How Suzanne found her networking groove and her tribe

Suzanne Reeves

Attracting the right people, and more of them, was easier than I hoped

My gut told me I should be doing more

I call my business Art+Soul Design, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I value doing work I love, helping companies I care about. When it came time to take my five-year-old design business to the next level, I figured networking would be involved in finding those type of companies. But I didn’t know where to begin, how to get comfortable with reaching out and where exactly to find people I’d truly connect with.

You see, in the first two years of me being out on my own, I mostly relied on business from former contacts who knew me and my work as an in-house designer. I didn’t have to do much to get the work.

It was a nice spot to be in, but my gut told me I’d eventually run out of contacts. I had an ideal client type in mind, so I began researching where to find companies who were both successful in business — and in the world, too, making it better place.

Around the same time, I was fortunate to find Ilise Benun’s Creative Live training. I signed up for a course and began soaking up her advice, including this key tip: “It’s important to go where potential clients are — show up at their conferences and networking groups.” This resonated with me, so I refined my search.

I found my tribe and it was easier than I thought

Thanks to Ilise’s inspiration, it’s much easier for me to find prospective clients — and those with bigger budgets, too!

I focused my research on people in the “doing good” niche, those socially conscious business owners I related to and longed to work with, and the events and organizations they were part of.

Soon, I began to make connections. I joined a member-based group that catered to the social good crowd and, over time, came to really know many of the members. Some became friends and some became clients and, the best of both worlds, some became friends and clients.

These were my people, and I was excited to find them. Plus, I discovered there weren’t many designers or copywriters in this niche. Less competition was a great advantage!

Looking back to when I first found Ilise on Creative Live, I can tie three years of new client work to her words of wisdom. Pretty amazing!

Time went by and I kept in touch with Ilise via her regular Quick Tips emails. I noticed she was offering group coaching for creative professionals. I signed up for a group that met every two weeks and included designers and copywriters.

Initially, I was mostly looking forward to spending more time around Ilise. But I soon realized I could learn as much from the other group members as I would from her. Hearing about their clients, successes and challenges kept me engaged in our series of conversations. And even if I wasn’t grappling with the same issues, I could always find a way to apply Ilise’s advice.

In our biweekly calls, everyone shared marketing updates, what we had worked on or planned to. I found it inspiring and informative to hear how my fellow creative peers were putting into practice the marketing and networking principles Ilise encouraged.

During the six months our group met, I couldn’t always complete my marketing assignments, thanks to an abundance of client work. But I still participated in the calls so I could take in everything we talked about. If I had been on my own during that time without the group — just working away and being “too busy” — I wouldn’t have made time to do that type of invaluable thinking.

Because the group included both designers and copywriters, I also got a better appreciation for the work the copywriters did. Now, I’m more comfortable integrating copywriters into my projects, and this addition makes my service offering richer.

In the last month of our group calls, I ended strong and implemented everything I’d hoped to do, including a revamp of my brand and website. That felt good!

I left the group with a healthier network, as those members are now part of my larger professional circle. Ilise introduced me to a couple contacts in Toronto, where I live, which helped grow my circle even more. Connecting with like-minded business owners and being in small affinity groups is second nature now. It’s changed the way I work and how I look at my business, too.

Three years of client work as a direct result of coaching

I can tie three years of new client work to Ilise’s words of wisdom. Pretty amazing! I’ve been at this networking thing for a while now, and here’s what I learned:

  • If you hate to sell, networking and small groups are great options. Be sure to think about the impression you’re making. Are you just showing up, or are you getting involved? Do you offer to help others, expecting nothing in return? Your commitment to the group and the insights you share will inspire people to want to work with you.
  • Find a group where you have a connection with its mission or members. I found this in both Ilise’s small coaching group and in the social-good organizations. Shared interests jumpstart relationships!
  • Show up even if you think you know everything. Even if you’re experienced, you can still learn from peers. And don’t forget to share your veteran’s perspectives to inspire the newbies.
  • People often become friends before they become clients. Networking is a long game, an investment. If you expect to get business from the first or second meeting you attend, you’ll be disappointed.
  • With networking, you benefit from a wider circle of connections. You don’t have to get business directly from group members to find the networking time worthwhile. I often get business from my contacts’ connections.
  • Don’t pressure yourself to always be an active contributor. On some of the calls in Ilise’s group, I found I didn’t have as much to say. But I realized I could get value just by listening. 

Today, thanks to Ilise’s inspiration, it’s much easier for me to find prospective clients (and those with bigger budgets, too!) and business owners who share the same passions as I do.

It’s part strategy and part luck — and just like finding new friends, the “work” never really stops. You explore, stretch yourself and keep looking until you make a connection … and then you repeat the process.

Suzanne Reeves is the principal and creative director at Art+Soul Design Studio in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a professional brand strategy and design studio specializing in values-based, authentic brands.