From the e-mail bag: I will be teaching a jewelry making class at a very popular non-profit adult learning center in a large metropolitan area. How can I use this as platform for networking?
Answer: I have similar teaching experience and have found it to be of varied worth in the networking arena. First of all, the vast majority of your students aren't interested in buying jewelry from your business, but in learning how to make their own. You'll have a mixed bag of students ranging from those who want to start their own jewelry-making business to those that are just taking the class for fun. There is a remote possibility you may have some established jewelry makers taking the class to build upon their skill-set.
Collect Arts and Crafts Student Email Addresses
What you can do is collect email addresses from any willing students to send them updates on new classes you are teaching or shows at which you are exhibiting. Many people think it's a breeze to learn, master and successfully start an arts or crafts related business. We are know this is not true. Therefore, you may find that you eventually have a few students become customers because they end up not making any of their own jewelry outside of class.
Introduce Yourself to Fellow Instructors
That being said, you may have some valuable networking opportunities with other instructors. Definitely try to make contact with any other arts and crafts type instructors or any other instructors in attendance that you feel may be a business asset. But don't be a pest. Most instructors (including yourself!) will be busy setting up their classroom and probably won't have time for any type of a conversation with you before class.
If the classes are at night, you may find that most instructors want to make a beeline for the door after class. My classes were normally at night from 6:00pm - 10:00pm and the last thing I wanted to do was get into an extended conversation with another instructor after I finished addressing student questions. Also, you have to consider the learning center's staff that are probably quite eager to lock up and get home too.
So, what to do? Certainly quickly introduce yourself and give other instructors your business card. If they seem to have the time for a quick conversation by all means stop to briefly chat and maybe make plans to meet for coffee at a very public location at later date - without seeming creepy or stalker-like. If you have a continuing teaching schedule at the learning center, this may be something that is best eased into.
Make Sure You Understand School Self-Promotion Policy
One caveat - Make sure you understand how much self-promotion management of the learning center will tolerate. It's my experience that some don't care and other are quite snippy about it. This is usually tied into how much you are being paid to conduct the class. Many learning centers pay a deminimis amount with the understanding that you can use it as a springboard for other income.
In closing, keep the following in the back of your mind:
- Every arts and crafts business related experience further establishes you as an expert in your field - which is a good thing!
- Be selective with whom you network.
- Every student is not going to love you. Take all less than stellar evaluations with a grain of salt.