This is a good question that I have difficulty answering. It isn’t that I don’t know the answer, which is a resounding YES. It is that I, for various reasons, have difficulty with networking. So to all those that have the same aversion, I feel your pain. That said, if there is a gap in your professional career that you think might be bridged by increased communication and/or interaction with others in and out of your field, networking may be the answer. Here are some reasons for and some tips on networking.
Some Reasons for Networking:
Getting an edge on the competition. You may feel that you are not competing at full capacity. If you aren’t networking, you’re right. There are opportunities that are passed around solely by word of mouth. Building alliances with the right people can make apparent those opportunities that never make it as far as a “Call for Artists” section of a publication or website.
Finding hidden streams of support/finance. You may feel that there are opportunities out there that you don’t know about. Networking can help you find them. Deals on art supplies; which online galleries, hosting sites or blogs produce the best results; affordable work space, rehearsal and performance spaces; housing; information on funding opportunities; and other forms of support are often secured by knowing and talking with the right people. Networking is about getting to know a wide range of people in a wide range of professions.
Resisting/preventing isolation. You may feel that your work isn’t selling or being promoted because not enough people know you, know about you, or understand what you’re doing. Networking may be a solution. Networking builds relationships that help promote not just your work, but the artist behind the work. By giving your work the added definition that only you can articulate, you help build the marketability of your work. This makes your work not only about what is physically visible to potential collaborators, supporters, advocates and patrons but also adds the significance of knowing you personally.
But even the bravest among us has some anxiety about networking. Here are some tips and tools to help alleviate some of the anxiety and help your networking be more successful.
1) Be yourself; be natural and authentic.
2) Consider it’s a give and take. Don’t make it all about you.
Remember to ask questions and to listen. Active listening is very important.
3) Know your limit and your personality type. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert you’ll want to find balance between networking and quality personal time.
4) Make goals for you to accomplish at each function. Remember to value your time and to be there with intention.
5) Keep it professional. Remember that you want people to remember you in a positive light.
6) Have a business card. Also ask for business cards from others and remember to carry a pen for notes.
7) Follow through. Once you make a connection make sure to nurture it.
8) Don’t get discouraged. Remember that networking produces results over time. It’s about building relationships in the long term.