One of the most difficult parts of starting my graphic design business is that I have to network and get my name out there (others may not find it hard but it definitely isn’t comfortable for me). As a result, I have joined various professional groups and have signed up to attend industry events whenever possible. An amazing organization for freelance professionals is the Kansas City Freelance Exchange. They are a group of freelancers that refer work to each other when possible, discuss issues that freelancers face, host happy hours, and put on professional events for members (and local businesses) to attend. They also have an amazing directory on their website where you can look up freelance professionals. You can view their site at http://kcfreelanceexchange.com/.
I dread going to networking events and often worry about going to these events and not having anyone to talk to. I have even been known to sign up for stuff and then not go, which is terrible, I know. I recently received an invitation from the Freelance Exchange for an event called Gigville and I knew I needed to go. It was an opportunity to meet other freelancers, and the local business community was also invited.
When the day arrived, I tried to convince John that I wasn’t going to be able to go. I honestly can’t remember what my excuse was. Probably something like “scaredy cat-itis” or something equally as debilitating. John lived up to his role as my life partner that day by not falling for my attempts to convince him that I should stay home. He was nice and encouraging, but very adamant that I should go, “it would be good for you,” and blah-blah-blah. After realizing that I wasn’t going to get out of it, I resigned myself to my fate and got ready to embark.
I got in the car and made the trip over to the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center for the event. On the way, I listened to podcasts about how to gain connections and network (i.e., I tried to hedge my bets by gathering all the tips and recommendations I could).
I walked in and went to the check-in area for the event. I got my nametag and took a seat. There were tables set up throughout the event for freelance designers, photographers, printers, copywriters, web developers, etc. Freelancers could pay to have a table to display their work. Since I am just starting my business, I didn’t opt for a table because I don’t have enough samples to spread out across a table like that. I do have a nice portfolio of projects that I’ve done, but once I saw what everyone had brought I was really glad I opted to just walk around and see the displays this year. They were AMAZING! Tons of really high-quality print samples of projects they’d done, photos they had taken, even pop-up books that had been designed. My laptop and small portfolio probably would have gotten lost among all that.
I’m getting off track though. Anyway, I took a seat when I arrived. There were two rows of seats for the people who hadn’t rented a table to display their work. The intent was that this would be filled with local businesses that might be interested in hiring a freelancer, and freelancers like myself who weren’t showing work samples. After a great panel discussion about why freelancing is becoming more and more mainstream, it was time to walk around. Interestingly, they stated that 30% of professionals are freelancers and that by 2020 that number is predicted to be 43%.
As I began to walk around, I started to gain confidence. A huge thank you to Tasha Vockradt—she was the first table I walked up to and she is an amazingly talented graphic designer. Tasha was really welcoming and put me at ease right away. We actually had a mutual friend in common, which we discovered through our conversation. She has an established freelance graphic design business and has done some really neat things. Check out her work at http://www.tashvock.com/.
After that I went to Lisa Woodruff’s table. She is a web developer and owns Four Lights Web Development. Lisa also has done some amazing work. Check her out at https://fourlightsweb.com/. She was easy to talk to and we found that we both have an Iowa State connection. She had lived in Ames, Iowa (home of Iowa State) for years and I explained that I go to Ames almost a dozen times a year because that is where my boyfriend John is from and where his family still lives.
“This is going really well,” I started thinking. It’s always when you think something like that that the bottom falls out. And, boy, did it.
As I am continuing to walk around meeting people, asking questions about their businesses, etc., I get to Eliza Bullock, owner of Eliza Bullock Art + Design. She was so nice and we were talking about her work and where she lives, etc., (she is based out of in Lawrence, KS). I looked at an impressive cookbook design that she did and some other really great work samples. As we are talking and I am looking through her portfolio, the gum that I have been chewing falls out of my mouth and onto her beautiful portfolio. It was like something out of a movie and it was SO embarrassing!
Immediately, the saying about being able to “…walk and chew gum at the same time” popped into my head. I had always fancied myself as being fairly skilled at this. I had never had a gum debacle before (at least that I can remember). I honestly don’t really even know how I did that. I mean, who can’t keep their gum in their mouth…? Apparently, me.
So, what did I do? I picked the gum up off of her portfolio and tried to wipe away any germs (as if that was going to work). I politely thanked her for her time and complimented her again on her work and then got the hell out of there! On the way out, I tossed my gum in the trash and decided that I did really good at surviving the whole thing, but thanked God that it was over as I made my escape.
So, that is my mortifying experience trying to network. Eliza Bullock does do great work by the way, so as soon as she disinfects her portfolio you should check her out! Tell her that the “gum dropper” sent you her way. Ha! Here is her website of her work: https://www.elizabullock.com/. Sorry, Eliza, lesson learned—I am actually not someone who can walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time. Yikes!
P.S. and by the way—the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center is really great! It has old relics from Johnson County’s past. Remember the “White Haven Motel” and that awesome sign they had that would light up everything around it for a block? It was the epitomy of midcentury modern cool. It now has a permanent home at the Center! I love history and I’m so glad that there is a place for this kind of stuff. It is also a really modern and contemporary event space. You should check it out (https://www.jocoahc.com/)!