Thursday, October 31, 2013

Networking

Holy falling leaves, Batman.  How did it get to be the end of October?  I've been working on this post for you since early in the month, but rehearsing and performing Tom Wilson Weinberg's Sunrise At Hyde Park took me away.  September, however, was the month of networking. 

Networking rarely feels like work to me. That's because I'm often with people that I want to be with – colleagues, former colleagues, professional acquaintances – and I'm usually eating. This is very different for me. I spend most of my work hours with one other person, a group of people or alone. I'm usually performing an extremely specific set of tasks within a specific time period. That's why sitting face-to-face with another person, talking about our work and our lives doesn't feel like work to me.

That is also why I can put networking at the bottom of the list. In my Midwestern-raised lizard brain, if it doesn't feel like work, it must not be work. So don't do it.

And I'm wrong again!

Networking is a fluid task, with a variety of ways and reasons. Instead of talking about what networking is, let's cut directly to the activities of networking.  Here we go, most of the networking I did during the month of September.  

First, I:

had a late breakfast with a colleague/friend that I've known for over twenty years. We're both in the performing arts, but presently in different disciplines. This does not stop us from getting together about once a year. This time, we quickly caught up on our present careers and then moved on to the new ideas that are currently at the surface.

This relations is important to me. This colleague was there for me in the early years, through some wonderful experiences and through some pretty crappy experiences. I'd like to think I've done the same for her. Because of that, we have a bond that extends beyond the surface. Oh, and when appropriate, we recommend each other for work. This one never, ever feels like work.

Do you make time to sit down with longtime colleagues with whom you don't presently work?


Then I:

had a long conversation with a student about the benefits of networking and how to get started. I encouraged her to contact one or two people in her field that she really admires to ask if they are available to look at her portfolio and give her feedback. Now, you have to tread carefully when you do this. Choose wisely. Seek out respected people whose work and lives you admire; if they have a reputation for mentoring up-and-coming artists, that's even better. When contacting them, be thoughtful about the language you use. Always ask if they are available for this type of work, and what their fee is. Many artists will give you their time for free, but asking what their fee is exudes respect and thoughtfulness, two qualities that are always in fashion. Don't shy away from paying a reasonable fee to a respected professional, BUT do watch out for folks who are looking for an easy income source who don't really know your field.

Are you at a moment in your career where networking with a respected professional would be of value?


At the same time, I:

received an email from a student/colleague updating me on some auditions she had done. Unfortunately, she was also informing me that she was laid off from her parallel career. She asked me to keep her in mind and pass her name on to any contacts I might have that would be helpful to her.


I'm proud of this artist for emailing me. I had previously given her some advice and she wanted me to know what happened after she acted on that advice. That's good; I like to know what happens, either good or bad. Secondly, she asked me for help and I know that's hard to do. But, she recognized that jobs can come from the most unlikely sources and communicating with as many people as possible is, well, smart.

Have you taken that leap of faith and asked someone in your network for help lately?

No, I'm not done. I told you it was a full month!


Over the course of a week, I:

communicated numerous times and in numerous ways with an actor in that blissfully uncomfortable place of negotiating offers. If you're fortunate you'll find yourself in this narrow, sometimes tricky space. You've auditioned and been called back. The callback has gone well. You know there are more callbacks scheduled. In the meantime, another organization emails with a solid offer, that, of course, conflicts with the first offer. You weigh the pros and cons such as, length of contract, type of role, salary and quality of organization. You get a clear sense of which one you prefer, BUT you don't want to lose the second offer in case the first offer falls through. Of course, you want to handle it as professionally as possible so you'll be kept in mind for future projects.

Again, kudos to this artist. She knew I'd be glad to talk her through the various scenarios she had to consider.  The most important piece of this story is that this artist has a relationship with an experienced professional whom she can trust. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that she does study privately with me. But she has cultivated a relationship with me over the years that goes beyond that of only student and teacher. We frequently have serious conversations about the performing profession and life. We also have stupid inside jokes that nobody else on the planet would get. I know she has other trusted advisers in her life and I think that's smart of her.

Do you have a trusted experienced professional in your life who is available to answer questions and give honest advice?


And then I:

connected with a colleague/friend who I work with as much as I can. Our schedules mean we either see each other a lot (when we're working on the same project) or not enough (which is usually the case). Over french fries and ice cream, we discussed life AND professional gigs.

Do you make time for those colleagues that do the same thing you do?


A week later, I:

received an invitation for coffee or lunch from a young artist who is also a Creatavita fan. I was glad to meet with her, not only because she was a fan, but because she did everything the right way. A few weeks ago, we were introduced to each other and at that time, I extended the offer to meet with her in the future. She followed up immediately, offering to take me out for lunch or coffee. Can I tell you how smart this was of her? When you're the one asking, always to offer to pay the bill. Always. Respect oozes out of your pores when you do that.

We had a delightful lunch. She told me a bit about herself, her career and her goals. I answered questions (and she asked some tough ones – good for her), offered contact ideas, gave opinions. I had a good time and I think she did too.

Don't be afraid to do this. Most of us who have “made it” (at least in some sense of that word) are very happy to pass on advice. We've lived through the tough times and now we know what made the difference. We'd like to save you some of the grief. Not all of it because that's what makes you an artist :)

Do you invite an accessible professional out for coffee or lunch to ask them how they got where they are?


Finally, I ended the month:

meeting a former student/colleague to bounce one of my creative ideas off of her. She's gone into video storytelling, a field I know nothing about. I hired her last year for a project and she did fantastic work for me. Fantastic! In our work together on that project, I found that she looks at things differently than I do and that was so refreshing. So, it's smart of me to talk to her about my ideas. Our time together was short and I left thinking, “okay, that was good.” Don't you know, two weeks later, out of the blue, the path I needed for my ideas appeared. Love it when that happens.

Do you meet with artists in related fields to find inspiration for your creative projects?

There you have it. Networking. Get to work!

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