When graphic designer Steve Gavan was in his second year at uni, he went to an open studio in Melbourne. “You visit the studio for a night, get shown around and have a discussion about working in the industry,” he explains. “I’ve always sucked at networking and hate speaking up in groups, but thought I’d better get involved. As I raised my hand to ask a question, I knocked a beer out of the hand of the girl standing next to me. It spilt all over a keyboard, some paper samples and the owner of the business. He made a comment about how clumsy kids always become designers.” Steve didn’t end up asking his question and ducked out of the studio the second he could.
And it’s not just Steve who has, at one point or another, found networking an awkward, painful experience. Most of us dread the prospect of having to hover around a tray of canapés waiting for the right moment to ambush a key contact, then pitching an idea to them when they’re clearly already tired of being pitched to – and are more than happy to show you that exasperation.
Yet networking is also a fairly essential skill for a creative nowadays. Whether you’re a freelancer looking to fill the address book or a creative looking for like-minded people to work with, nothing quite beats meeting contacts face to face. There are some doors that hard work and experience alone just can’t open. The trouble is that big networking events will often put you in a room with dozens of people who you have nothing in common with and who probably don’t even want to be there in the first place.
That’s where Shapr comes in. Shapr is a free networking app that’s helping creative professionals make the right connections. Its algorithm works to put the right people in front of you based on your location, goals and interests. Whatever your creative requirement may be, it can facilitate that all-important connection. It’s as easy as signing up to the app, listing your details – including what and who you’re looking for and your preferred way of meeting up – and then searching for someone who might meet your requirements. Once you’ve found the person you’re after, it needn’t remain virtual. You can use Shapr to organise real-life meetings and carry on the conversation.
You might prefer a more casual meeting in a café. For artist Amber Vittoria, a “one-on-one coffee chat” is the best way to spark a genuine connection. She doesn’t find busy large-scale events and award ceremonies useful, because she says she finds it “so difficult to generate what feels like an honest conversation” and ends up just “bantering about the food, which segues into how I found out about my anaphylactic nut allergy – nothing with which a potential client would have sympathy or interest.”
Sydney-based designer Joy Li has a similar aversion to these kinds of events. “I’m rather introverted when it comes to social interaction in general, and particularly when trying to insert myself into a networking situation,” she says. “There’s so much discomfort involved and it feels very unnatural to me.”
For Joy, technology takes away that overwhelming edge of discomfort. “It’s amazing that nowadays, with the use of technology, we are able to reach out to others merely through a DM, without too much anxiety or fear of rejection.” This initial virtual contact “massively helps when it comes to actually meeting someone new, by having something to connect on that can lift the awkwardness.”
Shapr, too, has this benefit. Once you’ve reached the face-to-face stage, all the potential for social awkwardness is largely gone, because you’ve already built the foundations of your relationship through the app. You’ve seen that your interests align, you’ve spoken about the possibility of collaboration and now you’re meeting up to go over the finer points of this initial conversation, which all started with a simple message.
Art director and designer James Taylor can vouch for the effectiveness of the app. “I’ve been able to form partnerships with graphic designers and digital-marketing agencies via Shapr,” he says. “I’ve offered commissions and contracted work to several other professionals on the app, too. We are all about promoting mutual benefits, and firmly believe that in the digital world it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Shapr gives you the chance to meet those key people in person without having to hover round the vol-au-vents for a few snatched sentences.
So, save yourself the awkwardness of networking events, the discomfort of rushed introductions in an uninspiring room, as well as the embarrassment of spilt beers. Try Shapr and start making the right connections.