business development, fundraising industry

0 Jobs – and 3 Networking Lessons from the DMFA Awards

Am I that naive?

How can networking result in 0 jobs and still be a success?

A little bit of background: Last year (2018), I visited the DMFA Awards meeting. I had some, I thought, relevant insights. I also attended the Bridge Conference, the Chicago Nonprofit Conference, the AFP St. Louis Gateway Conference, and the AWAI Bootcamp. And this year I attended the DC Nonprofit Conference and the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference.

In 12 months I’ve done a lot of travel, to meet specific industry members who do the work I do, who hire people like me.

I networked my ass off.

I met a lot of people. I handed out a lot of business cards. I collected a lot of swag.

I got a book (Unconscious Branding) in one of the bags. I read it. I reviewed it. I’m going to post a review of that soon. When I do, I’ll come back to this post and link it.

I missed my kids. And I missed baseball games, orchestra concerts, and volleyball practices. They missed me.

I collected my fair share of airline miles.

And so, one might ask, how successful was all of that “networking”? Was it worth it?

A year later, I look at the 7 conferences I’ve attended, the hundreds of business cards in my Rolodex, and the thousands of e-mails I’ve sent. What happened after all that activity?

I got 0 jobs.

Zero.

None.

No assignments. No opportunities. No paychecks.

Oh, I’ve been paid. I’ve had checks from local clients, and those in other states. I’m not starving. But out of those in-person industry meetings where I pay hundreds of dollars to sit in a room an listen to everyone else tell me how to do my job better?

Zilch.

And yet, I still call all of that successful. Not because of the jobs I did or did not get, but because of the networking I did during those meetings. It paid off this year. Maybe not in a great big way, with a large retainer contract, but in starting the connections I need to build in order to make that happen in the future.

And here’s why I call getting 0 jobs a success.

This year, I attended the DMFA Awards again.

I flew to New York. Paid my registration fee, had lunch, and met two incredible people. Not for the first time … and hopefully not for the last, either.

Stephen is a copywriter, who used to be a freelancer like me. We met at the DC Nonprofit Conference earlier this year. We exchanged cards, and later, LinkedIn connections.

When I met him this year at the DMFA Awards, he had gotten out of freelance and taken a full-time agency job. Yet he knows people who will still want freelancers, and actually asked for my card to pass along my information to others when they ask. I now have an advocate out there making connections on my behalf. Success #1.

I also sat next to Tiffany. I met her the first time last year at the Bridge Conference. She works for Doctors Without Borders. This year she attended, and as we conversed, she said that she remembered me. I was a little surprised, as I didn’t think I’d made any impressions, so I asked why.

Last year, I gave her a whole packet about me, with samples of my direct mail writing. She said it was incredibly easy to hand that to someone and say, “I met a copywriter. Here’s his stuff.”

Advocate #2 (though she was advocating for me long before I actually knew it!). Success #2.

There’s a Point to All This

So, based on that experience, I have 3 networking take-aways for all those out there just getting started, or changing it up, or looking to go deeper.

1. SHOW UP. OFTEN.

You won’t get to actually meet people if you just sit at home and e-mail. Would Stephen have been asking for my card again if he had never seen me the first time? Probably not. I’d be another face in the crowd, or “just another copywriter”, unless I actually showed up to 2 different meetings he was attending. When I showed up, when you show up, you demonstrate your commitment to your craft, to the industry, and to your peers. You might not know everything, but at least you’re ahead of those who don’t even bother to put in that much effort.

Nobody’s going to hire you on the first time they meet you. Marketers know it takes 6 to 8 touches to get someone even interested in a brand. The same is true for you as a professional. Don’t just assume it’s going to happen after the first coffee conversation. Go where they are.

Show up.

2. BE PREPARED.

Know your audience. In all of those conferences last year, I knew I would be meeting professionals who work with direct mail. So, I prepared a direct mail packet, to demonstrate that I do, in fact, know how to write for direct mail.

Plus, having that packet made it ridiculously easy for someone to evaluate my credentials. I wasn’t asking them to try to remember, days and days and days later, to take extra steps to visit my website to see samples. I had done the hard work for them, and I know that people appreciate when you make it easy on them.

Heck, that’s the only reason I read Unconscious Branding. It was ridiculously easy to find; all I had to do was look in my bag at the DC conference, and there it was. In the same way, all Tiffany had to do was to grab hold of whatever I’d already given her, and then give that to her colleague who works with copywriters. That professional, too, is going to be automatically able to see my credentials, without the hurdle of visiting my website, because I was prepared for my audience.

3. BE MEMORABLE.

Tiffany remembered me. Because I showed up and I was prepared. Stephen remembered me. Because I showed up, and I was prepared. I was also professional, not amateurish, and I had my “story” ready to go. I am memorable to them, because I have something unique about me. I have a good story to tell, I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I know what sets me apart. All of these mean that I’m not “just another copywriter,” but I’m actually quite unique.

Knowing why I want to do what I’m doing is a great help when figuring out how to present myself at these networking meetings. If you’re not memorable, you’re not … memorable.

This doesn’t mean you should show up in a pink clown suit, or stand up on top of the dinner table and announce your availability over the next 3 months and your prices, in a loud (okay, probably also drunk) voice. Those are the bad kind of memorable.

It does mean that you should know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why that’s important. That’s the good kind of memorable.

Look, I’m Not Saying It’s Easy.

In fact, it’s downright depressing sometimes when I think of the number of times I’ve been groped by TSA for virtually no return.

But, then, I think about those two conversations in New York, and I know it’s worth it.

Maybe not today.

Maybe not tomorrow.

But … someday, those networking connections are going to pay off.

Big time.

Because networking is not about getting a job right then and there. Networking is about building a network.

If you build it, well –

You know the rest.

3 thoughts on “0 Jobs – and 3 Networking Lessons from the DMFA Awards”

  1. Great article. I saw your card siting in my inbox the other day and it reminded me to share it with more people who might be in contact … someday. Your name is out there.

  2. Hi Stephan! We met at the 2018 DMFA Awards. I remember you and as soon as I have a client in need of a copywriter, I will be reaching out. Your article is spot on – networking takes time but it does pay off in the end! Hope to see you at another event soon. Tracy

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