For as long as there has been business, there has been networking. If you read any book on business or entrepreneurship it's immediately apparent that people and relationships are the cornerstone of success. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that the merit of social media is huge; this is well-trodden ground and tiresome. However, I feel compelled to promote one aspect of online networking that has separated itself from the pack for me.
Jim Richardson said "If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff." I couldn't agree more, but with portraiture it's often easier said than done. The dilemma starts with too few portraits to attract models for TFP work, but too few pennies in your pocket to pay them. This problem is overcome in part by photographing friends and acquaintances but re-emerges when you want to push your photography to the next level; this is where meeting new people really shines.
There is no doubt in my mind that networking through events, meetings, and the contacts of other people is invaluable to a business. That said it doesn’t contain even one percent of the reach that its online counterpart does and what it loses in a more memorable rapport, it makes up for in diversity. As has been discussed at length in a number of different ways here at Fstoppers, being a full-time photographer is running a business and ought to be treated as such. There are a number of methods of networking online and I have had mixed success with them. That said, there has been one stand-out method though and it's worth highlighting: Facebook groups.
Facebook is integral to me both personally and professionally, but in terms of connecting with new people in the industry I do so invariably through Facebook groups. I started composing a list of benefits gained from joining these groups but it seemed to grow exponentially. The three key factors from which most others derive are these: contact with relevant other industry professionals, education, and inspiration. The latter two are fairly self explanatory. I have learnt untold amounts from retouching groups and the feedback that is given in them as well techniques shared. With regards to inspiration, so many groups allow for the sharing of new work and that's usually a good thing. It is the networking, however, that has the most value.
There are myriad thriving and active groups for almost everything you can imagine, but there’s a strong crossover with the local networking events that really demonstrates its worth. Almost every city (and I suspect state) has multiple groups looking to unify creatives. For example, I live just outside of London and I am in a multitude of groups for London creatives, London models, London makeup artists, London photographers and so on. I will give you an example of a recent success I had from Facebook groups.
I had a few days in the next week with no urgent work or shoots filling them. In these gaps I like to try and add to a series of headshots I’ve been creating for nearly a year now. I navigated to a group called "London Models" and I put up a post asking for models interested in collaborating on this project. As this isn’t a project I’m doing for any commercial purpose I wasn’t looking to pay, and the type of shot the models would be receiving is quite specific. Nevertheless I was receiving up to five messages every hour for three days from models in and around my area whom were interested in working with me. I’ve chatted with a large number of them, shot with a few of them, and I am now collaborating on a few projects with some. This has led to paid work and opportunities that would have never found their way in to my path had I not been a part of the groups and this is just one minor story.
In addition to personal gain, I've helped others out too which not only is a great thing to do in and of itself, but further builds relationships. I have connected fashion brands with tech companies, helped charities find photographers on late notice, and that's without discussing the feedback element. Through retouching groups I have got to know industry professionals top of their field and chatted with them and received sage wisdom and advice. This is less an advice article and more a public service announcement: Facebook groups are incredibly useful and no matter what sort of creative you are, you ought to give them a try.
To get you started, here are some suggestions for groups that are less area specific:
The Rising Tide Society - a group that is primarily pertaining to wedding and engagement photography on first glance but its reach is much deeper than that. There are myriad discussion on business, pricing, and law, as well as inspirational and motivational videos and posts. I am reticent to put this as I worry it attracts the wrong members, but there is also regularly jobs offered out to the community after the original photographer can no longer make it.
Retouching Academy - a group that is about exactly what is sounds like it is about, but its incredibly useful on both the educational and inspirational fronts I mentioned earlier in this article. It is run by some great admins, one of which is our very own Julia Kuzmenko McKim who is an utter guru on retouching and she churns out high quality education like some sort of Photoshop Aristotle.
Fstoppers - a group you need to be in for obvious reasons.
The Law Tog - a group that in spite of its name is more than just law and is actually very useful for running a photography businesses in general, with a particular focus on marketing as well as the obvious.
Inside the Box - a group I'm actually rather new to, but it's a bit more of exclusive than the groups above and contains some staggeringly impressive photography. It is a community of mostly full-time professional photographers from what I can tell and it provides an almost unhealthy dose of inspiration.
(Front Image '3D Social Networking' courtesy of www.ccpixs.com used under Creative Commons)