The quest to find freelance work as a self-employed creative professional is an around-the-clock undertaking that inches its way into all spheres of life. Even those spheres of life that non-freelancers might naively classify as “leisure,” “socializing” or “off-the-clock.”
For freelancers, seemingly off-duty moments are often goldmines for making interesting connections, informally trading project concepts, and exchanging contact info. Instagram handles swapped at a dinner party might transform into a freelancer’s next best client, and a sly mention of one’s graphic design practice at a distant relative’s funeral might just bear fruit of the professional sort. A freelancer is never really off-duty, and no event is safe from being subsumed by the freelance hustle. Perhaps this description paints an unflattering picture of the creative self-starter, but it’s worth thinking about how networking is less smarmy, spammy and disagreeable when the two parties are both genuinely passionate about their vocations. More often than not, conversations naturally migrate towards work when people love what they do.
The newest “personal” space being colonized by networking designers and creators is undoubtedly Tinder. While a swipe on the dating app was originally designed to satisfy romantic or visceral aspirations, people have realized that there’s more to be gained than grabbing a drink and doing sex.
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Tinder is witnessing a new repurposing, with users increasingly employing its platform to find clients and collaborators, or else inadvertently finding them through romantically-intentioned dates that turn into professional opportunities. Obviously, most users who are repurposing Tinder for networking are freelancers, many of them artists and designers looking for collaboration, design jobs, or subjects to photograph. It’s also a helpful platform for putting out open calls for interns, apprentices, or business partners, and it naturally selects for a local demographic. Maybe not so romantic, but Tinder was never romantic.
Using Tinder as a networking tool is a “creative economy” hack that speaks to the increasingly nebulous space between private and professional life for those working in the gig economy. And certainly, these things can sometimes coalesce—for two freelancing creatives on a Tinder date, it very well may be both a private and a professional affair.
California- and New York-based photographer Phillip Van Nostrand found unsought success through a Tinder encounter that ended up landing him two solid clients. On a second date, his dinner partner asked him if he knew how to photograph cocktails. “I took on a job at her office the next week photographing a vodka drink,” said Nostrand. “The other two assistants on the job loved me and hired me for their next gig, and I’ve been working with them solidly for the last two years.”
Nostrand didn’t go out on the date looking for work, but work opportunities arose nonetheless, simply because he and his date both worked in fields that involve gigging. Obviously, these inadvertent professional opportunities that crop up vis-à-vis Tinder connections aren’t dependable enough to rely on as your primary source for clients, but it’s certainly an interesting space that can connect people, in a very candid, organic way, and leave one or both parties with ties to constellations of people they would otherwise have never crossed paths with.
Nabeena Mali, a freelance designer and marketer, found success using Tinder to connect with like-minded creatives when she travelled to London. She chalks the success up to the organic moments fostered by Tinder encounters. “When you connect with someone who happens to be in your industry and start to build a relationship on a very basic human level, it’s very easy to cross over into the networking world”.
For both Nostrand and Mali, the social/professional overlap was slippery and non-compartmentalized—an industry of gigging is one that naturally creeps into life itself. But, people are also starting to swipe with more explicit professional intentions in mind. Tinder can foster both premeditated and inadvertent networking opportunities, and, as we’ve all said to ourselves many times before, it can’t hurt to see what’s out there.
But why use Tinder as a general purpose networking hub when there already exists a more obvious social network used for making professional connections, i.e. the stodgy LinkedIn? While having a LinkedIn remains an important piece of your digital footprint that can legitimize your professional existence when you get Googled, and put your name in the mouth of recruitment agencies if you’re looking to provide your services to corporate clients, Tinder offers an immediacy, an informality, and an unpredictability that renders it a completely different sort of self-promotion space. In fact, it works well alongside a LinkedIn presence. If LinkedIn puts you in the way of vacant jobs, Tinder can do this and more: it can be a space to create new opportunities that may not have existed before you and your date got to talking.
It also puts a face and a personality behind your creative service, which can sometimes stick in a person’s mind more than a sanitized mugshot and a text box that never leaves the digital realm. The fact that a face-to-face interaction has gained currency as a somehow titillatingly “authentic” experience speaks to the dominion of digital network society. Sometimes bespoke, digitally orchestrated human interactions are better than none at all (safe to say that this sentiment was what provided a market for Tinder in the first place). And it seems that LinkedIn has caught onto this yearning, as it were, for more intimate networking opportunities. The new networking platform Shapr is one example of utilizing the swiping model, and promises “a better way to network”.
So where does this all leave us, the struggling freelancers wearing our heart-shaped business cards on our sleeves? Swiping right and keeping your portfolio tight.
Header GIF by Pranavi Suthagar