I fully admit to the utter truth in the saying, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts.” Well, mostly. Before you slash your wrists because you think you don’t know enough people to find work, let me assure you it’s never too late to start what they call, “your network.”
“Network” is just a fancy word for people you know and to whom you are connected. People who follow you on Twitter are “in your network.” On LinkedIn, they list a number of people “in your network,” even though you are not first level connections. Are these people important to you? Of course! They at least have some level of connection to you – more than strangers on the street.
Starting Your Network
Your network starts when you are born. It’s your family and probably the most important network in your life. I could write paragraphs about how annoying family can be when they give you advice about the creative business – in fact, I’ve written articles about it, focusing on the annoying uncle who wants you to do his logo and website for free, but the truth is, that crazy uncle might also have grown up with the president of a large corporation or saved the life of Bill Gates on D-Day. Your family knows people and that’s the strongest network you could ever have.
I made the mistake of ignoring offers from family members when I got out of art school. I had a job and wanted to “make it on my own.” Please line up to kick me in the seat of my pants. Why struggle? When I said “well, mostly” in the first paragraph, I do admit that you can find a great job or project through someone you know, but it’s your talent that will ultimately help you keep it.
If you go to art school, that is another big network that will help you grow your career. I have kept in touch with several friends from art school and we have fed each other great projects over the years. It is not only the relationship – it’s that we know we can trust each other to do a great job.
Where are some members of my art school? I don’t know and don’t care. Their résumés have come across my desk here and there. I figure if they couldn’t get along with classmates, they aren’t going to be able to get along with coworkers. Take that as a lesson: if you’ve alienated your classmates, you’d better mend those relationships fast, because, and here’s the flip side of the old saying – you can be very talented, but no one will hire you if they don’t want to work with you.
Over the years, friends have done work for me and screwed up royally. They expected me to ignore it and give them further work. Friendship is friendship and business is business. I don’t care how much I like you. If you affect my career, you will not be hired again. In other words, do well by your network.
Networking With Strangers
They say, “a stranger is a friend you haven’t met.” I say that statement is a bit too sticky-sweet for me but it is true. There are many ways to expand your network once you’ve left art school.
Upon leaving art school, I got involved with the Graphic Artists Guild. It wasn’t long before I found myself on the board of directors and several committees. I got very close with other board members, who were more experienced than I was but they were and still are great connections, as were members of the organization who needed the help of the committees to which I belonged and usually chaired.
Most towns and cities have some sort of business networking group. This is one of the best ways to find freelance work because you are becoming familiar with the client directly. There is one drawback. As with the uncle who wants free work, when you become too friendly with a client, they ask you to do “favors.” A favor here and there for a client is not a bad thing… as long as it’s returned. It usually isn’t. When you don’t charge for changes, rush work, or little extras, the only way to have a favor returned is usually extra money on other jobs. Client/friends don’t go for that very often.
It pays to look for other avenues and that, most easily, is recommendations to expand your network. As with family, when you do a favor for a client, it’s easier to get names from them to pursue. Call those people and say, “Joe Smith is a client of mine and he said you need my services.”
Recommendations, or “word-of-mouth” is a great way to find clients. It’s easier than cold calling!
Yes, the number one business networking group on the internet has a dark side. There are spammers and phonies and people who don’t give a damn about you, but it’s also a way to create a network of millions! With the right outreach, your return can be substantial. As with anything, it takes care, some street smarts and discretion in whom you accept into your first level network. With time, your network will stabilize and you can concentrate on advertising to a select group of your preferred connections.
Another great thing about LinkedIn is the ability to get introductions from connections to their connections. While LinkedIn does limit your ability to connect with people you don’t know, the introduction can get you in like a digital handshake at a virtual cocktail party.
One thing I like to point out to people is a pet peeve of many on LinkedIn; do not try to connect to people using the “friend” or “worked with” options if it’s not true. If you do, at least include a paragraph telling them why you’d like to connect. The default invitation is cold and impersonal. It’s like running past someone at a real life networking event and throwing your card at his or her face. Chances are you’ll just give the person a paper cut on their eye and they’ll hate you forever.
A client said he just didn’t get Twitter. I said it was a billboard by the highway you pass at 70 miles/kilometers an hour. The simple analogy worked, but Twitter can be so much more. The thing about social media is… it’s SOCIAL (as any networking is or should be).
I like to interact with people so when they tweet about a project they’ve done, I reply back. When they post a funny photo, I reply a snarky comment. When they tweet they are out at some coffee place, I reply that I’m robbing their home. This works so well in reaching people, I’ve been blocked by Bill Gates and other famous people!
Twitter holds some great opportunities if you are creative and persistent. If you are one of those people who tweet single word posts, like, “working,” “shopping” or “bored,” then you won’t pull in many followers and followers are your network on Twitter.
Many people think Facebook is a great substitute to all of the social media tools available. I agree, and then again, I don’t. Personally, my Facebook page is for people I have actually met. As a freelancer, it’s my chance to spend some time chatting with others while I sit alone. Some call it “water cooler chatting.” I’ve never wanted it to be more.
Facebook, however, does offer everything in one package and mixed with some smart effort, you can turn a Facebook page into a powerful network. It allows you to look a bit deeper into your connections and see who they are, which is the social part of building a network. As with Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s not the quantity of your numbers – it’s the quality of your connections. 3,000 people who cannot buy your services are not as valuable as 30 who can.
There’s nothing like building the “1,000 True Fans.” Writing for as many blogs as I do, my personal blog has become the hub for my small but sick following to find my latest articles and rants. Theses are people who want to read what I have to say (if you can believe that) and look for more. I see their screen names in comment sections on different blogs and I make sure I show recognition of those fans so I bring them into my network. I answer their questions, address their concerns and, when they are not in agreement with what I have said, I debate and never argue. Flaming someone on the internet not only makes them angry; it makes those who read the flaming just as mad at you.
There’s several rules people always say about blogs. The most important is to give people something they want to see and give it to them often. Repeat and regular viewers are telling you that they are interested in what you have to say. Interested readers today are the clients of tomorrow!
Social Media Is About Being SOCIAL!
There’s a famous quote I relate to students whenever I speak at an art school, and it’s important in networking, as well as life.
“Be kind to the people you meet on the way up, because you’ll meet them on the way down.”
From the snooty kid in art class who was too good to talk to anyone else, to the abusive art director who uses their power over others for personal affirmation, we all go up and down the ladder in our profession and people remember the hurt and humiliation. I’ve been in positions to hire people, and when a stack of résumés sits on my desk, there will always be at least a dozen from people who treated me badly. Not because of anything I did. They were just bad people. There were people for whom I did great favors that they refused to return. There were people who tried to screw me and succeeded. When at their low point, having me stand over them, able to lift them up a bit, I have to wonder what they think about it. Do they think, “I never should have done that to him” or feel badly about their actions? I’ll never know because kindness only goes so far.
It’s hard to forgive and usually impossible to be forgiven. Guard your network and your reputation. A simple Google search brings up more about someone than they probably want known. When making a statement within your professional circle, it’s best to be known as helpful, friendly and courteous. It’s the best way to keep expanding your network.