For a number of years. I never put much stock into joining professional networking groups. Starting out in my career, I knew just enough people in my hometown to make things work and find a job after I graduated from school.
However, as my career progressed, I realized I couldn’t keep relying on the same people all the time. I needed to stretch my wings and find new people and other designers.
A couple of years ago, I finally bit the bullet. Aaron Draplin stopped in Milwaukee as a part of his speaking tour, and I wanted to go see him. It was organized through the AIGA. Like every event, members always get the best ticket price. Without much thought, I decided to become a member and attend the event. It worked out well, because a couple of months later, I found myself at the AIGA National Conference in Minneapolis.
That was the moment when I realized how much I held myself back by not getting to know people in my industry.
Naturally, I renewed this year with a bit of excitement. My goal is to become a more active member and attend more events.
The value in professional networks comes from being around your peers. It’s great being around other people who can understand your frustrations, offer solid advice, or celebrate your wins. It’s what makes them so valuable to me.
Like I also mentioned, it had opened me up to new events as well. I didn’t take much time to look at the big event schedule. But it turns out that there’s actually a lot of cool events in my area.
There’s a lot of opportunities to learn new skills or hear a variety of people speak. Its not always about pushing my own career or skill set forward either — learning how others have made their way or overcame obstacles is also a good way to grow.
Last but not least, you never know what kind of opportunities you get out of these things. Most people expect a networking group to be nothing more than a place to schmooze other people — and nothing more. If we stay engaged though, new opportunities can find their way to you.
I’ve discovered that by showing up on a regular basis, you can stay on top of mind with the other people who regularly attend. It was especially helpful when I was freelancing. The longer I stuck with it, the easier it was for someone to find me when they had a need for a logo or website. They weren’t going to Google because they knew me and trusted me.
The same was true for me in reverse. I was able to find a variety of people to help me grow my business and I was comfortable hiring them because we had a relationship.
Overall, no matter where you are with you career, a professional network is worth it.
AIGA is one option, and there are others Graphic Artists Guild is another popular one) too. You may even have some great local options, such as AdFed. No matter the group, its worth trying them out and seeing what works for you. I promise you won’t regret it.