Ten Rules of Proper Networking and Business Etiquette

Ten Rules of Proper Networking and Business Etiquette

Photography is a business largely built on referrals, word of mouth and reputation. How you present yourself to others and take advantage of chance opportunities can make or break your career. Are you presenting the best possible version of yourself to clients and fellow photographers?

1. Focus Your Attention Externally

When meeting a potential client or another photographer, we often feel an automatic need to impress, to demonstrate our aptitudes, our portfolios, our creative abilities. This leads to an internal focus that is actually detrimental. When you are more concerned with demonstrating your own attributes than with understanding the person in front of you, you are not present in the moment. This is something people will unconsciously pick up on and it will leave them feeling unfulfilled by their interaction with you. Instead, focus on understanding the person in front of you. Curiosity is reciprocated; when you show interest in them as a person, they will respond with similar interest.

2. Remember Conversational Manners

Pay careful attention to how you conduct yourself in dialogue with someone. Do you cut people off, even inadvertently or out of excitement? Are you making appropriate eye contact?  Are you following their arc of the conversation, or just waiting to inject your own topical material? All these things matter. The best networkers and salespeople are those who are brilliant conversationalists; they know how to make someone feel heard and understood.

3. Remember All Your Manners

Do you stand when being introduced? Do you chew with your mouth closed? Are you dressed appropriately for the occasion? Manners are the means by which we show others an awareness and appreciation of their presence and a sensitivity to their personal being. When in doubt, err on the side of the conservative. Defer to the behaviors of those around you if you’re unsure.

4. Body Language and Physical Presence

Be aware of how you are physically presenting yourself. You’ve probably heard that “93% of communication is nonverbal” and while the exact quantity is debatable, there’s no arguing that a large portion of communication is indeed between the words. Do you slouch? Do you shake hands or high five? Don’t point. In particular, we live in a society that is increasingly gesticulative. Be careful if you tend to speak with your hands; you can quickly (even if inadvertently) impinge on someone’s personal space with your gestures. Always be aware of your physical vicinity to others and err on the side of caution when closing that distance.

5. Watch Your Language

You should always be friendly when networking or meeting a potential client, but that doesn’t mean you should speak to them like a friend. Remember that the beliefs, hot button topics, topics that offend and thresholds of offense are incredibly varied. We all occasionally inadvertently offend even our friends; so, remember how easily you can offend someone if you don’t know what they’re sensitive to. Keep your language, your jokes and your stories clean until you’ve been given requisite social cues that you can begin to slowly increase the depth of your personality. This doesn’t mean you need to be boring. It just means that you should be aware of your own preferences for humor and your own thresholds of offense so you can empathize and understand how those might vary in others. Don’t take anything for granted.

Don't be that person.

6. Don't Be Afraid to Ask

Sometimes, we forget a piece of relevant information, or even a person’s name in the course of a conversation. No one is perfect. People will have so much more respect for you if you show humility and get over your embarrassment. Simply make a light joke of it, apologize and move on. A show of humility illuminates mutual humanity. It's much better to endure mild embarrassment now than a loss of respect down the road.

7. Don’t Step on Others to Get a Leg Up

There are few things more ubiquitously offputting than using unsolicited putdowns to increase one’s reception, particularly in the absence of the person who is the object of said putdowns. Few things set off people’s “b.s. radar” more quickly. I’ve even seen photographers’ websites that blatantly dismiss and ridicule the work of other local photographers. Let your work speak for itself. Don’t give people a reason to (rightfully) question your motives and don't make the decision for them. It's offputting and offensive. 

8. Don’t Just Focus on the Sale

When we focus merely on the end goal of networking or a sales call, the conversation often becomes overly mechanized, stilted and transactional. This in turn feels artificial and undermines the desire of the other person to commit. After all, that’s what we’re asking people to do: to commit to hiring us, to trusting us with important moments, to investing often large amounts of money in our expertise. Commitment is bred by familiarity and security. Conversations that focus merely on the end objective beget neither of these. There is, of course, a balance, however. Don’t pry. Do, however, show a natural curiosity about the human experience. That curiosity is what builds the trust and familiarity so vital to a business so heavily dependent on personal relations.

9. Follow Up

Be ruthlessly disciplined in having a strong, engaged and timely routine of following up with people. Don’t spam them and don’t just pitch yourself again, but rather, show them your thoughtfulness and awareness of their needs and your remembrance of your previous interaction by rehashing and expanding upon your previous conversation in a thoughtful and productive manner. Be relevant, concise and considerate. It keeps you on their mind and furthers the dialogue and development of the relationship. 

10. For the Love of Ansel Adams, Put Away Your Phone

No matter who you’re talking to and in what capacity, a conversation is about devoting your attention to the other person and being present in the moment with that person. When you’re on your phone, you’re doing neither. It shows in both your verbal and physical behavior. It seems to have become a behavior that we’ve grown to accept if nothing more than out of a learned helplessness of its inevitability, but when you break that habit and stay fully engaged with a person, you will notice a drastically positive difference in the way they reciprocate your engagement.   

In a field where your career very often depends on your ability to relate to others, you should never stop honing your interpersonal skills. A good impression is often the difference between a lucrative gig and no work at all.

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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It's spelled "dialogue" not "dialouge". You guys should really hire a proofreader. It's the second time this has happened this week.

We're human... we all make mistakes and with over 30 writers, mistakes will be made.

Proofread each other's articles. And by the way There are like 30 instances of some writers repeatedly writing Elinchrom "Elinchrome" instead in your past articles. I've also seen Vouge instead of Vogue and a couple of others. In the past you guys did not make so many mistakes.

well said, rebecca.

They do not need to pay anyone - looks like you'll do for free. Keep up the good work. Let's see how many you can catch next week.

Who said they had to pay anyone in fact I think they could proofread each other's articles. Or assign a proofreader for the week. I am not a native English speaker so it certainly isn't my job but when even I am shocked then there is definitely something wrong

Wow, Alice, you were "shocked" by the spelling mistakes, huh? I understand the stresses that seeing the word "dialogue" misspelled must have caused you. Or, perhaps you're just a tad melodramatic...?

The native english speaking thing cracks me up. The vast majority of non-english speakers who are well educated tend to both write and speak english with so much more skill than most native english speakers I've met. Probably because they learn the rules of the language after already learning their languages rules, so they tend to pay attention to them more so.

Basically the worst speakers and writers of english I've ever met are arrogant mono-lingual americans who insist that everyone else learn english so they don't have to think.

Haha... Yeah, that sounds about right. Except for Alice... she's infallible.

It was a typo, I am not a native speaker.

You're original post said you're a native speaker, but I see that you edited it to state you are not a native english speaker. So I'm sorry for the insult. Truthfully, non-native speakers do tend to speak the language better and more correctly than natives. Unfortunately they also tend to miss the colloquialisms that are used by natives that really make no sense unless you grew up with the language.

Have a great evening.





AH SHIT. We fucked up. Here, we'll refund your money. Oh wait...

Tam, why do you comment on every youtube video that I watch? It's starting to weird me out.

Careful, I've been informed that we're being overly critical. These are the same people that spend hours on a single image, but can't spare a few minutes proofreading.

I think we've committed a thought crime. Big brother is coming.

A strong list and a useful reminder for anyone looking to push their business to the next level. There are no shortcuts

Thank you, Ian! I totally appreciate that.

Alex, thank you for another informative article. These tips apply more to just photographers though. When interviewing applicants for the software company I work for, I am shocked by the lack of social skills of some of the people that show up. If I treated a photography client like that, work would dry up.

Thank you! I really appreciate the kind words. I completely agree; social skills are absolutely critical to the success of anyone involved in business.

Great article. Having recently attended a workshop of photogs (sp), I observed all of this type of mannerism in a very condensed setting. Listening, and then following up afterwards is so much more effective IMHO.

I completely agree, Lor!

I'd add that its not just been Alice pointing out the spelling issues. I've been seeing this complaint in the comments fairly often lately too. I could care less about the spelling though.

Regarding #5 "Watch Your Language", this point appears to be related to off-color, racist, or sexist mannerisms or jokes.

I would also offer to add "English" and grammar. My mom was an English teacher and she instilled in me a sense of proper grammar. When I spot a grammatical error or misspelling, it is almost jolting like a train wreck. I'm sure this is read internationally, so I recognize the differences between the US and the British spelling.