Networking is arguably one of the most important things you can do for your business, especially when you are just starting out.  But many new photographers find it intimidating and all-together impossible to get their foot in the door when it comes to networking with established pet businesses + other photographers.  I get it, because I went through the same thing when I was starting out.  I found that my best networking efforts came from reaching out to others who were relatively new in the pet industry – photographers who were in the same stages of their business as I was, young managers of pet service businesses like vets, groomers, doggy daycares, etc.  And the most important part of my networking efforts was my sincere desire to help THEM.

I am aware that I have a gift.  I can take a pretty darn cute photo of just about any dog.  So my focus has been (and will continue to be) on how can I help others with what I have to offer – my photography.  When I reach out to others, it’s not about me.  It’s about building a relationship – a REAL relationship – and finding ways to help them.  I don’t go into it expecting anything in return, but of course, I’m hoping to build a relationship that will eventually be beneficial to both of us.  So here are a few tips for networking…

1.  Do your research.  Usually when I reach out to others, it’s because I’ve already done my research and know that they are someone who is worth investing my time in.  I know their name, what they do, and I have probably been interacting with them via social media for a while.  I choose who I reach out to carefully because I want to be connected to like-minded people who are interested in building a relationship with me as well.

2.  Reach out in a humble, but authentic way.  I never make it about me.  It’s always about them.  However, I don’t slather on the compliments because that comes across as phony.  I am honest about what drew me to them and I make it personal.  “I’d love to grab coffee with you sometime because I know you’re a huge pit bull advocate, just like me!  It’s always so great to meet people who are as passionate about this breed as I am” – or something similar.  The important thing is that it’s all authentic and genuine – so don’t skip #1 because that’s where you lay the foundation for networking with the right people.

3.  Make getting together easy.  If you are the one who initiated contact, you need to make things as easy as possible on the other person to meet.  Give them flexible options for dates + times, offer to meet them at their office or place of business instead of taking the time before or after work to meet with you, offer to meet them at their favorite coffee shop or somewhere close to their home.  Put in that extra effort to show you care and that you are really invested in this relationship.

4.  Don’t be afraid to follow up.  There have been times when I’ve reached out initially and I was unsuccessful in connecting with them.  Don’t let that discourage you.  The old adage rings true… if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.  That’s not to say you should pepper them with emails every other day, but try different methods.  If they don’t respond via email at first, try stopping in to visit in person.  If you stop by and they are unavailable to chat, send them a nice email later in the week.  Be creative and persistent.  Granted, this doesn’t always work but most of the time, people admire your persistence and take it as a sign that this really is important to you – that you’re not just an opportunist trying to waste their time.

5.  Ask questions and get them talking about themselves.  In case you didn’t know, people LOVE talking about themselves… so give them that opportunity.  Don’t jump into a long speech about you + your business… start things off by learning even more about them and look for commonalities and ways you could each benefit from each other.  Maybe the groomer’s dog is getting old and she’s never had good photos taken of him before.  Offer to do them for free.  No strings attached.  Always keep in mind that sometimes you have to give a little in order to nurture new relationships and that’s okay because this is a long-term investment!

6.  Which brings me to my next point.  Don’t offer something you can’t deliver on and if you do offer something, be very clear about what is and isn’t included.  So many times, networking can go wrong because of a failure to communicate effectively.  If you offer to photograph someone’s pet for free, but don’t intend on giving away the files or any prints for free, tell them that upfront.  I’ve heard of this back-firing several times, so make sure you set expectations from the beginning.  This is so important because you don’t want your new relationship with this person to be bruised from the get-go.

7.  Once you have that first meeting or contact, be sure to follow up!  Send them a nice hand-written note or simply an email expressing your gratitude for them taking the time to meet with you.  Stop by their business every once in a while to chat or call them up if you can’t stop by in person.  Stay in touch via social media and schedule follow-up meetings.  Networking isn’t a one time thing.  It’s something you have to continuously work at to build + maintain these key relationships in your life.

For pet photographers, the people you may want to consider networking with are endless.  Groomers, vets, doggy daycares, pet stores, trainers, rescues, shelters, dog-friendly businesses that attract “your” clients, dog parks, dog clubs, other pet photographers, other photographers of any genre… but don’t just limit it to photographers and the obvious pet businesses.  Everyone you meet is a potential client or someone that can help you spread the word about your business, so don’t be shy.  Talk about what you do, always have business cards on hand, and always be friendly.  You never know who you’ll end up meeting!

And because I can’t blog without a photo…