Do you enjoy shmoozing the industry bigwigs who have the power to make or break your career?
Or does the very thought of networking bring you out in a cold sweat?
Well, if it does, you’re not alone. Most creatives that I work with sit in the latter camp. They are uncomfortable having to sell themselves. In fact, they would prefer to sit in a dark cupboard rather than make small talk with someone important. Let’s face it – it can feel darned scary – (and I’m no exception) .
However, the cold, hard truth is that unless you were born with an overly ambitious mother who runs a PR agency, you’re unlikely to thrive in any creative industry without contacts.
The good news is, it really doesn’t need to be scary. In fact, it can be fun. Yes, really.
Don’t believe me? Well instead of me trying to convince you, let me tell you a story about one of my clients.
Steve is a RADA-trained actor. He has an average physique, salt and pepper cropped hair and an acerbic north of England wit. He was one of the renowned actors in his year, and yet his biggest frustration was his agent’s failure to get him the right auditions. Although he was moderately successful, he felt he deserved more recognition in the industry and resented having to ‘suck up’ to casting agents.
There are no prizes for guessing how Steve came across in meetings. He was either flippant, to avoid revealing he was desperate for work; overbearing, through trying too hard; or evasive, because didn’t think it was his job to tell people he was fabulous. Funnily enough, Steve complained that networking was a waste of time.
If you change the way you look at something, what you look at changes…
In our coaching session, we looked at the flip side – what’s it like to be a casting director at any social event? Initially, Steve complained that they were all ‘up themselves’ and probably thought actors were repugnant. Gradually, he admitted that they probably find such gatherings tedious – bombarded with actors trying to impress them, and pushy agents making demands.
Instead of feeling bitter, Steve softened his attitude and began to empathise. He reflected on what their pressures were, what kept them awake at night: the burden of finding the right person for a role; the anxiety of getting it wrong. It had never occurred to him that they also had a career to maintain and a reputation at stake.
Armed with this new perspective, he approached networking situations as someone who was decidedly proactive. Instead of avoiding people of influence, he’d approach them. Instead of trying to sell himself, he would be curious about them. Instead of trying to get parts for himself, he’d ask questions and try to understand more about their projects, their challenges or what they were looking for. He would then offer useful suggestions, perhaps offer to put them into contact with people he knew and most importantly, he became more aware of projects that were underway.
Ironically, Steve wasn’t setting out to get jobs, but this invariably would lead to meaningful, unpressured conversations with casting directors who became interested in who he was. He became known as someone who was well connected, knowledgeable and interesting. His agent also began to enjoy interactions with him, especially as he seemed to be someone with good ideas.
Pretty soon, Steve began to have several good contacts in the industry. Because his attitude had shifted towards the director’s needs, he began to be selected more readily by his casting agents. At auditions, he was also more relaxed and less anxious to impress. When called in to do a voice over job, the producer commented on his quick ability to interpret the brief and rang again the following day for another role.
So – Steve transformed from having the attitude of a victim – believing ‘they have all the power’ – to being someone useful in his industry, someone people came to rely on.
I loved this shift in his view of networking. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing that you have no power as a creative and that your agent, gallery owner or producer holds all the cards. It’s so easy to complain that it’s impossible to get work or to blame the recession for the lack of opportunity. There may be truth in all of this, but this perspective will only keep you feeling frustrated and stuck.
You have the power to influence your circumstances in an instant.
See yourself as a true professional and be someone that people want to have around.
The creative industries operate on relationships. How we treat others and the impression we leave behind is as important as your talent. You can influence that any time you want. Even sending someone a note to say ‘thank you’, or, ‘I really liked your last play’, or ‘let me know if you need any help’ is so much nicer than ‘give me a job’.
So – what are you getting from this? Do you have any other ideas on how you can boost the relationships in your industry?
I’d love to know your ideas – let me know by leaving a comment below.