#8: Networking SUCKS: The Necessary Evil that Grows Your Business.

Summary

The episode discusses the importance of networking for designers and creative professionals. Monique and Jessica share personal experiences of how networking has shaped their careers, including stories of making connections that led to jobs, projects, and partnerships.

Key points discussed are that networking goes beyond business card exchanges and is about forming genuine relationships, networking happens everywhere not just events, it involves both meeting new people and maintaining connections, networking can lead to finding employees/contractors and new business opportunities.

Tactics suggested include getting involved with local design organizations like AIGA, looking for relevant events including those for specific industries you want to work in, putting yourself out there on social media by engaging in discussions, and casually checking in with your network to nurture relationships.

The overarching theme is that networking is all about making and maintaining connections with others.

Action Items

  • Research local networking groups and design organizations you could get involved in.
  • Look for upcoming events, especially ones targeted to your ideal type of clients.
  • Practice your elevator pitch to introduce yourself effectively.
  • Engage on social media by commenting on relevant discussions in your industry.
  • Reach out to your existing network with a casual check-in to nurture relationships.
  • Introduce yourself to new people at events and gatherings and start a conversation.
  • Follow up with new connections you make by connecting on social media or sending a note.
  • Maintain relationships over time through periodic check-ins and interactions.
  • Leverage your network for introductions when looking for new business opportunities.

Transcription

Monique Jenkins: Welcome back to another episode of the Design Imposter, where we uncover the secrets behind designs that shape our lives. I’m your host Monique, and today we’re diving into the world of networking and how we’ve connected with designers and creative minds around the world. I

Monique Jenkins: In the creative world, networking is more than just exchanging business cards or LinkedIn connections. It’s about creating lasting relationships, sharing knowledge, and growing together. And for all the user experience designers, graphic designers, creative minds out there, you know that these connections can be key to your career. So you should breathe design and know first hand the value of networking. 

Monique Jenkins: Let’s kick things off by talking about why networking is so crucial in design. So, Jessica, how has networking shaped your career? 

Jessica Valis: We network every single day, whether we are aware of it or not, every person we meet throughout our day is an opportunity to network and expand our community. And in a business sense, networking for me has been more than just mingling at events, hoping for a sale. It has opened up opportunities for me to find freelancers and subcontractors, interns, and for others to find me to be their subcontractors, and for me to be able to white label under them. It’s helped me to form business relationships that are as comfortable and natural as office friendships. 

Monique Jenkins: Yeah. I would agree. Networking has opened doors for me that I never knew existed, whether that’s collaborating on projects, learning new skills, finding my next job. Those relationships have been instrumental in helping me grow. I

Monique Jenkins:  can say that it didn’t start like that for me. I hated networking. I did not like it at all. I didn’t understand the value of it. Or let me change that—I understood the value of it; I didn’t care. I didn’t want to do it. I just did not like it, and I did not want to be a part of it. 

Monique Jenkins: When I first started out, before I was even in design, I think I was in marketing at this point. I got in decline for promotion at work. And when I was asking like why, she was like, you know, because you don’t really network or you don’t really like vibe with the rest of the team. Like you haven’t been, you know, doing the due diligence and going out on the little like, I don’t know, office social things and being a part of their like little clique. I don’t care about that, y ‘all. But at that point in my career, I really thought that working hard was like the thing you do in order to get a promotion. And now I can say after a multitude of conversations with lots of people, it isn’t necessarily about how hard you work at work. It is about the relationships that you develop with the people who are in your workspace. 

Monique Jenkins: So my parents would have told you like, just work hard. I’ve found that those words are necessarily true, that people want true connection, you know, with people. Whether that’s in a networking sense in a traditional networking environment where you will all come to like gain enrichment from each other, or if that’s just networking in the context of being at a job and understanding and being a part of like the company culture and what that means for you. I will say it still took me a long time to prioritize networking, but eventually I got to the space where I developed and got better at it. And it certainly was no fault of mine. It was certainly my very, very social husband who likes to talk to everyone, which I find incredibly annoying. 

Monique Jenkins: But he would just get into these like random ad hoc conversations with literally every single person we meet. Like we bought a couch and he had a three hour conversation with the woman who sold us our couch about his motorcycle accident that you said a couple years ago. And I was like, I could not wait to leave this place. Why are we still here? Like he brought out pictures. He showed her like his like, you know, massacred elbow and like how swollen his face was in the hospital and like scenes from the accident. And I was like, why would she care? She doesn’t know you. Oh my God. No one knows you. And then this other guy jumped in and he had a motorcycle too when he’s been thinking about safety and he’d almost gotten hit by a car. And I was like, I want to press so, so bad. I just want to get out of here. I don’t want to be here anymore. 

Monique Jenkins: But like him being so social with every single person that he meets forced me to have to be social and be a part of those interactions because when people see me as compared to him because he’s such a friendly person, they’re like, oh, why would you ever love Monique? She’s so mean. And I’m like, I’m not mean. I’m just straight to the point. I don’t want to talk about this. So networking has been invaluable for me but it certainly did not start out that way for me. Because I just, I didn’t see the value. I’m sorry. 

Jessica Valis: Yeah, I want to piggyback on what you said about, you know, you don’t get your promotions necessarily by like, you know, doing your best job. It’s all about networking. When I was at Wells Fargo and I was going on my first maternity leave, we hired a temp there a lot. And Sarah and I have stayed in contact for over five years now. And when I started my business, Sarah came on and helped me with social media and Sarah has come and helped me with different things throughout the, you know, the process. She asked for referrals. I’ll still give them to her when, you know, she’s moving her way up the ladder. 

Jessica Valis: And then my very, very, very best friend who I’ve known since I was three, she works as a government contractor. And she got along really well with her old boss. Her boss left, went to a different company, still government contractor and moved to Germany. And he told, he contacted her. He reached back out and was like, hey, you need to move over here. You’re going to fit in so well over here. And so she would look for the positions, you know, that he told her. And when it came up, she applied, he helped coach her through the application process, power of networking right there. And I think because she jumped on it so quickly, the pool of applicants was small, but like it was the fact that she knew the team already. So you can’t, part of networking is not just meeting somebody and throwing away that connection. You have to maintain it, even if it is just a periodic check -in or like setting a text message to, you know, your old temp or intern and being like, hey, what are you working on these days? Or just checking in and, you know, you don’t have to go crazy, but just drop an occasional lie to maintain that relationship. When did you understand and really start to apply networking? 

Monique Jenkins: I realized that I wanted to be a part of creating a community where I could meet designers but also contribute to a larger community. And that’s when I found AIGA Baltimore, which is a not-for-profit that advances design as a professional craft, strategic advantage, and cultural force per their website. I wanted to be a part of something because I didn’t have it all figured out. And I knew that I wanted to meet and engage with people who had it figured out. And I thought it would be a great opportunity to be a part of an inner circle of design. So I joined AIGA on the board as a programming chair, so helping to create and craft the events that were happening. So what about you, Jessica? 

Jessica Valis: We talked about this in the last episode about, you know, things we wish we knew. And for me, it was about offloading. It did not take long for me to realize that I needed to offload and I’m not going to do a Google search to find somebody who does development. Like I want to make that person-to-person connection. And it was through networking that I was able to find the people that I have on my team. 

Monique Jenkins: I was gonna say, as someone who has used Google to try to find a developer, it did not work out well. Like I got  300 applications for developers that were in Nashville, from India, Russia, all over the place and trying to like filter and sort through all of those people to find someone was the most horrible experience. I literally put out, I was like, I don’t need nobody, it’s fine, I’ll develop it myself. I’ll learn coding before I go through all these resumes. Like it was insane the amount of people who reached out about being a developer and who could assist and help. And I didn’t think about letting, like using my network. 

Jessica Valis: As you guys know I love LinkedIn. I was part of this LinkedIn Facebook group with Wendy Maynard and she’s like this LinkedIn guru. And I was on there and I think they had like a section about like, you know, what do you need help with this week? And I was like, I need a website developer. And Wendy was like, you need to work with Joey Berrios. And so that’s how I got connected with my developer. 

Jessica Valis: And so again, another form of networking, it doesn’t have to be in person events. I was trusting somebody who was a guru influencer. She had her own community of people who were similar to me starting their own businesses. And I would rather work with somebody who is in a similar situation and help them build up their business than work for a larger firm where we’re supporting people like Monique who’s just sitting on a beach. 

Monique Jenkins: I did not think about leveraging LinkedIn in that way, but what I did do, or what I do do now, is whenever a company has a bunch of layoffs, I’m like, I know those designers are looking for work, and designers always freelance. We always got a freelance gig on the side. So every single time a company does like a massive amount of layoffs, or even the company I was working for, they did layoffs, and I was like the only person left, I’d reach out to the designers, cause I had already worked with them. I knew how amazing they were. I knew that they could do the job that needed to be done. I would reach out to them and be like, hey, I have a design business on the side. I am working on some projects. I know you just got laid off, you got a bit of severance, but if you need some work, I have some projects that need to happen so that I could continue working at my full -time job, but also white label their services underneath my brand. And that always worked out amazingly. Also shout out to Joey, cause I didn’t know that that’s how you found him. 

Jessica Valis: Yeah, we continue to work together and he is my tech person. I’m leaving the country for a little bit and our relationship is so great that in my away message, I can say, if you have any questions or run into any issues, please contact Joey. And he’s, he white labels under me. He’s got his own Joey at Harford Designs email address and, you know, we’ll collaborate on projects just like you and I do, but Joey’s my go -to. I don’t work with any other developers. We have a rhythm and it’s great. So the power of networking. And this is also going to say that networking is not easy. 

Jessica Valis: Like finding Joey was amazing, but I have worked with people through networking and they did not turn out okay. Like you give somebody a chance and it is going to be trial and error. And sometimes the connections that you think might work out don’t people hype themselves out so much. And then when you see the product and the delivery, you just are not impressed. So I mean, networking is not easy. You have to kind of trial and error it until you find somebody. 

Monique Jenkins: I would say move quickly with that trial and error. Like you can’t allow someone who did a bad job to like curtail your project, which can happen very easily. Like I think we’ve been in a similar situation where I’ve asked someone to like, you know, do the design work and not been happy with whatever they have given me. The production value just was not good. And having to be like, okay, that doesn’t work for me. I’m not gonna work with this person on this project. Maybe they’re not skilled in the way that they thought they were for this. I’m gonna go over here to this person. I need them to get me a design quicker and exactly what I’d need. So to your point, trial and error is amazing. You just have to be able to pivot quickly. And sometimes that pivot will be to a new person as opposed to a new direction. 

Jessica Valis: How have you found networking now that you are a wife and mother? How are the in-person events with you? 

Monique Jenkins: I would say that it’s a little bit more difficult because time is precious, but I still run Ladies’ Wine and Design Baltimore and I’m in the process of curating our 2024 lineup of events that we’re gonna have. But all of those connections that I made at AIGA Baltimore, all of the connections that I’ve made from various events that I’ve gone to have helped me substantially now with finding out what events I’d be interested in and going and investing in the people and events that I think are best suited for me to be able to network effectively and efficiently with the audience segment that I’m trying to reach. 

Monique Jenkins: So I literally just had Hazel text me this morning. Hazel is someone who I met a couple of years ago now. She owns a design agency with Rachel called Druro in Baltimore. They’re amazing, they do amazing work. And she just invited me to an event this morning about the wage gap with black women that’s happening at Johns Hopkins on the 22nd of September. If you’re interested, we will put a link in bio. They only have eight tickets left. Yeah, I’m interested. They only have eight tickets left. We’re almost sold out, or they’re almost sold out. It’s not them hosting the event. There’s another woman. But they will message me about super awesome events and things like that. And I’ll be like, oh, I didn’t know anything about this. Let me go and sign up right this second. Or I knew about this one already. I’m already going, I’ll see you guys there. And because you start to attend the same events in person as other people that have been at past events as you, you start to get a little conglomerate of people who used to meet in different spaces. 

Monique Jenkins: So for me, I think it’s changed obviously the amount of events that I went to before versus go to now has changed. One, because I’m a mom, two, because of COVID. And I think that people will just sign up for online events, but not actually intend to go, because they just weren’t like the recording afterward, which is not a part of networking. You need to be there in person in order to gain some information. But I think that because I already knew about all these clubs, inventors, and things like that, I am always on the lookout on whatever social media platform I’m using for events that I think are interesting. I’m always trying to curtail that around being a mom. But also, I’m not afraid to bring a 10-month-old to an event. I’m going to slap a mask on that baby, because we got COVID right now, and we will not be doing this one again. And we’re going to be out there, in with y ‘all. And baby’s super cute opener. Look at this cute baby over here. Hey, would you like to give me some business? 

Jessica Valis: I told you, I did that. That’s how I got my very, like almost my very first client. And we still maintain that relationship to this day. 

Monique Jenkins: If I didn’t mention it, not only does my husband, but my daughter also makes me talk to people that I don’t want to talk to because people come up to me all the time and be like, oh my God, she’s so freaking cute. What’s her name? And I’m like, I don’t know, right this second, but are you a little bit more designer by chance? Because I’m looking for work. Oh, he’s got to slip it in. I’m like, let’s just talk about this for a second. “Oh you own a nail salon, let me help you.” Do what you need to do.

Monique Jenkins: So between ladies, women’s line and crafting my own events, between the people that I know and going to events, I think it’s difficult to manage both going to an event in person and being a mother and doing all the things that I need to do. But I think that what I can do is pick the events that are super meaningful that I think are going to derive the most opportunity for me to network in the way that I’m comfortable with and go to those things and prioritize those things. 

Monique Jenkins: But I think it’s the same as like prioritizing education, like you prioritize the things that are important to you and important for your growth. And for me and my business, networking is incredibly important to gaining clients in my business. It is the number one way that I get work. So it’s not an option of like doing it or not doing it at this point, even though I refuse some days. It is just like you got to get it done. So figure out the time and what you need to make that happen. 

Jessica Valis: Yeah, you also want to think about where you’re going to find your clients. Is it in person? Is it online? For example, networking in the financial field, there are, you’re not going to find a lot of advisors at networking events. They’re very busy. They’re going to be at their own networking events that they’re hosting, but they’re not going to be at, you know, the entrepreneurship 101 networking event or, you know, the one that meets every single month because they already have a book of clients and they’re just trying to get referrals off of their current clients. But you will see, you know, the, the financial guys who are in banking and maybe they’re trying to get new entrepreneurs to sign up for their banking program. But they’ll be at every single in-person networking event. Like they do not discriminate, but that’s not the kind of networking event that I want to go to. 

Jessica Valis: Networking for me has been difficult. Before and after work hours, just because of having a family school schedules, my husband being a police officer and never knowing when he’s going to get off on time. So it’s not really feasible for me to do a lot of in-person networking events. 

Jessica Valis: But you guys know, I’m all about that LinkedIn and online networking. And it’s kind of funny how online networking works because I will get a referral from somebody who I maybe had a connection with, maybe not. And when I talk to that individual, um, they’ll be like, “Oh, are you related to Glenn Valis?” And I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, that’s my father-in-law.” And he goes, “Oh, I’ve worked with Glenn before” and my father -in -law, he works with Cal Ripken. So he knows pretty much everybody. And it’s just amazing. And a testament to the power of networking that I’m able to make these connections without somebody who’s so influential, making the introductions for me. So whenever somebody’s like, they recognize the name, I know that they’re getting around and they’re actively networking, they’re actively seeking engagement. But it is always rewarding when you get that referral from somebody completely unrelated. Yeah. 

Monique Jenkins: I also was going to say, be in the places of the type of clients that you want to gather. So networking, you could do that in a traditional environment, like a networking event. You can leverage social media in order to network as well. But you could also, if you have financial clients or something like that, you could hang out where the finance burrows hang out and be a part of their space. You could start those conversations, engage with those type of people in the sectors, or niches that you want to subscribe to. I have heard from friends, so this is a firsthand experience, but like co-working spaces, like everyone there is an entrepreneur. They are looking for some type of service.

Monique Jenkins: If you’re a designer and you’re building websites and things like that, if you go ahead and go in a networking space with a bunch of other people who are regularly in that space as well, this is a long game. This isn’t like one time you’re going to meet all the clients you want to.

Monique Jenkins: But there are people there who are working on startups. There are people there who are starting new businesses. And if you see each other on a consistent basis, you can leverage each other’s skill sets in order to get you to the place where you need to go. So for friends of mine who have their own design businesses, they have said to me, like, oh, just being in the room, consistently being in the room in a networking or co -working space, I have been able to gain clients because those people see me, I see them. They all know that we’re working towards a larger goal and they’re happy to unite forces. 

Jessica Valis: Yeah, networking happens anywhere you go. I mean, you and me, for example, we could have stayed peers at the University of Baltimore and we decided to stay in touch after. We would send each other samples of our work at our current employers and be like, what do you think about this? So we just continued the relationship and maybe you got out of design and did something else. You would probably refer the work to me if you were doing something else.

Jessica Valis: But another example of networking is just things that you do all the time. Like if you go to church or you go to worship every week, those people who get to know you, they’ll get to trust you. So when I moved down to Baltimore over a decade ago, I joined St. Ignatius, have a community down in Mount Vernon and they had a really, or website, there was no logo. So I got involved and I was like, “hey, can I work on this logo for you?” And I did it pro bono. I just wanted to do something nice for my community. And that has since evolved into me redesigning their website twice as a paid, they’re a paying client. And then when the church founded a preschool, a nonprofit preschool, they reached out to me again and now you and I are working on the second website redesign for them. So don’t discount the people that are in your life every single day who might not be there for a business sense. 

Monique Jenkins: Yeah. Let’s talk about some tangible ways our listeners can start networking. So what tips do you have for those who might be new to this? Like, where should they go to be networking? How should they kind of like engage and start those conversations? 

Jessica Valis: One thing you can do is just do an online search for local networking groups. Go check out your local Chamber of Commerce, see when they’re having little shindigs and get-togethers. They’re generally free. You can always show up as a guest to a lot of these things, and it doesn’t cost anything. And you can practice your elevator pitch. You can practice just getting to know people on a more intimate level than going to these larger networking events where you’re like, “okay, I’ve got to swallow my pride or grab some courage and find somebody in this huge crowd to go talk to.” 

Jessica Valis: But the other thing too is just putting yourself out there on social media. Maybe you’re not posting on LinkedIn, but maybe you’re commenting on somebody’s post and you’re injecting your industry or your expertise without saying, oh, I do website design, so hire me for your next website. If somebody posts something and you can somehow relate it back to what you do, but just by commenting and engaging in a conversation starts to build that relationship. 

Jessica Valis: So don’t think of network necessarily as going to every single event, printing out a thousand business cards and handing them out. It’s mostly just about having a conversation with somebody. 

Monique Jenkins: I would say get involved with your local, similar to Jessica, get involved with the local initiatives in your space. AIGA Baltimore is the thing that you can join. You certainly can come help me with Ladies Wine Design Baltimore. If you so choose, Hexagon is a similar community in DC, but I also think that they have branches in Baltimore and Virginia. I think they’re global, but they’re all of these spaces for you to network with like minds, attractive, fine clients in those spaces. And I find that people who are looking for design work are also a part of those communities and are regularly looking for someone to assist them with things. 

Monique Jenkins: I think we talked about this in a previous episode, but me and Jessica did a event this year with MICA at Design Fest. The Grassworks Design Fest. And that was an opportunity to network. It wasn’t necessarily that that was the purpose of that event, but just being in the same space of as like minds will help you to network with people and maintaining those relationships. I think that you said this earlier, but maintaining relationships with people who you have met in these networking spaces is incredibly integral. I text everyone and just check in and make sure that they’re doing okay. COVID is out here, the flu, I have a kid, hand, foot, and mouth disease or whatever the case is. I just check on people, hey, how are you doing? How are your kids doing? How’s life? What’s going on? How can I be of assistance or how can I help? 

Monique Jenkins: Sometimes people are asking for tangible things like, “hey, I’m having this event. Could you post it on Ladies Wine Design because you guys have more followers than us?” Or it’s just like, “no, I’m just having a really hard time at work. I’d love someone to be able to talk through with or I have a really big project coming up. I have no idea what I’m doing. I would love for you to white label under us so that I could get your expertise,” and da, da, da, da. All of those things are forms of networking so it doesn’t have to be specifically with the intent of gaining business, but just like making connection. 

Monique Jenkins: And connection is important because once you find yourself a part of a community, you’re able to feel a little bit more comfortable and a little bit more confident. And even for me, networking is about price checking my own price point. Like if I’m like, oh, my hourly rate is $250, which it is. I can talk to another designer and hear like, oh, well, mine’s is 100. And I’m like, okay, well, why is yours 100? And they’ll be their logic. And they’re like, stop talking about me. 

Jessica Valis: I upped my rate by the way, thank you. 

Monique Jenkins: But like you hearing that gave you the confidence to be like, “oh, if Monique can do this, I can do this.” And you can certainly raise your raise. The clients who love you and want to be a part of what you’re doing will match that. The clients who don’t see value in you as a person but see value in the number, they won’t. And that’s fine too. Go ahead and get your Fiverr designers. I don’t care. 

Jessica Valis: And don’t underestimate the power of the casual check-in. Just dropping in a line. And I think you and I did this with one of our current clients, Steph. We just hadn’t heard from her for a while and we just dropped a line and we’re like, hey, how you doing? And she like divulged, you know, her life story for like, you know, the past year that we hadn’t talked to her. Then she hit us back up. 

Jessica Valis: And so it’s about maintaining that relationship and keeping it alive so that, you know, when a project does come around, they’re like, well, who am I going to use? They’re going to remember, “oh, Monique and Jessica actually still care about me. They still think about me and the relationship we had in the past.” 

Jessica Valis: So this weekend, I am going to a wedding in England. 

Monique Jenkins: And she not taking me home. Can you believe that? 

Jessica Valis: Yeah, well, I met the groom at the Philadelphia airport. I hadn’t even left the country for the first time. We started a conversation at the terminal and we’ve been really good friends ever since. And if you have international friends or long-distance friends, you know that it’s not about seeing each other all the time. But, you know, when you drop an occasional line, you pick up your relationship exactly where you left it before. And so when I go over to England this weekend, I will be interacting with all these people who I probably have not seen some of them for over a year or two or three. But we’re going to just pick up where we left off and that is networking on a personal level.

Jessica Valis: So on an ending note, I think this episode should really be called “making relationships and maintaining relationships” instead of networking. But I mean, networking and relationship building are really one in the same. 

Monique Jenkins: I agree, I have nothing to add.. 

Jessica Valis: All right. Well, let’s wrap this up because you have COVID and need to rest. I need to pack for a flight and we got things to do. So until we meet again, imposters, have a great one. Bye, guys.