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Effective networking: BIID members’ top tips

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Networking can bring new clients and collaborators, create contacts with fellow designers and allied professionals, and spark creative ideas. But it can also be intimidating. Knowing where best to network can also be a dilemma for those new to networking, since time is precious and using it well is vital in building a successful interiors practice.

We asked BIID members to share their experience of the best places to network, how to prepare, and how to feel comfortable networking, and this is what they told us.

Attend events or a club

Prepare First 

Caroline Milns of Zulufish says, ‘Before an event, I like to read up on where it’s hosted and have headline info before I arrive; it is an easy way to break the ice as it gives a natural starting point for conversations.'

Join A Networking Club

‘Find a networking club/event that has people from similar/like-minded professions or services,’ says Jenni Greenwood of Greenwood Interior Design. ‘I am part of a networking club called The Club by Sarah Restrick. It’s based in the North West of the UK but is branching out to London. As most of my jobs/projects are high-end residential, it links me with other professions of this standard, for example private aviation companies, property developers, media companies and so on, where most of their clients, at some point, require interior design services. So this is a good way of getting my company name about. I have also met very interesting people this way and had some jobs from it. I also refer the people that I meet at the club to my clients and vice versa.’

Go To Trade Events 

‘We find that attending trade events and chatting with those in the trade can lead to networking leads,’ says Emma Wood of Emma Wood Interiors. ‘Presenting and submitting our portfolio when a new supplier sends us theirs can mean we are forefront in their minds if a client is asking for a design referral.’

Be Diverse

Go to events that may not directly be in your area of expertise: the diversity can often expand one’s knowledge and interests,’ says Anna Standish of Anna Standish Interiors.

Make networking less stressful

Know How You’ll Start

‘Have an elevator pitch – a quick overview of yourself/what you do,’ says Liz Bell of Absolute Project Management. ‘Consider what you want from the person you’re “pitching” to and whether what you say will help achieve that outcome.'

Focus On The Person You’re Meeting 

Jo Chrobak says, ‘For me, networking became fun once I stopped thinking about what I was going to say, but rather was present with the person I was speaking to. Once I relaxed into a natural conversation (rather than expecting a result), I started to enjoy making new friends and acquaintances. I saw it more like a get-together, that way, I was too busy having fun to have any self-conscious thoughts.'

Remember, Everyone Has The Same Purpose 

Anna Standish says, 'Everyone is there to network: they want to meet you as much as you want to find out more about them and their business.' It does get easier though. 'Try and go to as many events as possible. The more you go to them, the easier they get,’ she says.

Start Locally 

‘If you’re not sure where to begin, look into local business support and events,’ says Carlotta Lazzerini of Lazzerini Interiors. ‘Connecting with local business owners is often easier due to the shared geographical connection.’

Choose A Networking-Afterwards Event 

For me, the best networking events are those that are focused around a topic or event with networking afterwards, as this naturally gives you something in common to speak about,’ says Jo Chrobak.

Recall A Favourite Project 

‘One tip that has helped me a lot (since networking is not in my comfort zone) is to talk about – especially if it is to participate in a discussion panel or presentation – a project which I am very passionate about,’ says Sammy Bikoulis of Lee Evans Partnership. 'I find that when I talk about a project that I was heavily involved with and feel very passionate about, words seem to flow without having to agonise too much.’

Organise Individual Meetings

‘Personally I prefer to organise one-on-one meetings over coffee as this is in my view the single best way to get to know the person opposite you, forge deeper relationships, and also be able to speak more freely about plans and possible business ventures,’ says Michael Schienke of Vorbild.

Networking Etiquette

Be Aware Of The Potential 

‘Whatever the event, it’s useful to bear in mind just simply being on your best behaviour,’ says Tamzin Newby of Heliotrope Interior Design. ‘Any conversation or interaction is a networking opportunity when that person works or operates in a related field. Furthermore, even if someone doesn’t, in property there still might be a valuable connection to be made as most people have an interest in a property or if not, know someone else who does.’

Think About Others

‘Make sure you're being welcoming, inclusive, and supportive – give others a chance to voice their thoughts/opinions,’ says Liz Bell. ‘Make sure you give them time to think and, where useful, suggest options/answers/examples.’

Extend A Friendly Hand

‘If you enter a room full of people and spot someone standing alone, take the initiative to approach them,’ says Carlotta Lazzerini. ‘They’ll appreciate your friendly gesture, and you might just find your buddy for the day.’

Don’t Be Controversial 

‘Avoid raising controversial issues or giving unguarded opinions,’ says Liz Bell. ‘You can disagree with controversial things others say, where you feel it necessary, but consider what the outcome could be and whether it’s worth it/safe to do so. If you come across discrimination, challenge it if you feel comfortable and, if not, report it back to networking organisers.’

Prioritise Learning Over Selling

‘The most powerful thing you can get out of a networking event is knowledge,’ says Carlotta Lazzerini. ‘Connect with those who have achieved what you aspire to do; this can be a game-changer. People love sharing advice and insights. Ask for their guidance and how they reached their goals – it’s the fastest way to get the knowledge needed for your business objectives.’

 

Networking isn’t in everyone’s comfort zone but with the right strategies, it can become a less challenging situation. There are a range of opportunities to make good contacts from the more local to the profession’s major events, and it can be worth spending some time on online as well as real world conversations. Join the BIID for their next networking event: Surface Design Show Breakfast on the 7th February 2024