Let's face it! Being a successful creative is down to two essential ingredients – doing great work and having a great reputation.
But reputation doesn't just boil down to the quality of your work; it's also about you and your personality, how you're known locally amongst influential circles and even how you come across on Twitter.
With this in mind, it's crucial to build a local network so that your business is not only recommended to others; it's the first thing people think of when they need your services. How do you do that? Here are some top tips to get you started.
Get out there
I've just moved to Manchester, and it's the best thing I've ever done in terms of opening up my network to relevant people. Yes, being in the countryside was nice, but nothing beats being in 'the thick of' city life and everything that's going on.
No matter where you're based, try and make a big effort to get out there and attend as many events, networking nights, conferences and exhibitions as possible. You don't know who you're going to meet and what opportunities could present themselves.
Be sincerely nice
Nice people are great to be around. And if you're nice, people will like you and want to work with you, recommend you – even be friends with you. It's a win-win situation. After all, business is really about people. And people like to enjoy being around positive characters. Smile, be friendly and enjoy yourself.
I'm a firm believer in the old saying 'You're only as good as your last piece of work'. Which is why I don't like arrogance or self-importance. The belief that you're better than everyone else is not only foolish; it makes you lose sight of what should be your ultimate goal – to always improve, to never stop learning and to be humble no matter what.
Being humble allows you to understand your limitations, recognise your faults, count your blessings, appreciate the talents and qualities of others, learn from your mistakes and ditch the pride. And if you're humble, you'll build a fantastic network of contacts because people will like you and you'll also get the most out of them.
Be happy regarding other people's success
People who tend to be negative or critical about other people's work are probably insecure about their skills. Talented people don't tend to focus on the negatives – they instead appreciate they're not perfect and endlessly strive to make themselves as good as possible. Others do not threaten them. They admire great people and are open to learning things from them.
In which case, be happy and positive about other people's success. Seek out people you admire and be inspired by them. Don't waste precious time and energy on negativity when you could instead be focusing on boosting your skills.
Do some Twitter following
Search for your town or city on Twitter and find relevant local networks, businesses and people to follow. Start conversations with them, share interesting content. Do anything to get noticed and become a friendly online presence. Make sure you include your geographical location, so people can easily find you. And don't forget to include relevant hashtags within tweets, so you're putting yourself on the local map.
Tweet the right things
Once people start to discover you on Twitter, consider what you're tweeting. It might sound a little daft, but whenever I think about connecting with someone new, I always check out their recent tweets. By doing this, I get a good flavour of the person's character. That might not always be the case, as I'm not one to judge until I've met someone in person.
But I'm certainly put off if I see a wealth of negative rants on someone's Twitter profile. In which case, have a look at your tweets! Do you come across as someone positive, smart and interesting? If not, edit your history and start to 'think before you tweet'. Your reputation depends on it.
Correct your telephone and email manners
Whenever someone gets in touch, assume they're important and treat them with respect. Even if it's just a local business trying to sell their services to you and you're on deadline. Be polite, friendly and welcoming. People will remember if you're rude – but they'll remember you more if you're nice.
Get involved in the local community
Showing that you care and can dedicate some of your spare time to helping others will only elevate your profile locally. Volunteer to help out at a relevant creative event. Become a mentor at a local college. Offer a helping hand to a popular networking event. Do anything to open doors and create opportunities to meet people and become a regular fixture in your local community.
Start your own event
Want to become known locally? Start an event to build your reputation. Whether it's networking, regular talks or even exhibitions – make it friendly and welcoming, and be open-minded to suggestions for improvement. Whatever you do, don't make it elitist or seemingly 'closed off'. Keep it laid-back, fun and – more importantly – interesting, and you'll help build your local network.
Doing the odd favour here and there to help others will get you great results. Are you a graphic designer who can offer printing discounts? Email people you've met to show you care! Do you work in PR and have spotted a relevant article that someone you know will appreciate? Share it with them on Twitter.
In my case, I love helping people through Creative Boom and giving others extra exposure. By sacrificing a little of your time to help others (without expecting anything in return), you'll soon discover that what goes around really does come around.
When out and about chatting to others, don't forget your network! Recommend people if the opportunity arises. Or bring up people's names in conversation. For example, someone might ask if you know of a decent local printer – say that you don't, but you know a fantastic graphic designer who does. Your contact will love you for it and more than likely return the favour.
Join a co-working space
The rise of co-working has meant that freelancers and small businesses can ditch the whole 'working from home' thing and share great office space with like-minded people.
It has also meant that freelancers can build their networks and become a well-known face on their doorsteps. Consider joining something similar and paying for some desk-space. You never know, it could lead to more work, more contacts and more opportunities to grow and develop your network.