Networking can put the fear of God into people if they are expected to present their work to complete strangers.
“Woody Allen said 80% of success is showing up”
laughs Anand Bhatt of dance company Aakash Odedra. The point is it’s about being present: making the effort to engage. Anand’s top tips?
“1. Be able to sell who you are in about 1 minute – repeat the script. And
2. Be enthusiastic: nothing worse than paying for a networking event that you are miserable at. In the early days of not knowing people professionally, getting to know people is a sure fire way of showing people you mean business. People get to know you, then like you, then trust you. I always do business with people I trust.” Put simply, you get out of networking what you put in: make that 20% count.
Tim Sayers, Arts In Health Co-ordinator for Leicestershire NHS Partnership Trust, emphasises that the best resources for any artists are “supportive people within different organisations: you’ve got to find them somehow.” It’s about networking resourcefully, rather than nursing caffeine at every networking event in town – it’s easy to waste a lot of time, energy and money on the misconception that you need to spread yourself thinly. Make your focus to seek out the people relevant to your business, your vision and your ideas. As Tim sums up perfectly,
it’s about finding “The doers not the talkers!”
To do that, targeting the right kind of networking opportunities is essential. Jon Woodcock, a recruitment consultant who has worked across countless creative and corporate businesses, advises a process of elimination with networking events to ensure they’re productive. “Go to as many networking events as you can then start to work out which ones are more beneficial to you and your business. Then keep going to them,” he says.
“It’s all about connecting with likeminded people who are keen to promote themselves and their business. They’ll undoubtedly have a circle of business contacts who could be of benefit to you and, likewise, you will have contacts for them.”
Patrick Welsh, Marketing Manager for Phoenix Arts is another firm believer in the art of connecting meaningfully with a few rather than shoving your business card into the hands of many. “It’s easy to get blinded by the potential for mass marketing when, in reality,
success often comes from targeting and engaging a few people well,”
he says. “It’s important to remember that you are working with people and contact with people is the art of good marketing. Being helpful, generous, doing your research.” Once you’ve done the “showing up” bit, as Woody Allen calls it, make it worthwhile by doing your research first. Who’s doing what in your industry? What challenges do you all face? What’s exciting you all? “Take the time to think about what someone’s interests might be or what might be keeping them up at night,”adds Patrick. “If you can understand those things you increase your chances of a sale one hundredfold.”
Performance poet and writer Jess Green, whose nationwide gigs and current book ‘Burning Books’ have led to so much critical acclaim, enjoys “showing up” because it keeps her on top of relevant events and opportunities in a way endless social media trawling can’t. “Of course things like social media can play a role but it’s important to go to workshops and events and to meet people within the field,” she advises.
“Social media is good for finding events in your area but I tend to find that the more stuff you go to, the more you find out about.”
It’s about “showing up” and finding out what’s on next month, who’s going to what and whether you can pool resources to make the next event even better.
Thankfully, networking is becoming more focused these days as industry insiders are setting up specific groups to encourage and enable their art to thrive on their own doorstep. For example, filmmaker Rhys Davies is currently addressing the lack of networking opportunities for filmmaking in Leicester. “Historically Nottingham has been the Midlands centre for the film industry – think Shane Meadows – with talent and funders clustering on the city” he explains. “Working with Creative England, I think it is important to bring networking opportunities – talks, network events, etc – to other cities such as Leicester. The talent is here, and with a hub like Phoenix Square, it’s only a matter of time before our city becomes a film creative cluster.”Rhys recognises that none of this can happen without people collaborating to ensure these clusters thrive.
Networking is only ever really productive if the agenda is more about collaboration and less about touting your wares, as Joanne Lloyd of branding and website design company A Dozen Eggs can testify. “Something we’d always recommend is working in collaboration,” she advises. “It can be an excellent way to broaden your pool of potential clients and future contacts – not to mention the doors it opens from a creative and service perspective. But avoid bad networking. We’ve been to networking events that turned out to be cliquey groups that have been stagnating together for years over bad coffee. Even in the best case scenario most people are there to flog their own services. In our experience,
networking is best at events that aren’t primarily for networking. With less of an agenda, conversations can happen a bit more naturally and the contacts you do make will be based on a genuine interest in working together.”
And that, is the key to networking in a nutshell. It’s supposed to be about broadening your horizons as well as your contacts book. If it’s cliquey, make a sharp exit. And if the coffee is bad…well that’s unforgivable.