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Some of the best advice I hear people giving freelancers often relates to the same thing: networking and building relationships.  Unfortunately, the most common advice on this topic is decidedly vague: It’s all about who you know.  You’ve got to really put yourself out there, and network at industry events.  Get your music out there, etc.

So… I’m supposed to do what, exactly?  How does one, as the kids say, get their networking on?  The answers are out there, but you’ll probably have to sift through a sea of ambiguity to find them.  Or, you can read on because I’ve already done that for you.  You’re welcome.

What Networking Actually Means

Networking, in my opinion, has two primary components.  Let’s define them quickly, and dig into each a bit so we know how to get it done.

Networking is (1) meeting new, relevant contacts and (2) leveraging existing contacts to further your business, or help the community.

That’s it.  Networking is not sealing the deal on your first meeting, which rarely happens.  It’s meeting people and opening the door for an ongoing conversation AND later leveraging those connections.  

Now, let’s separate these two pieces and dive into each separately, shall we?

Meeting New, Relevant Contacts

There are several different ways you can network to build up your list of professional contacts (you’re keeping a list, right?).  Here are some examples of networking activities you can do to meet new people in the video game industry:

  • Participate in a local Game Jam;
  • Sign up for a class related to game development or game audio, depending on who you’re trying to meet;
  • Interact with people in online groups, forums, or Reddit threads;
  • Reply to Tweets from people you’d like to connect with;
  • Go to an industry convention/conference/event.

These are just a few of the most common and most important nice-to-meet-you type networking activities.  You don’t have to do all of these activities, but the more you do the greater number of opportunities you’ll have later.

Leveraging Your Network to Further Your Career or Community

This is a mushy grey area that puzzles a lot of smart, lovely people.  I think that this part is sticky because we humans tend to over-complicate the process, or we forget to be human about it.  For these reasons, it’s important to remember that this part of networking is a relationship-based activity, meaning that your opportunity is directly related to your ability to build relationships.

At the root of it all, there are 3 ways to leverage your personal network:

  1. Creating value for others, by making introductions, seeking information, getting special treatment, etc.;
  2. Requesting value from others, by asking for introductions, mentorship, special treatment, etc.;
  3. Providing value when others turn to you for advice, knowledge, recommendations, etc.

The tricky part about these networking activities is that their effectiveness is limited by the quality of your relationships.  For example, if I swap business cards with some poor fella at an event and never speak to him again once the event is over, I barely have a relationship with him and my ability to leverage that relationship for myself is very low.  Calling him 6 months later to ask him for work referrals would be super awkward and very selfish.  It is very unlikely that he would recommend me to a colleague, because doing so puts his reputation on the line and he barely knows who I am. 

In contrast, if I’ve emailed him a couple of times, gone back and forth with him on Twitter about random topics and professionally-relevant topics, and sent him a resource I thought would be helpful to him, I have a stronger relationship that would make my request for an introduction more appropriate.  The stronger our relationship, the more social currency we have with one another.

Go Get Your Networking On

Hopefully this article has helped shed some light on the ambiguous topic of networking.  If you can’t seem to meet game developers, you need to focus on meeting new, relevant industry folks.  Already have a bunch of solid relationships, but no gigs?  You may need to learn how to leverage your existing relationships more effectively.

Now, go forth and network your face off.

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