14 October 2017 | Compass of Design
8 min read
Networking as a designer
Stop trying to shake trees.
Let’s talk about your heroes
Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to be noticed by big name people every once in a while?
You follow them and see their name all over on the internet getting interviews and sharing awesome design work.
It’s like there’s some type of inner circle where every big name person on the internet knows each other.
Today, we see these people like heroes. People who do amazing things, who might not be super famous yet, but they’re getting there.
What level have you been trying to reach?
I get that there are a lot of design legends out there.
Everyone of them is like a tree that was planted a long time ago. They’ve got strong roots in everything you’re trying to do as a designer.
There are plenty of people who have been doing things for a long time and scoring amazing design jobs.
These people have years of practice behind them and are classically trained, capable of doing everything we are doing now with less time and more finesse.
But these people are so famous that they are really out of reach. You can imagine all of the messages, emails, calls, things that they have going on, any attempts at contact will be another drop in a roaring river of communication.
There are two other levels of popular people out there with the legends…
Voyagers and Influencers
Voyagers are the ones who made it there first.
They had the unique advantage of utilizing a new platform (think of anyone popular on Dribbble), technique, or content style before anyone else had gotten there.
They had built their audience because they had been at the scene doing what they do since it started. They are the Casey Neistadts, Gary Vaynerchucks, Aaron Draplins, etc.
Influencers are the people we want to get to know.
Voyagers can still be an influencer. They are people who are still building their audiences.
They are most actively commenting and replying to people on social media, email, and connecting at events. These are the people like Chris Do, Sean McCabe, Rogie King, Justin Jackson…
An influencer is close enough to you that you have a chance of connecting with them and getting to know more about them.
They might even recognize you from being in their audience or community.
These people are where you could be in a few steps, people within arms reach. Even if they seem too far ahead of you, remember both you and them are human. There’s not a thing different between you besides time and effort.
You are a designer.
You take in client’s requests, projects from your company, applications and websites, logos… your design work is meant to serve the people who are going to use them.
Think of it like it is your civil duty to keep the end user in mind.
When we lose focus on why we are designing, we can find ourselves eeking approval from your heroes. This can be a defeating and self deprecating act.
You just aren’t big enough yet to get those people to notice your work from the countless others around them. Putting your emotions and self-worth in the hands of other people gives them free reign to cut you down.
You are in charge of your worth. You have to grow your skills enough that you have a good sense of who you are. Once you do, you’ll find that you’re actually worth something. You can get there, you just have to build up to it.
In order to start getting the strength to rattle a few trees you have to do a few things:
- Remember that these people are human beings like you
- Use caution, because not everyone at the top is a good person
- They probably have less time than you do because they’re growing too
- Be present where they are currently building their audience.
I have had the opportunity a handful of times to be recognized publicly by a few influencers.
I am not sure if you all follow the same people I do, but there’s a handful of big names sharing my articles, buying my products, and following my work/writing. Even some of my design work has been featured or reviewed by other influencers.
I don’t intend to use this as a bragging chip, only to show that it’s possible to start gaining traction. It only took **being present consistently **in the areas where they are currently growing their audience.
Some of these people I’ve become internet friends with, and even real-life friends with after spending much time being present around what things they have going on.
So if they are sharing things that they are doing, (newsletters, design case studies, new work, funny comment threads) be there and respond to what they are working on.
It doesn’t take much for someone to start recognizing that you’re there around all the things they’re doing. They do what they do for people like you and me.
Just remember not to be too pushy.
If you are constantly trying to get the attention of people who are influencers in the space that you want to get into, being very pushy about it can have the opposite effect.
If you have ever had friends who were sounding desperate for you to try their business or new thing, you’d be experiencing exactly what these influencers do.
As much as you want them to check out what you made, they just don’t have a relationship established in order to be able to give time to what you have going on. And the more that you push it, the more that connection is going to get you blocked, banned, or vilified.
To avoid being pushy, you need to have patience and you need to be giving value in the things you do to connect. Even then, the best way of connecting with someone is building up the relationships before asking anything of them.
Have you done something nice for someone before without them asking for it? Have you ever helped your neighbor out? Done something for your spouse or parents out lately? How has that helped your relationship with that person?
Building relationships starts with someone giving value to another person. That value is defined and accepted only by the person receiving it.
You can’t force someone to value something.
These influencers give a lot of value already to the people around them. They are sharing what they create, they are sharing their knowledge and advice, maybe even giving shout outs to other people. A lot of times too, they are doing all of this for free.
Even though they might not publicly ask for much, they have more time and willingness to help people who are willing to give back the value to them.
That value could be buying their course or book, supporting them on Patreon, subscribing to their newsletter or group, buying a product.
On top of all of those items, even giving them time by giving them some tips or fixing something for them with your skills for free is value to them.
You keep giving value until you are capable of establishing a relationship with the person. And really, until that relationship is started, you don’t really have the right to ask them for much at all.
People have a need to reciprocate. So when you are able to give to them, hopefully it’s enough that they are willing to reciprocate and give something back.
Just remember, these people are just that. People.
They are at a level where you can be if you are willing to put forth the time and effort. From there the circle closes and you’re able to spend more time around the people who were previously out of reach from you.
You’ll be shaking trees on your own soon enough
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