business advice | Oct 3, 2023 |
Industry events can be such a huge time suck. How much networking do I really need?

Dear Sean,

As fall industry events in my city kick into high gear, I’m yearning for the quiet simplicity of summer. While I know it’s a good thing to be invited to participate in panels, or to attend dinners and parties with fellow professionals, it often seems like a huge opportunity cost for my business. I sometimes wonder what I’m really getting out of all that time spent mixing and mingling, and whether it could be better applied directly to my business. How should I weigh the value of participating in industry events?

Social Skeptic

Dear Social Skeptic,

I understand the need and desire to connect with members of the design industry. Having the good fortune to be able to participate in panel discussions, go to important conferences and attend events where networking opportunities abound is wonderful.

However, you have to ask yourself: To what end? You can always talk yourself into the reason to go, and, if you do, you will likely overestimate its value and underestimate the cost of not being present to your core business.

There is no such thing as balance. Balance is static—a feather on one side of the scale will make you unbalanced. Instead, how you spend your time is about integrity and a sense of relative importance. If you cannot be present—physically, mentally, even spiritually—you do yourself no favors. Instead, give yourself the gift of constraints.

All designers know that being told a project has no budget is just as much of a curse as a blessing. The same is true for undefined spaces. Like great improv, great design starts with a powerful container. The question, then, becomes how to give yourself a container for your time.

Though certainly not perfect, a wonderful way to decide how to spend your time is to assign a marketing budget. If you need help landing on the right number, try 15 percent to 25 percent of your annual revenue. Now, you might immediately say that the number is too big, but hold on.

For any industry activities that are not fully priced, assign them to marketing. If you discount your work for a client—that’s marketing. When you go to a conference with no direct revenue associated with it—also marketing. Be realistic about any revenue possibilities so that you can lower your marketing investment. Because here is the thing: When the marketing money is gone, it is gone. Once your marketing budget has been “spent,” you will not be able to participate in anything other than full-priced work.

Making choices within this container helps you be respectful to your business by acknowledging that your attention and energy are finite. Living within the limits of a marketing budget also lets you prioritize what you believe will be most important to you and your firm. Oh, and remember—you are the one setting the budget in the first place, so the idiosyncrasy lies with you! If you believe that the value of networking is equal to or beyond the value of your core design work, your budget will likely be bigger, and vice versa.

The only right answer is the one that is right for you. Fluidity is key. If you find yourself needing to scale back or increase your participation, do that within the bounds of your own limits. Never apologize and always honor the notion that when you know better, do better. As with all things, knowing better starts with looking in the mirror. Great work will always be its own reward. Serving that truth within your own limits is most certainly your path forward.

Homepage image: ©Kristian/Adobe Stock


Sean Low is the go-to business coach for interior designers. His clients have included Nate Berkus, Sawyer Berson, Vicente Wolf, Barry Dixon, Kevin Isbell and McGrath II. Low earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and as founder-president of The Business of Being Creative, he has long consulted for design businesses. In his Business Advice column for BOH, he answers designers’ most pressing questions. Have a dilemma? Send us an email—and don’t worry, we can keep your details anonymous.

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