7 Networking Tips and Tricks Successful Designers Swear By

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It’s all about who you know rather than what you know, right? We’ve all heard that networking is the key to success in any business. Making—and maximizing—appropriate professional connections can translate into more clients, better projects, and faster career advancement. But what are the top networking strategies for designers—especially for those who hate networking? AD PRO asked four design professionals about what’s worked for them, and here’s what they said.

1. Be open

Any social engagement can turn into a fruitful networking opportunity. Keep your eyes and ears open wherever you may be. “You never know who is a friend of a friend of your next potential client,” offers New York designer Mikel Welch, who says he always tries to introduce himself to as many people in the room as possible. “Strike up a conversation with the slightly introverted woman standing up against the wall at the party. For all you know, she may have just relocated to your city [and] may need a designer to help furnish her new apartment.”

Bella Zakarian Mancini, owner of New York–based Bella Mancini Design, admits to gaining a fair amount of business through her kids: She says getting to know other parents from their school has led to several projects. And Maureen Baker​, creative director and cofounder of MDLX, a subsidiary of Mancini Duffy Design, says she asks friends and family if there’s anybody they think she should talk to. “Sometimes it’s your mom’s friend’s accountant’s sister. Often the best things come in the most unexpected packages,” she says. “It’s taught me to approach any new relationship with positive energy and optimism.”

2. Be prepared

At any social function, consider the possibility of networking. “Always have your business card at the ready,” suggests designer Corey Damen Jenkins, whose namesake firm has offices in Birmingham, Michigan, and New York. “Any designer worth his or her salt should be prepared to drop their calling card at a moment’s notice.”

Welch advises doing your homework ahead of time. “Be well versed in the company or subject matter surrounding the event you are attending,” he recommends. “Also, have a pulse on this week’s current events. As designers, we can go into a hole and get so focused on work that we barely have time to look up. There’s nothing worse than being involved in a party conversation and not having any input other than the Pantone color of the year.”

3. Make your own breaks

Don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen—create your own networking opportunities. Jenkins reveals that when he launched his design firm 10 years ago, he went door to door. “I knocked on 779 doors to find my first big client,” he recalls. “Today, I still believe in diversifying our firm’s approach. For example, in addition to online marketing, I conduct in-person meet-and-greets at charity design events I’ve sponsored. Hard-copy mailers sent to select communities can also be effective, depending on the demographic.”

Welch shares two creative recommendations for successfully drumming up new business. “Participating in designer show houses is the ideal chance to display your talent to hundreds of potential clients. The goal is to make every visitor want to hire you on spot! Best of all, even when you’re not in the room, the design is networking for you,” he explains. “Upon completion of a project, I typically ask my client if we can have a reveal party at their home, where they invite family and friends. This helps me leverage the project because the client typically has friends who are in their same tax bracket. During the party, I give a tour of the home and go over my design process.”