As I mentioned in Part 1, when it comes to networking talent will only get you so far. Passion, confidence, and likability will take you a lot farther. There are some very talented artists whose careers are languishing because they lack these other qualities. Likewise, there are some very mediocre artists whose careers are thriving because they have those other qualities in abundance. I guess it’s just human nature. Who would you rather work with, a talented person who you enjoy being around, or a really talented person who is insecure, boring, or a jerk?
But what if you are not naturally bold and outgoing? What if you aren’t a great conversationalist? That’s ok. There aren’t too many people who come by those qualities naturally. You don’t have to be Mr. or Mrs. Popular. Just be yourself and then look for ways to gradually improve and grow. By nature I’m an introvert and I hate making small talk. But every time I force myself to get out there and mix it up, things get a little easier and I get a little more confident. Even if I strike out, I’m still better off as long as I learn from the experience.
I’m certainly no expert in this area, but here’s some networking tips I’ve picked up over the years:
1. Be authentic. Nobody likes a phony or a pretender. Besides, you won’t fool anyone. If you are trying to be something you aren’t, people can sense it pretty quickly.
2. Put the relationship ahead of the reward. Don’t get so caught up in finding a lead that you view the other person as a means to an end. People who network that way are really just using people, and nobody likes to be used. Treat people the way you’d want to be treated. I read about a young art student at Comic-Con who wanted to show is work to a leader in the industry. Instead of just walking up to the leader’s table and asking for a portfolio review, he offered to get him a drink or a sandwich from the concession stand. Of all the aspiring artists the leader talked to that day, guess which one he’s going to remember?
3. Focus on giving, not getting. Don’t make your main concern be what the other person can do for you (i.e. give you work and a paycheck). Instead, emphasize on what you can do for them (i.e. offer ideas, meet their budget and deadlines, etc.)
4. Follow every lead. Just because someone isn’t in the position to hire you doesn’t mean they can’t help you. People know other people, and the creative community is a lot smaller than you might think. If you make a good impression on a secretary, a website programmer, the bookkeeper, whomever…don’t brush it off. You never know whose ear they may have. Also, if someone gives you their business card don’t throw it away. Jot some notes down on the back about who they were, how/why you talked, or any other important info. If you network well at a conference or event you will come home with a fist full of business cards, and its easy to forget who was who. Make notes, keep track, and send everyone a follow-up email. A simple “thanks for chatting” or “it was nice to meet you” will suffice. Likewise, if someone gives you a name or a phone number of someone else to contact, treat it like gold. Those are the kind of leads that have the highest chance of turning into real work.
5. Be patient. Don’t get discouraged if you follow up on all your leads and nothing happens. Just because you don’t hear back doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve failed to make a good impression. People are busy, and it may be that they simply don’t have a need for you at that particular moment. Keep reminding them of your services through an occasional friendly phone call or e-mail (but don’t badger them). When the right project comes along, they’ll know who to call: You!