I wrote a bit about how to use Twitter and Facebook for networking, now I want to talk about conferences and business cards and how important they are to networking.
Again and again in this industry you will be told “it’s all about networking. If you want in, you have to network.” That’s great, but what does that mean and how do you do it? I spent a lot of time going to industry parties, standing around, uncomfortably with a drink in my hand, smiling and wondering what else I should do… what else would be considered “networking.”
Somehow, going to the parties wasn’t enough. I always wanted someone to tell me exactly HOW to network. I wanted the steps.
Well, after 20 some years, I finally figured out the steps and now I’m going to share them with you. Because no one should have to stand at loud parties with a watered down drink in their hand wondering if they were doing networking “right.”
So, here they are.. the steps for networking.
Go to conferences. This is insanely important. You have to go to the conferences if you want in this industry. If you can’t afford them, then go as a volunteer and work. In fact, this is an even BETTER way to network in the industry. If you are a volunteer, then you may find yourself in a room alone with John Romero helping him get his talk set up. What a perfect way to make a connection! So, get to the conferences, volunteer if you can.
Get business cards from everyone you talk to. You’ve probably already been doing this and what usually happens to them? You bring them home and drop them on your dresser or your kitchen table. They sit there for a few days til your cat knocks them off and chases them across the floor. Then finally you scoop them up and dump them in the trash.
Not any more.
Business cards are your key to the world of game development. BUT there will be a process to these cards. When you get a card from someone, immediately turn it over and jot down a note about where you met them, who they were with and some other information that will remind you of this person. Then keep it in your bag until you get home.
When you get home, sort through the business cards. Separate out all the cards from people who you think can help you in your career. People who are senior to you in the industry. People who are in management. People who are working on a project that you particularly are interested in.
Then, write those people an email.
That’s right. Write them an email. Re-introduce yourself. Tell them how pleased/honored/happy you were to meet them. Thank them for taking the time to talk to you. Mention something they said that impressed you. Then sign off. Keep it to one short paragraph. No more than just a couple sentences.
Here’s the important part.
DO NOT EXPECT A RESPONSE.
It is highly likely that the people you will be sending emails to will be VERY busy. They’ve just returned from a conference, they are digging out from under a week’s worth of email and backed up client requests. They are swamped. So do not expect a response and DO NOT give up hope if you don’t hear.
Frankly, think of this as a thank you note for a gift. The gift they gave you was their time. You don’t expect a response to a thank you note, so you shouldn’t expect a response from these people.
Four weeks after sending that first email to those people, send them another email. That’s right, you are going to write to them again. You will remind them who you are. Where you met them. Then tell them about something you’ve seen or read that reminded you of something they said or did. Do NOT make this a fawning fan letter. Do NOT go fanboi over their work. Instead, mention how something they said or did influenced something you did. Then thank them again for their time and sign off. Keep it short. Keep it polite. Keep it professional.
Again.. do NOT expect a response.
This is where it gets tough. It’s hard to continue to reach out without any feedback. You will probably worry about bothering them or irritating them. You won’t be, I promise. And if you are, they will delete your email and never think about it again. But the chances of that are small.
Now, about four to eight weeks after that second email, you are going to write to them again. You will again introduce yourself, remind them where you met them. And again, mention something you’ve seen, read or done that was influenced by something they said or did.
Now here’s the trick.
Ask them something they can answer in ONE sentence. Ask them if they will be at PAX East. Ask them if they have a book recommendation. Ask them what game they think you should be playing right now. Anything that can be answered quickly and in once sentence. If you do this, it’s much more likely you will get a response. If I get an email and they ask me something that I can answer quickly, then it’s very likely that I will simply hit reply and answer that quick question.
Then.. voila! You have made a connection in the industry!
Now like any tender young plant, this connection takes VERY careful tending. If this person does answer, then you should respond with a VERY short “thank you” AND THAT’S ALL
Do NOT take this to mean you are now BFFs and inundate them with questions and long paragraphs detailing your latest greatest idea. You are not. You are now business acquaintances, so keep your correspondence just that. Short. Professional. To the point.
However, they may NOT answer your question. They may not answer at all. Do NOT get discouraged.
Continue on the path. Every other month, drop them another email. Short, professional. Tell them something that pertains to them and how they have influenced you. Do NOT regale them with tales of your latest great game idea. Do NOT tell them how it sucks to be wanting in the industry and not be able to find jobs and.. for god’s sake …
DO NOT ASK THEM FOR A JOB!!!!!
This is not about them hiring you. This is about keeping your name front and center so that when someone, somewhere mentions that they have an opening for a young environmental artist (or whatever) that they say, “Hm.. there’s this person I met at GDC last year. They seem very nice and professional. Let me send you the link to their portfolio.” THAT is how networking works.
So, keep up this file. (In the old days this would have been referred to as a “tickler file*”) and keep up your contacts. Follow these people on twitter. See if they will friend you on Facebook. Then look for them at the next conference party and then, instead of standing there, holding that drink, you will actually find yourself engaged in conversation with exactly the people you need to, to enhance your career.
Good luck.. and next time you get a biz card from me, I expect to see an email from you!
*A tickler file is a collection of date-labeled file folders organized in a way that allows time-sensitive documents to be filed according to the future date on which each document needs action. Documents within the folders of a tickler file can be to-do lists, pending bills, unpaid invoices, travel tickets, hotel reservations, meeting information, birthday reminders, coupons, claim tickets, call-back notes, follow-up reminders, maintenance reminders, or any other papers that require future action. Each day, the folder having the current date is retrieved from the tickler file so that any documents within it may be acted on. Essentially, a tickler file provides a way to send a reminder to oneself in the future—”tickling” one’s memory.