biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: networking for designers

by Grace Bonney

today’s biz ladies post is all about networking. i’ll keep it real and say- i’m not a huge fan of networking. i instantly imagine pushy people with business cards drilling you for information and then dropping you the second they’ve gotten what they want. but thankfully digital strategist and writer sara rosso is here today to share her updated tips for successfully networking as a designer. although business cards are still part of the equation (an excuse to order to some cute new cards!) her ideas for successful long-term networking are a great reminder that maintaining a network of creative, talented people is always one of your biggest assets. i hope you’ll enjoy sara’s breakdown of networking and the “types” of networkers in your community.

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

Networking for Designers

by Sara Rosso

Designers and networking are two words that don’t often appear in the same sentence together.

 Networking might even be a bit of a dirty word to you, or bring up images of spending your evenings event-hopping, collecting business cards and studying your Filofax for leads. Chances are if you are a Design*Sponge reader, you already have identified your talent and it’s not focused on being a professional networker.

 But networking is for everyone.

 The people you network with don’t have to be fans or in direct need of your services, but they can be sources of inspiration, resources and experts, gateways to other people, and provide helpful feedback and opinions.

Why Network?

If you’re reading this site, it’s an indication that you’re seeking knowledge, inspiration and information. You’re curious. You’re constantly sifting and filtering content that you will later disseminate to your friends, business partners or to your readers on your website.

But we can’t know or learn everything. The Internet has increased the accessibility of information, but it has added to the noise we experience, too, in the form of information that’s not relevant, interesting, or trustworthy. And though Google provides us with thousands of potential answers and sources, the easiest way to trust information is to know the source.

That’s where networking comes in. The old-fashioned method of gathering and processing information with the help of your trusted contacts is still the most effective and fastest way.

 At the rate our information world is changing, chances are even your close friends are consulting an entirely different set of information sources than yours and therefore come in contact with different content on a daily basis. Furthermore, meeting people with completely different backgrounds, nationalities, and social circles means different perspectives and resources. So while you may think you have nothing in common with someone else, these differences may be exactly what you need as part of your information arsenal.

Information is free

Most information is free. It is the act of sharing that information that costs us time, exclusivity, and trust. Most of these “costs” are worth the return, however, and through tools like Facebook, Twitter, and our blogs, we can communicate quickly to a larger audience if we choose to. Often the act of filtering free information down to the essential bits is the best service you can offer friends and contacts in your network.

Information is time-sensitive

Something you learn today or a person you meet today may not be immediately relevant to your world. It may not ever become relevant to your particular needs but instead become an important resource for someone else in your network. You can rely on a good network of people to help keep you informed, and you should do your part to inform others of important and interesting information when you happen upon it. A simple email can save someone in your network lots of time and be extremely useful to their success.

Enhance and diversify your knowledge base

Sure you can surf the internet for information, but unknown reviewers and hidden advertising is not the same as getting information from someone who can help you put it in context: why do they like it? how do they use it? Sharing your valuable experiences with others will encourage them to do the same and it strengthens the give-and-take aspect of any relationship.

You can network with anyone

It’s not always personal. The people you’ll want to network with aren’t always going to be the people you’d like to have a beer with. Sometimes you will need to network with people that are simply looking to network. Most often people looking to network aren’t looking to fill their Filofax but recognize the world is made up of diverse and interesting people, and knowing more may serve useful in the future.

Once you’re open to meeting and networking with anyone, you’ll notice that many people will fall into these four networker categories:

The Trendsetter: is curious and very up-to-date, and spends a great amount of time consuming and filtering information. They will be the first ones to tell you about a new idea or resource or tell you if someone else is already doing it.

The Guru: is an expert in a particular subject or subjects with in-depth knowledge at their fingertips and can serve as a source or give an expert opinion when needed

The Node: is well-connected with other people and groups. Maybe this person doesn’t have any direct answers for you, but they probably know the right person who does, and is willing to pass along your need/request to help you get an answer.

The Giver: is generous with their time, information and opinions and can serve as a person to give you excellent feedback across a variety of subjects. They are interested in helping your cause, teaching you something, or giving feedback on something you’re working on, and they are generous contacts to have. 

If you’re still not sure what networking can do for you, take a few minutes to examine your weak points and where you’d benefit from meeting new people and potential resources. Do you need help with your business acumen, finding potential buyers, inspirational sources, potential mentors or need in-depth feedback and opinions?

You may need to refer back to your strategic business plan to make sure you have all the resources available to reach your goals. And where you identify holes, you can start working on filling them.

Start networking

Networking can happen in really any kind of event with just a few small changes in how you present yourself and open yourself up to opportunities.

Introduce yourself in context

Something as simple as changing the way you introduce yourself may make quite a difference. Maybe your job as an interior designer has nothing to do with your appearance at a food photography course, but you don’t know who will be interested in hearing this. Give others a chance to be interested by telling a little about yourself.

Introduce yourself with information that a) establishes you as a resource and b) positions you to receive information or spark a conversation that topic.

“I’ve been working in interior design (resource) and web development (resource) for years, but I’ve been getting involved in food photography (receive info) and investigating becoming a sommelier (receive info)”

And don’t just do this for yourself – introduce your contacts that don’t know each other the same way. Once you help others make interesting, relevant connections, they will do the same for you.

If you have a connection to that person in some way, state it, even if it is having read something about them or something they’ve written.
“Grace has told me that you’re working on a really interesting restoration project.”
 “I read your article about attending the X event, but you didn’t mention who your favorite speaker was. Who would you go see speak again?”

Be Interested

Since the location or event where you meet someone is not always enough context to tell you about them, ask about someone’s job, hobbies, or education to give you a jumpstart on possible conversation topics. It also gives them a chance to explain future interests or something they’ve got going on right now. Not everyone knows how to explain what they’re looking for or what they do. Give them a chance by asking!

Some of my favorite questions that break the ice and give you something back, too are:

-What’s taking up all your free time lately?

-I’m looking for new sources of inspiration – what’s your favorite site for inspiration / how-to information / latest trends?

-What’s the best book you’ve read recently regarding (subject)?
-What’s the one thing you’ve read this week (online/offline) that has resonated with you and made you think?

Online tip: If you’re contacting a book or blog author, speak about how their blog speaks to you, even cite a favorite post. “Great blog” is a nice compliment but it gives very little information to the author about who you are and why you enjoy what they write. Be sincere – you can spot insincerity from a mile away.

Request Contact Information

Don’t be afraid to ask someone you find interesting for a business card, the spelling of their name, website address or Twitter handle and jot it in a notebook you should always have with you (a Moleskine notebook works great for this).

Make notes on the back of the business card when you meet someone to help you recall important details later – the event you met them at, what you talked about, what they’re interested in and if you promised to send them some information. If you’re not comfortable doing this while you’re still talking (I think it’s perfectly acceptable), make sure you take 10 seconds to jot it down after you’re done talking and before you forget.

With this information, when you get ready for the follow-up, the email will practically write itself.

Always be ready to network

Always have your business cards with you or another form of contact information. If you work full-time and design part-time, rather than writing another address on the back of your day-job business card, create another one entirely for your design networking.

As a designer, you can’t just leave them with a simple business card. It’s a great opportunity to leave them with a reminder that highlights your business as well. I carry my personal networking Moo Business/MiniCards with me at all times, personalized with my photography, and they are always conversation starters. If you haven’t found anything to talk about until then, let your business cards direct the conversation back to your work.


As mentioned in another Design*Sponge BizLadies post, follow-up is crucial. One of the biggest mistakes would-be networkers make is not following up with the contacts they make. Contact the people you meet, and start a dialogue after the event.

An email of “Thank you, nice to meet you” doesn’t prompt the reader to do anything. Pass them some information, ask a question, propose the next time and place for a meetup or a coffee, offer to buy them lunch if they wouldn’t mind chatting with you about X subject. Use this opportunity to offer to introduce this person to some people they don’t know if there’s an event coming up or if they expressed interest in a subject where you have some contacts. Make yourself useful before you “use” – people are more likely to respond to genuine interest. 

Make sure you’re not the one “taking” in the situation, and be sure to follow up each request for help with a sincere and quick thank you, and perhaps even ask the person if they know something you can do to help in return. 

I met someone working on her masters’ thesis in interaction design. A few weeks later, I came across an article about her research topic and I immediately thought of her. I sent her an email with the link and a quick hello. What did that cost me? About 30 seconds of my time, and it was useful and personal to her. But more importantly, it demonstrated that I was interested in her and the things that interest her and willing to give a little of my time to her success.

Go Forth and Network

You have your own role to play, whether you are a trendsetter, guru, node or giver. But the most important thing to remember (because it all comes back to your business) is you need to play on your strengths as much as possible without eroding your potential for new, paying business.

 Don’t give away the farm, but definitely remember that you have information at your fingertips that it may take others a long time to find, filter and disseminate as worthy information. And, most importantly, a list of links or giving feedback on a color choice has an added value as it’s coming from you.


Sara Rosso is an American digital strategist, writer and photographer living in Italy and has made the biggest leaps in her life with the help of networking. She blogs about food and travel at Ms. Adventures in Italy and about getting closer to technology at When I Have Time. She tweets at @rosso.

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  • Great advice — I think those icebreaker questions are perfect, as most people who aren’t born networkers struggle with a starting point!

  • it’s amazing the input and unbiased advice you can gather from like-minded entrepreneurial women! i often am pretty set on what i want to accomplish- but when i seek a sounding board or step out and ‘network’- it often leads to better things. women business owners unite!

  • Networking, can lead to so much. As an artist who works in a variety of media, networking has led to many of my collaborative projects… These have often come from the least likely of contacts, both online and in person. Great advice – especially the ‘ice breakers’ to avoid those awkward moments we have all experienced :)

  • this is really great and comprehensive. i used to feel really gross about networking, but in the last couple of years–especially in the last several months, i feel like i have become a natural networker–without compromising my belief that i don’t want to just use people for their connection–and it’s amazing! things have been falling in my lap lately. a couple of things i have learned are:
    1. i have something to offer, so i’m not just in the position of asking for help (i used to feel this way). i’ve also gotten more brave about sharing what it is i have to offer, and using the connections that are offered to me.
    2. people love to talk about themselves, so asking a few questions about what they do and how they got started is really all i need to do to get them talking.
    3. the internet has helped me follow the people i admire and want to learn from/work with, and so when i do have the opportunity to meet them, it’s so easy to genuinely say, “hi! i’ve admired your work for a long time!” and i’be never had anyone turn up their nose at that!
    that’s a lot of words, but maybe my experience will encourage someone else in the d*s community!

  • Great professional advice from one of *our* top ladies in the field. We have quite a few really great networking experts here in Italy who are always ready to share their expertise, time, knowledge, savvy and also are ready to contribute to great causes. Sara Rosso is one of them. I loved this article because it applies to design, to my field of hospitality, to just about everything. Well done, Sara!!

  • Timely and excellent info, as always d*s! I think Laura put it really well–there’s no shame in speaking up if you know you have something to offer. I am finding myself trying harder to get the word out about my business. If people don’t know what you do, they’re never going to hire you.

  • I love meeting people because I have a wild imagination and wonder what they do that makes them tick! I never realized that I was also networking.

    The networker categories are helping me see what role I play and the powerful introduction is something I need to do.

    Need to start using networking to an advantage. This is so important for women!

  • Thank you, thank you! I can’t wait to give this post a reread at home tonight. Tips for networking are much needed as I’m trying to start up my invite design business.

  • this is really great. as a digital strategist in san francisco, i couldn’t agree with sara more. networking should never be underestimated, and certainly doesn’t need to maintain the old world stigma of stuffy people in business suits handing out boring business cards.

  • ugh…I’ve moved from NY to Sydney, AU this past year and now that I’ve applied for residency I’ll be getting back to designing. Since I’m on the other side of the world I’ll have to start from scratch networking……………….Oh how I dread it.

  • Loved the article! Oh so true on so many points. I think I network the best is by hooking up people when they can fulfill other people’s needs; i.e. a friend of mine is in the printing industry, she literally can get anything printed for you whatever the medium is, and I love being able to use her for various projects. BTW, if you need a printer, contact me! She’ll hook you up whether it’s signage, fabric, custom wallpaper…
    Thanks for the post!

  • What a great, well written article. Networking does not come easy to me so I thought the “break the ice” questions were wonderful. I am going to try them next time I meet new people.

  • Great post! This is good advice. Can’t wait to read it again, and really get into it. Thank you so much for writing it and sharing with the rest of the world.

  • Now I know why I always hated going to networking meetings! I just thought it was me in a room full of blood suckers. Thanks Sara for your great ideas and giving me a new outlook. Now I need to find some meetings in NYC to practice with! Maggie;)

  • I am a huge fan, and user of, networking…but, I do think one has to be careful. There are those out there who use networking to “poach” clients. I’ve had this happen.

    I realize we all learn from each other, but sometimes it is important to limit exactly what and how much information to give out.

    That said, I think social networking is critical to everyone in every industry, especially in the arts. Designers often work alone, in a studio or office, and have a real need to network. It feeds the soul!

  • thanks for this! i feel quite awkward networking, since i am trying to find a job – but maybe this will make the next event a bit less painful.

  • Awesome info! I’d love to see a follow-up post on choosing interesting networking venues and events somewhat strategically and some online networking options.

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