully, there are plenty of ways to help ensure your interactions are a success, whether you’re attending a networking event or meeting someone one-on-one for a coffee. Below are some of our top-recommended considerations throughout the journey.
Be prepared to speak about yourself with confidence
Practice summarising who you are, what you’re interested in and what you’re looking for. People can’t help you if they don’t know what you need. Ask yourself: What do I want? Is it a new job or advice? Or maybe you’re looking for someone to collaborate with? Be clear and direct about how someone could help you.
Be ready to talk about your work and interests too. You don’t need to reel off everything you’ve ever done – that’s what your CV is for. Focus on the projects or subjects you’re most excited about and best represent you as a person. If you’re meeting someone for coffee, prepare to talk them through a couple of projects in your portfolio.
Don’t make it all about work
Networking shouldn’t be so different to socialising in any other sphere, and usually people don’t want to only talk about work (unless it’s a more formal meeting like an interview). Of course, there is a fine line to tread here and where the line exists will vary depending on whether you are speaking to a peer or a potential employer.
Chatting about common interests like travel, music and film can be great (and safe) ways to build a connection and make yourself more memorable. Can you recommend a great Netflix documentary? Is there an off-the-beaten-track bar this creative director might like to know about? There are plenty of ways you can demonstrate your ability to recognise great creativity without talking directly about work. Plus, people want to work with people they get on with. Show them that you’d be a nice person to have around.
Listen (at least) as much as you talk
As we said earlier, networking isn’t that different to any other kind of socialising, and so all the usual rules apply. This exchange might be about you trying to impress someone, but that doesn’t mean being the centre of the entire conversation. Make sure you listen properly, ask questions and think about how you might be able to help them. Find out why Droga5 Senior copywriter Mietta McFarlane thinks this is one of the best ways to impress people.
Tips from Droga5’s Mietta McFarlane
Mietta McFarlane is a senior copywriter at creative agency Droga5 in New York. When she’s approached by creatives just starting out, she’s impressed when they don’t make the entire conversation about themselves.
See how you can help
“Networking is a two-way street,” she says. “Ask yourself how you can add value. I recently met a young woman at a friend’s party who had been studying animation. After a lot of discussion about how to get into my line of work, she then offered to teach me the basics of her craft. I’m not going to lie – I was thrilled to connect.”
Connect with people on your level
Reflecting on her own early networking experiences, Mietta says it was helpful to remember that everyone can feel nervous and insecure. She advises starting with your peers, especially if you’re feeling anxious. “Networking doesn’t have to be about stalking the most senior person in the room,” she says. “Some of the most helpful and inspiring contacts I’ve made over the years were people at my level.”
Reach out to a broad range of people
For Mietta, the aim is to build a group of people who you can lean on for support, advice, solace and camaraderie. They don’t have to all work in your industry or be very similar to you. “I’ve often found the most helpful connections I’ve made throughout my career are with those who work in different fields or with whom I don’t share identical opinions, thoughts or ideas,” says Mietta. “You never know where these can lead: a new job, a new way of looking at a problem or even a new network altogether.”
Quiz: What percentage of communication do you think is done with words?
Watch your body language
Did you know that words only count for around 7% of communication? Your body language is very important when it comes to making a good first impression. To come across as friendly and engaged, try not to fold your arms. Make eye contact and focus on the person you are talking to. People will notice if your eyes are darting around the room in search of someone “more important” to speak too. Not a good look.
Read What Every Body Is Saying by Joe Navarro for more body language advice For example, Navarro says that tilting your head and leaning forwards slightly indicates to people that you are comfortable and that you like them.
Use people’s names
Make an effort to remember what someone is called. It might sound obvious, but especially when you’re nervous, it can go in one ear and out the other when people introduce themselves. “It’s quite normal to forget people’s names,” say Rye Here, Rye Now co-founders Miho Aishima and Kat Garner. “What I try to do is to look at someone and repeat their name when they introduce themselves to me. I also try to use their name at least one more time while speaking to them, to help embed it in my memory.”
Think quality over quantity
If you’re at an event, don’t try to “work the room” and meet as many people as possible. It’s far better to make a meaningful connection with just a couple of people than meet a dozen who will forget you. Remember, the person doesn’t have to be directly relevant to your area of interest to be well worth chatting to. Your big break could come through knowing someone, who knows someone, who three years later knows someone else… You get the idea.
Don’t stress about business cards
While there’s no harm in having a box of shiny business cards to hand around, they’re not essential either. You’re better off trying to get other people’s details than giving out your own, as this way you’re more in control and can start a follow up conversation yourself.
As Miho and Kat advise: “Sending a follow-up email is something a lot of people struggle with, as they worry it comes across as desperate. It definitely doesn’t. Plus, if your email is in their inbox, they’re far more likely to keep those details than a business card taking up space in their purse.”
Sometimes you won’t get the chance to ask for someone’s email at an event. If you remember their name, you can find them on social media and give them a follow or Like. You could add a short message to say how nice it was to meet them.
Remember to say thank you
It might sound a little obvious, but it is also one of the most neglected rules of thumb out there. If you do get to meet up with a creative you admire, they’ve taken the time to feed back on your work, or shared some advice or pointers over email, be sure to thank them for their time. It can be the smallest things that give off a much bigger impression of who you are and what you’re like to work with.
Unanswered emails or a ‘no’
And lastly, it’s highly likely that you won’t hear back from some of those emails, DMs or job applications. Remember that rejection is – annoyingly – a fact of all creative journeys (just think of actors at their endless streams of auditions). So try not to take it personally and don’t be disheartened. It’s just a drop in an expansive sea of opportunities and potential contacts; see if there’s a chance to learn from it, and move on to the next exciting new lead!
Now you’ve covered the basics of creating connections, we recommend reading our guide to starting work.
4. Networking groups and events
Designers and Geeks
The School of Life
Ladies, Wine & Design
Contagious Live (London)
Rye Here Rye Now (London)
5. Further Reading
• What Every Body Is Saying by Joe Navarro
, • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, by Keith FerrazziVia Amazon How thinking like Ryan Gosling will help you write better emailsVia Lecture in Progress Put your cards away: A beginners Guide to Networking Via Lecture in Progress LinkedIn 201: How To Cultivate A Powerful NetworkVia Forbes 5 Ways to authentically network on Instagram Via Forbes These are the most surprising apps for professional networkingVia FastCompany The Art of Charm podcast by AJ Harbinger and Johnny Dzubak and Kast Media Via Apple Podcasts The secret to great opportunities? The person you haven’t met yet Via TED Talks Work Ready is a partnership between Lecture in Progress and Wix, created to help prepare emerging creatives for the world of work. Every year, Lecture in Progress partners with like-minded brands and agencies to support our initiative and keep Lecture in Progress a free resource for students and those starting out. To find out more about how you can work with us, email [email protected]