“It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know.” I used to say that with a twinge of bitterness in my mouth. Now, a decade or so later, I realize that isn’t a snide statement. The best thing you can do in business is expand your network.
If so much of our success sits on the shoulders of whom we know, then it’s our job to get out there and expand our reach. Here’s how you do that.
This year I spoke at a convention for equine photographers. Pretty obscure. But those people need social media advice too, and that’s what I was there to teach.
I knew absolutely no one, not even the person who invited me there to speak.
There I was at the opening-night mixer. I dressed confident but not intimidating and walked into the ballroom. My heart was ready to burst out of my chest as I surveyed the room. I had no idea what on earth I was going to say to anyone. I held my breath, walked to the nearest circle of people talking among themselves and said, “Hi, my name is David.”
I didn’t stay long talking to anyone, so it didn’t get that awkward. When the conversation died, I simply excused myself and found another group and did the same thing. By the end of the night, I had met at least half the people there. No, I didn’t remember their names (I should work on that), but the next day when I had to teach them, I knew a lot of smiling faces. By the time the next night’s party came around, I felt like I was out with friends.
Shy? Me too. If that story made you sweat, you are not alone. The success with new relationships doesn’t come from how comfortable you are meeting new people. It comes from you simply doing it regardless of how you feel.
Shut Up and Listen
The next step to building relationships is to simply stop talking. I don’t care if you’re meeting someone on Instagram or in person. If you want to start the relationship right, at least act like you give a damn about the other person.
It’s not brain surgery. People like to talk about themselves. They like to brag and have people gush over them. So, give them the opportunity for both. Ask questions about what they do, how they started, what motivates them, what they’re most proud of in their life right now. Anything works. (Well, maybe not politics, especially these days.)
When you do talk, replace the number of times you typically use the word “I” in your dialogue with their name. According to Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, the sweetest sound to anyone’s ear is their own name. Just don’t overdo it like this girl I went out with once, who said: “David, why don’t you, David, tell me what David likes to do on the weekend, David.” We didn’t go out again.
Be the Cool Kids Table
One of the first times I went to a big photography convention, I remember feeling like I was back in senior school. I was never at the cool kid’s table then, and I certainly wasn’t at the photo convention either.
In fact, I remember once sitting in a room with a couple of speakers from the show just watching how they interacted with one another like old friends having the time of their lives. I wondered how I could get in with that group. Then it dawned on me: I couldn’t, at least not to the extent that they already were. I didn’t have the history they had together.
Instead, I realized that it was never about getting into the cool kids club. It was about making your own club. I don’t look up; I look across to find colleagues with whom I can form friendships that’ll last a lifetime. I make my own circle, and you can too. You can do the same thing with vendors in your area, with families, with any kind of business relationship you can imagine. Be your own cool kid’s club and develop relationships over time that will help your business grow as you help theirs.
Being in the photo industry is an amazing privilege. Being a part of the Guild of Professional Photographers family has been incredible. There are no others like us. We are the cool kid’s table.