Smart artists network effectively. It’s a crucial skill for creative people, especially freelancers that want to collaborate, diversify or simply make sure they’re known to the movers and shakers in their industry. But networking doesn’t come easily to everyone. Some people are natural extroverts and enjoy networking. For those who aren’t, networking can be torture. But if you’re clear on what you want to achieve and how to go about it, networking can feel infinitely easier. Here are how smart artists network effortlessly.
#1 - Smart artists network by identifying who they want to meet
So if you need to meet a certain category of people e.g. publishers, gallerists, PR people etc. work out where they congregate. Take advantage of gallery openings, conferences or even concerts to meet people informally. Additionally find out where they hang out online. Twitter is a particularly good place to initiate contact with people because they’re more open to your joining the conversation. Commenting on an issue everyone is discussing is far more effective a way of coming to their notice than private messaging on LinkedIn. It sets them up to see you as interesting/informed too, providing what you say is intelligent, which is a definite advantage.
#2 - Smart artists network by honing their ‘elevator pitch’
Your ‘elevator pitch’ is what you’d ideally say about your latest project/idea to an influential person you were stuck in a lift with for two minutes. It should be pithy and packed with evocative descriptions of your project – together with a USP (unique selling point) which makes it feel like a no-brainer to buy into it. I know it can feel a bit silly but you really do need to practice your elevator pitch out loud. You’ll only have to do it once per campaign, but having that little paragraph come tripping off your tongue without much thought means you can relax when you’re networking because it’s mentally out of the way.
#3 - Smart artists build strong peer-to-peer networks
It’s a rookie mistake to ignore the other people in your field at your level. Fellow creative people can be valuable sources of information on technique, organizations you’ll commonly work with, people you should meet, possible sources of legal, financial or health based support or breaking industry news. In addition, someday you may need to curate a group show, organise a charity concert, or interview them on their speciality subject. Having strong relationships with fellow artists is a key part of the way that smart artists network.
#4 - Smart artists network effectively by finding out who the most important people in the room are
Often, you won’t have infinite time at an event to chat to everyone there. And that’s when you need to find the person organizing the event and ask them to point out the most important people there are. Smart artists network by prioritising time with the top three or top five.
#5 - Smart artists network by posting on social media
Taking a quick selfie with the people you meet is not just flattering to them. It also means you can post the photo (with their permission) on social media. On Facebook, you can tag people in the photo and make people in their network aware that you’ve met them. On Twitter, you can include their twitter handle in your tweet and alert their followers to your existence. It also reminds people in your network of what you’re up to.
#6 - Smart artists network by offering freebies, help or advice
I’m not saying you should try to bribe people – however offering flyers, invitations to an event you’re running, an interesting looking personal card with your details on it or trifling samples of your work can be a powerful way to build a connection between yourself and someone who might otherwise forget they’ve met you. Another way to connect is by finding out what the other person is interested in, and sending a link to an interesting article, or useful contact to that person afterwards.
This is also a useful way of making sure you listen as much as you talk. It’s tempting to make networking all about the ‘elevator pitch’. Actually smart artists know that networking is about making genuine connections. No one wants to feel used or ‘pitched to’. Very off-putting! Strive to build a rapport instead – especially with important people – even if it’s simply over your mutual love of geraniums… Yes, that really will make a difference.
#7 - Smart artists network by persevering
Sadly not everyone you want to meet will be delighted to meet you. That’s a given, especially if you’re trying to make contact with those higher up than you in your industry. Chances are, the first time they meet you they’ll dismiss you as one of the thousands ‘wannabees’ that are trying to get their attention. You have to prove yourself to be a cut above that. But you probably won’t be able to do it on the first meeting.
So make a brief introduction and let them know what you do and what you’re currently working on. Ask them an intelligent question about their work – preferably something that a curious individual like yourself has always wanted to know. Leave them your card. And yes, you need to do this all while they’re looking down their nose at you. With any luck in a few years, or with repeated meetings they’ll work out that you’re serious about your creative career and are worth knowing. Smart artists network knowing that it’s not always going to feel comfortable when you’re making the smartest move.
#8 - Smart artists network while treating everyone with the same respect
To some degree, networking does involve making a judgement on who is ‘important’ and who isn’t. Of course you should prioritise to a degree. But make sure that you don’t actually treat people differently. Never be dismissive or disdainful of people who don’t have much status, or fawn over people who do. Neither will respect you for it. Smart artists network with the understanding that today’s vagrant can be tomorrow’s superstar – or that the unassuming little old lady by the vol-au-vents may be the biggest VIP in the room’s long serving PA or their mum.
If you need help building a useful support network for your professional creative career read more in chapter 8 of ‘Organizing for Creative People’.