A great network can take you anywhere. But building that network is challenging. Even terrifying.
Still, future you will be thankful if you find people before you need their help.
Being proactive gives you a buffer. You can lead with value instead of asking for help in an emergency.
Early networking is like asking someone on a date in middle school. You get sweaty hands, butterflies in the belly, and even stutters. Your nerves can get the best of you. Especially if you’re a solitary artist who spends more time in the studio than around people.
Try to realize it’s a numbers game: the more you reach out, the easier it gets.
I want to make it effortless from the beginning. So, I’ve arranged these groups from easiest to hardest. Let’s get started!
Supporters are the easiest people to find.
I use a broad definition of supporter: people who support your goals or provide supportive services.
With this broad definition, a supporter is:
- Your gallery curator who gets your work seen.
- Your parent providing motivation.
- A mechanic who changes your oil and brakes.
- A friend who offers advice and reads your shitty drafts.
- A therapist who helps you think clearly.
- The kid who mows your lawn.
People are required to make anything happen. Cultivate supporters early and you can accomplish anything (with their help). Supporters become one of your highest points of leverage. Build this group early.
Your clients are also your supporters. They pay your bills by trading money for your products and services. It pays to consider them as part of your network.
Find groups of people who focus on the same things you do; hobbies and professions, alike.
People of similar skill levels are peers that you grow with. You have conversations with your peers about tools and techniques. You even compete with your peers in the job market or for gallery space.
Having a solid network of peers gives you a benchmark for your own progress.
Some of your peers may be your supporters. Some may challenge your ideas. Some may become students or mentors in different areas of your life.
Your peers will form what Chase Jarvis calls your “base camp” community. You’ll have an intimate understanding of the challenges and goals of your peers. Because you likely face the same challenges and have the same goals.
Build relationships with your peers and help them overcome mutual problems.
Mentors are people whose hindsight can become your foresight. My wife brought home a fortune from a cookie that said that once. I keep that fortune with me.
You can have as loose of a definition of mentors as supporters. Because everyone has something to teach you. It’s a matter of being curious enough to find out what that is.
But let’s get specific: Mentors are more skilled than you in your field of art. Find them and ask them to guide you.
You can find mentors online. You can also find mentors in books. Many mentors create courses. Some of them have podcasts or blogs. Many of my mentors have been dead for thousands of years.
You don’t have to work one-on-one to gain from a mentor’s expertise, but it helps. You can get quality feedback from direct mentorships. This accelerates your skill as an artist.
Try to find local mentors you can study under, but don’t use lack of availability or finances as an excuse. You can always have mentors through books and courses.
Challenge your knowledge of an art by teaching it. You can always help someone earlier on their path than you. And you should help.
First, it helps you clarify your own thinking and processes. You don’t understand something if you can’t explain it to someone else. And to teach well, you need to simplify and clarify what you know. Teach kids what you know as a true test of your knowledge.
Second, it builds your reputation for being helpful. Provide value before you try to capture it. Teaching helps you build a positive reputation.
Let your hindsight become someone else’s foresight. Be the teacher you wanted for yourself.
The last group is the most challenging group to build, and it has little to do with art.
Social media, online advertising and tracking, and a heated political climate have turned most realities into echo chambers.
We form beliefs that seem factual. We associate with people who affirm our values. We see news that targets us based on our opinions. Ads show products based on our beliefs. Search results are served based on our browsing histories and GPS locations. This distorts our perception of reality.
Find your anchor again with conflicting opinions. Connect with people who have different views. Figure out WHY they think the way they do.
As Daniel Kahneman said in an interview with Adam Grant: “No one enjoys being wrong, but I do enjoy having been wrong because it means I am now less wrong than I was before.”
If you always want to be “right” then you’ll never be “better.” Adopt a growth mindset and embrace being wrong.
Challengers introduce diversity. Diversity leads to creativity. Look for people from different generations, nationalities, genders, races, creeds, orientations, cultures, etc. Get curious and let them change your mind sometimes.
An important aside here: interacting with challengers is—well—challenging. It’s easier to keep an open mind if you humanize challengers before you discuss challenging topics.
Find common ground to stop yourself from turning challengers into “them.” It’s not “us vs. them” — it’s just “us.” What do you have in common? Find that first.
Another type of challenger is a “red team” friend or group of friends. Find people who may agree with you but challenge you anyway. These are the friends you reach out to for critiques of your work.
Create a pact with your red team friends: they need to challenge your ideas and be brutally honest with your work so you can grow.
Start writing names.
Get a list started now. Start with people you already know and sort them into the five groups:
Then start listing people you would LIKE in each group on a new sheet of paper or a new document.
We’re starting simple. Find how people already fit somewhere, and where you want to focus on building your network next.
You will build a more robust system over time, but a list of names is where you start.
These lists aren’t just people, they’re opportunities for a better future. Don’t neglect your network!
This is part 2 of a multi-part series on networking for artistic success. Make sure you subscribe to my newsletter if you want updates for every new article:
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