Foot in The Door: Open Doors presents Networks

Last week we hosted the second of three Open Doors events – Networks – which explored the importance of networks, the art of building meaningful relationships and how to use your networks effectively.

Our panel members for NETWORKS:
Tru Powell, Entrepreneur & Events Specialist
Dean Melbourne, Professional Artist
Adam Caver, Theatre-Maker, Director, and Designer
Annabel Clarke, Independent Marketer
Alicja Kaczmarek, Founder & Director, Polish Expats Association

To view the full programme for the event, including detailed biographies for each panel member, please click here: Programme_Networks

The Session began with an introduction by Noel Dunne, Company Director at Creative Alliance, followed by our panel of industry experts sharing their experiences and top tips.

What are your thoughts on Networking?

Dean – It’s about curiosity – a bit like rock pooling, turning over every stone to see what’s underneath. It’s about building relationships and realising your worth.

Tru – I used to think I could go to an event and do nothing. Quickly I realised that you have to go out and make that extra effort.

Adam – At first I didn’t think I had anything to network about! When I started working at SHOUT I realised that other people wanted to network with me and that really, nobody knows what their doing! You don’t necessarily need to have a clear purpose for networking or have something in mind that you want to get out of it.

Annabel – Networking has brought me not only good business connections but also some really good friends.

Alicja – you’ll always meet at least one wonderful person, people who can point you in a good direction. Networking is confidence building and allows you to learn from others what you might be capable of. We always encourage our interns to go out and speak with people.

What have you learnt that works for you when you are actively networking?

Alicja – experience enabled me to overcome some personal barriers, like communication skills and how culturally, for me, small talk is an odd concept.

Annabel – I’m naturally introverted and prefer 1-2-1 deeper conversations rather than small talk. I’m a good listener and would come away from some events feeling quite drained. So now I’m more tactical about it and make the most of in-built conversation starters. For example, if you’re at an art opening, talk about what is being exhibited. I like to think about where I am, where I want to be and how I can get there. That might then lead to thinking about where you can network to meet with the people who can help you achieve that ambition.

Adam – you don’t have to network about something in particlaur. It can be enough just to meet someone. Don’t go in all guns blazing, sow the seeds in a smart way to make the most of the time that you have with that person. Ask to meet again if you want to have a more thorough discussion. Make sure you have a business card – you might only have a brief moment to speak with someone really important. And use Twitter – follow people you have engaged with, they’ll probably follow you back and then you have a subtle way of connecting.

Tru – never go in for the hard sale – build relationships. Networking is all about building and sustaining good working relationships. Give them something to remember you by – a small personal fact. A good piece of advice is to ask for a delegate list from the event organiser – this might help you to plan who you want to meet and what you want to talk about. Social media is so important and very much still alive in this region and this industry.

Dean – I try to utilise what is personable about me, and think about how I make people feel. Have concern for the person you are engaging with and the topics that they are discussing. Make them feel better by you being there. Ask questions, compliment, be memorable … and don’t forget to laugh at yourself. Take YOURSELF to the event, be your best self. Share a little, take a risk, tell a crap joke, ask the stupid question …

Questions from the event attendees sparked even more discussion:

Have you ever accidentally networked?

Dean – I once spent a an entire train journey back from London talking to a stranger about what I do, rambling on. At the end of the journey I quickly asked what she did – Health & Beauty Editor of Vogue she said. Such a missed opportunity! There are potential collaborators everywhere – TURN OVER THOSE ROCKS!

Alicja – any group of people offers potential for networking.

Adam – if you’re interested in something, and you go to an event about that something, you WILL network. Even in the queue for the bar or the toilets you will sometimes network! Just try not to embarrass yourself! Sometimes the best connections come out of those chance meetings.

What advice would you give to a 16-18 year old who wants to network but maybe doesn’t know themselves that well yet and is scared of making a fool out of themselves?

Tru – be confident in you and your ability. If you are going to a specific event contact the organiser before hand to see if there will be any ‘network connectors’ at the event. Think about finding a mentor. Know that you are amazing and share it!

Dean – networking skills should be a GCSE! When we are very young we interact with others very naturally and we lose that ability just at the point when we need it most, we get all tight and self-conscious. Maybe think about taking a mate with you at first – but don’t cluster! Understand the value that you have. Think about WHAT ARE YOU GOOD FOR? What’s your natural ability? Are you organised, energetic, punctual? Remember your inherent traits. If you know what you’re good at you can start to know your worth. Being a younger person is in itself a value – especially to older people!

Do you think LinkedIn is a valuable networking tool?

Dean – no, not for me and what I do.

Tru – look at your sector. Are you creative or corporate? Much of my corporate networking is achieved via LinkedIn. Whereas my creative network, less so. You need to know where your sector lives both online and in person and put yourself there.

Alicja – not for the creative sector.

Annabel – Twitter is much more effective for me.

Adam – I don’t use it.

Do you think networking is something that people are naturally good at or a skill that can be developed?

Adam – some people are good at it naturally, and we all hate those people!

Alicja – if you’re not, don’t let it stop you. Go to workshops, learn how to do it. Find a couple of lines that you can use when you go networking that can get you started. You will improve more every time.

Adam – know what you’re good at – try writing 100 words about yourself and the skills that you have.

Tru – get comfortable with the uncomfortable. I still find networking uncomfortable sometimes, I just sit with it better.

Dean – just because someone appears to be good at networking it doesn’t mean that they are effective. Sometimes the quieter networker will be more effective – everyone will find their own way.

Noel – don’t get offended if someone you have connected with via LinkedIn or email doesn’t get back to you straight away – life happens. Assume nothing and don’t take it personally.
Is it a good idea to take a portfolio with me when I network?

Dean – I wouldn’t. It creates pressure for someone to respond. It would be better to offer or suggest a second meeting. Don’t surprise people. They might say ‘no’ to something that would have been a ‘yes’ with a gentler approach. Leave the portfolio at home and build a relationship first.

Noel encouraged the panel to offer one final message:

Alicja – don’t shy away or be intimidated. Meet people – it won’t be a disaster.

Annabel – be bold, just do it. Network with good intentions.

Adam – Make other people feel comfortable to be with you. It’s about people that you click with, follow your instincts.

Tru – understand that networking is not ONE thing, it’s a mixture of skills. Where to go, who to meet, what to say, building relationships, following up – you need to play the game.

Dean – I listed all of things that have happened to me this week BECAUSE of networking and relationships, and it’s epic. From selling paintings to getting new contracts for gallery shows to being invited to this event! It might take time, be patient. Try to think about how you can be of value to the person, what you can give instead of what you can get.

NetworkAbility with Helga Henry

This part of the event was developed and presented by Helga Henry, Director of Organisational Development at Birmingham Hippodrome and co-Author of “NetworkAbility – Building your business one relationship at a time” (you can find out about the book and how to purchase a copy here.)


Learning to network well – so that business results flow reliably from it – is a skill that takes most people considerable sustained effort. Helga’s workshop sought to make sure we understood networking properly, so we will know why we are there, whether in fact we should be there, and specifically what to do before, during and, most importantly, after meeting someone, in order to develop relationships that bring results.

So, what is a network? It’s broad ranging and different people that you meet will fall into different categories, as below. Think about who is currently in your network, where they could sit below and then use that to identify the gaps. Those gaps may offer you guidance on where to focus your networking.
– Peers
– Mentors
– Multipliers
– Clients/Potential Clients
– Champions

Networking is not about sales – that approach will just lead to ‘is there someone better to talk to?’. It’s uncomfortable and annoying. A good measure of the success of your networking is not how many business cards you have given out but how many business cards you have been given with PERMISSION TO CONTACT.

Make sure that you self-evaluate along the way – what went well? What went better than last time? What could I do differently next time? Do this every time you network and in 3 months you’ll be exponentially better.


‘Give value to get value’
‘Networks should be built slowly and organically’
‘Know your champions, thank them and treat them well’
‘Be your best self’
‘Leave a positive impression – seem relevant’
‘Make it easy for people to know what you do’
‘Be respectful’
‘Celebrate success’

Business cards mean prizes!!

Most networking events will have some kind of business card drop off point which is often attached to a prize or raffle. To demonstrate this we gathered cards from all attendees (and provided the means to create cards for those that didn’t have any on them …) and had two prizes on offer.

Our first prize draw went to Carolyn who wins a subscription to Buckt – the UK’s only subscription box inspired by the idea of a bucket list! With special thanks to Buckt for their support.

Next up saw Denise win NOT ONLY a signed copy of Helga’s book ‘NetworkAbility’ but also the generous offer to have a 1-2-1 mentoring session with Helga herself – thank you Helga!

In Your Words

A huge thank you to everyone who attended – here’s what they had to say about the event:

What was the highlight of the event for you?

‘That everyone (mostly) on the panel doesn’t really like networking – loved the perspective!’

What did you think about the event?

‘Really useful, very clear and helpful points’
‘Very useful & informative with practical tips & advice’
‘Great atmosphere and good content!’
‘Very helpful – real examples and real experience from the panel’

Would you recommend these events to others?

‘Yes – it’s useful for simply everyone/thing.’
‘Yes, especially to those who are going through a similar situation in finding a job, how to get to it’

Open Doors is a series of events designed to help you grow your employability skills in the creative sector. Each session explores a key element of what is needed to make a strong start in the industry. We invite Creative sector professionals to lead the sessions plus provide the space for you to learn and put your skills into action and meet new people. The events are aimed at, but not limited to, 16-24 year olds who are looking to build a career in the creative sector. Foot in the Door is Creative Alliance’s programme of training designed to support home grown talent into creative, digital and marketing roles. The programme is funded by Arts Connect and Arts Council England and Creative Skillset’s Film Skills Fund, with BFI’s Film Forever National Lottery Funds.

Don’t miss out on the next event in this series:

Foot In The Door: Open Doors presents YOU
Thursday 8 February, 6.30 – 8.30pm
YOU will focus on self-confidence, mental health, inclusivity and creating a work life balance. Click here for info and booking.

Connect with us and stay up to date with our latest news:
TWITTER @create_alliance
FACEBOOK CreativeAllianceUK

With thanks for Birmingham Hippodrome for hosting the event and Kate Green Photography.