Nobody ever gets to where they want to be on their own. Everyone has had some help along the way. If there is one thing that I find that levels the playing field for designers, it is the network. You can be the best designer in the entire world, but if you don’t have a network, nobody will ever know you exist. The opposite is true as well. If you are a young designer still perfecting your craft, having a network allows you to find opportunities as well as offers support as you grow.
If you have not experienced the network effect or have not paid much attention to your network, it’s never too late. With that said, I hope this week’s lesson starts to get you thinking about your network and how it can help as your career progresses.
I’ve had so many great moments in my career that would have never happened if it wasn't for my network. However, in order to try and make this as simple as possible, I’m going to focus really quick on just a “birds eye view” of my career and show you how my network helped me get to where I am today.
It started in 2003 when I first arrived at CCAD as a freshmen and met Julie. We quickly turned into best friends and then started dating. Our senior year we both attended career day, and met many local design professionals. This is also where I met a guy named Chuck. Chuck was a project manager and strategist. He loved my portfolio so much that he introduced me to the Creative Director and Senior Designer at FITCH. They too loved my portfolio and I was hired the next week as a Graphic Designer. Bingo! I’m now officially a designer in the industry. My first project? Sub-branding for the NFL. This was the first example of the network effect, but it didn’t end there.
After two years of working at FITCH, I decided I wanted a change. At that time Julie had been working as an Interactive Designer at a large advertising firm in town for the last few years. She made an introduction to the Creative Director, and discussed my desire to get involved in Interactive and perhaps broaden my horizons a bit. We had some drinks one night and he offered me a contract position if I was ever interested in taking it. Network effect number two!
So while I was winding down my time at FITCH, Chuck who I worked with closely asked if I was interested in taking any client work. At the time his neighbor who was getting ready to open her own pediatrics office was in need of a designer to build her brand and website. I said yes and he made the introduction. Bingo! I now had my first client, who shortly after, kickstarted my first business, Greenline Creative.
So for the sake of keeping this short, lets fast forward six years. Greenline is chugging along nicely. Julie and I are now cranking out branding and websites for companies all over the world. Our preferred Content Management System was and still is ExpressionEngine. After digging around in the EE community for some help on a new project, we discovered that the co-founders of Director-EE, Ryan Battles and Andy Johnson happened to also live in Columbus. Julie soon set up a meeting with Ryan to meet and chat about hiring him to work on a project with us. We met and during that time he introduced us to his business partner, Andy.
Ryan, Andy, Julie and I stayed in touch for a few years through the EE community. One day out of the blue I received an email from Ryan and Andy about an opportunity to work remote out of Columbus for a San Francisco based start-up. At that time, I was ready to take on a new challenge of building apps and focus Greenline on a handful of select projects. So I accepted the opportunity and the rest is history.
This is a small snapshot of how the Network Effect works. The crazy thing is, you never know when it is going to even happen. You can’t plan it, so you have to be sure you stay in position for when it does happen, and continue to meet new people. My network has been amazing for me. And to be honest, it has kept me from having to submit my resume and portfolio to the black hole of job boards in order to find opportunities for myself.
Again, this is not to brag. Instead, it is to help you see that your network will do more for you than you can possibly ever do by yourself. In many ways I owe my whole career to my network. Greenline Creative may have never existed if it was not for me meeting Chuck. In fact this blog may not have ever existed if it was not for the conversations that I have had with other designers in my network about their frustrations and challenges as designers, and if it was not for this blog, I probably would not have met all of you! Now I don’t know what opportunities lie ahead for me, but what I do know is that I’ll be keeping my network close by.
Building a great network takes time. If you find yourself feeling alone on an island, attend a networking event to try and meet some new faces. Everybody loves to help one another, so if you’re worthy of their time, they will grant it to you. The key is to be authentic about the way you network. Don’t be creepy. I like to look at networking as a way to learn, problem solve with others and catch up. I love to share stories and show my support for those in my network.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that if someone vouches for you, value that and show respect for everyone involved in that opportunity. It’s not just your reputation on the line, but theirs as well. If the opportunity is not a great fit, decline it with respect and try to provide an alternative solution to their needs.
So, when was the last time you reached out to your network to genuinely help someone? Don’t feel bad if it has been awhile. We all get busy and nobody is perfect. In fact, I’m probably due for a few coffees, emails and phone calls here soon myself. Who’s up for it?
Communication is important to me, so I’d love to continue the conversation with you on Twitter. How much has your network contributed to your success?