Networking. If I’m honest, the word used to send shivers down my spine,
conjuring images of phoney business types forced to sit next to each other at a £45 per head buffet and make small talk about how successful they are. Then I discovered another side of networking – the sort that kind of is about business but then kind of isn’t. The sort you don’t get charged for. The sort where you make connections that are still genuine 10 years down the line, when you’ve both evolved several times over. The kind that leads not to ‘business deals’ but collaboration.
When it comes to effective self-marketing, networking wins hands down. Nothing beats meeting people and coming together to make something happen. Marie Lefebvre of Footpaths, a community based project which provides the platforms and tools for people to reduce their carbon footprint and lead a more sustainable lifestyle, hosted a festival recently which simply couldn’t have happened without a network of likeminded folk.
“Network is the backbone of the festival: all the people sharing their skills and knowledge are volunteers,”
explains Marie. Marie has a very simple piece of advice for anyone wanting to make ‘things happen’… “Practice the art of asking”. In a world where we communicate with our own loved ones via email, text and social media, it’s easy to forget what it means to personally ask someone for support.
“I must stress that a phone call remains the most effective tool for re-engaging with people you have encountered,”
continues Marie. “For the launch of the website we called every single people we knew to ask them if they wanted to be on our mailing list for the festival, which most agreed to.” People remember a voice, a conversation or a face in a way they don’t an email or Tweet.
Bob Christer – who has roles with educational charity Pedestrian, networking forum CEMENT and theatre festival 14:48 – agrees that often it’s as simple as just talking to people. “Pick up the phone,” advises Bob. “Don’t imagine that anyone is any more important or sophisticated in their ideas than you are just because they have a job in the industry you want to get into.” That’s not to say cockiness is the same as confidence. It isn’t. “Equally, listen and be respectful to those who are in employment in the industry you want to get into,” continues Bob.
“The most useful resources out there are other people and coffee shops. By combining these things you are able to have conversations that may lead to new connections and collaborations. Always be ready to have a coffee…”
I personally haven’t secured a single client or project yet without the help of a black Americano and whatever they’re having.
Jon Woodcock, a recruitment consultant who has worked across countless creative and corporate businesses, couldn’t agree more:
“It’s really simple: people buy from people. However great technology is or becomes it will never overtake the basic human principle of one person talking to another person – talking, seeing and listening. There is nothing better in my opinion.”
Jon urges all his clients to keep an open mind about meetings. “Personally, I think no meeting is a bad meeting as they always lead somewhere,” he says. “You will work together, maybe not straight away, but you will. When there is a genuine connection of individuals who just “get it” you know you have the beginnings of a fantastic business partnership”
A ‘genuine connection of individuals’ has to be just that – genuine – before you even get close to collaborating. That’s what makes us human. Filmmaker Rhys Davies cautions:
“Be interested in what others have to say – I’m always amazed how some people tell you what they do at length but then don’t ask what you do.
When talking to someone don’t look over their shoulder at your next ‘target’. All great networkers make the person they are talking to feel like they are important.” And that goes for everyone you talk to. Rhys continues: “Don’t judge – on appearance or on perceived ability. You never know what someone does or who they know. The film industry is small in the UK – don’t close any doors.” Rhys has a particularly inspiring networking tale about how being personable and gracious can open the most unexpected of doors…. “After finishing my first feature, Zombie Undead, we received a wonderful distribution deal from Metrodome. I was invited to talk at Regent College London. After my interview in front of over 400 people, there was an interview with Gareth Unwin – the Oscar winning producer of The Kings Speech. Gareth name checked me and said that people should do what I was doing – just go out a make a film. Afterwards I congratulated Gareth on The Kings Speech – one of my favourite films – and to my surprise he invited me for a coffee. This networking event – which I attended at my own cost – resulted in meeting an Oscar winner and us receiving script notes on one of our projects…priceless to me and my company.” You cannot put a price on coffee with an Oscar winner but it does go to show that it pays to get stuck in and talk to people.
Think of a workspace, its purpose to enable artists to develop, evolve and share ideas. Networking is one great big workspace, so far reaching and infinite it’s worth keeping an open mind WHEREVER you are. As Sallie Varnam – who works with organisations as diverse as Phoenix Arts, Leicester City Council, Leicestershire Police, Coventry University, Turned on its Head, Pedestrian and the Public Health service – advises: “I’ve met the people I work with through so many ways: going dancing with my kids, talking to people at the park, hanging out in cafés, nattering at the school gates. Going to events in the cultural quarter of course is going to be helpful but you’ll find interesting people in the most unlikely places!
It’s all about having an interest in other people and how what they’re passionate about might make what you’re passionate about even more fascinating.
Try and think about going to events outside your immediate area of interest and you can learn completely different perspectives.” I must confess that I myself met Sallie when we both reached for the same plate of custard creams at a primary school ‘mums to school’ morning. Thirty minutes (and probably far too many custard creams) later we had arranged to meet after school to work on an Arts Council funding application together. I’ve worked with her countless times since and we still hatch many of our best ideas while huddled over the custard creams in a tiny school hall in rural suburbia miles from the Cultural Quarter.