Why performers need to network
Professional performers, when they’re working or not, are professionals because they already put in perhaps 50 to 60 hours a week. For the elite thinker and serious dreamer – this should be fun, not work.
What’s sometimes not so fun and often downright drudgery is networking. Meeting and schmoozing is how it’s often referred to and I admit – sometimes it’s just hard to get up for it, but if you don’t – you do so at your own career peril.
Are you an artist, performer, or creator who wants to learn how to network better?
The difference between consistently working entertainment professionals and performers – in front of or behind the camera – is they know networking is essential for improving opportunities. You know, and I know, that not always the best person for the job gets the job and most of the time it’s because they knew somebody.
Why is Networking So Important for Your Creative Career?
I’m not asking you to go back in time and get different parents who just happen to be studio executives, major casting agents or big stars in their own right – which obviously gives the budding performer a leg up to say the least. But you need to quit complaining about nepotism, because not only is there nothing you can do about it – but it goes on in every industry, and frankly it’s more common in other businesses than show business.
It’s just that in other industries, people tend to praise someone “following in their father’s footsteps” – rather than sneered at by folks trying to make it in the entertainment business.
This will seem weird, but listen up: Going to a networking event and handing out aggressively your headshot or business cards and expecting to immediately land a role or gig doesn’t necessarily work. Don’t try to talk to people just to see what they can do for you. The idea is to build up the creative network around you, so that you’ll hear about opportunities and people will hire you organically through your connections.
Daily work strategies of taking initiative and networking make for future stars and you can train and actually get better at networking.
The key to how to network successfully is to be genuine, and to show sincere interest in the people you talk to and the work they’re doing. You don’t even have to talk exclusively about work—the idea is to forge connections, so engage with your fellow creators like you would a potential new friend.
Do you think John Travolta woke up one day and was an A-list actor? Wrong. The man who first discovered and cast John in the TV series, “Welcome back Kotter” says that despite being a legit star back then, John was always broke and borrowing money. Why?
Because Travolta took every extra dime and networked with it. He took out ads in Tiger Beat magazine with his photos posing with other stars and showed up wherever there was a place to show up. Even after being cast in “Saturday Night Fever” – he didn’t stop. It worked out okay and I have a feeling he didn’t always want to be around the schmoozers and PR people – but it was necessary and still is.
From Harvard Law Review:
One of the happiest, most successful executives we know is a woman named Deb. She works at a major technology company and runs a global business unit that has more than 7,000 employees. When you ask her how she rose to the top and why she enjoys her job, her answer is simple: people. She points to her boss, the CEO, a mentor who “always has her back”; Steve, the head of a complementary business, with whom she has monthly brainstorming lunches and occasional gripe sessions; and Tom, a protégé to whom she has delegated responsibility for a large portion of her division. Outside the company, Deb’s circle includes her counterparts in three strategic partnerships, who inspire her with new ideas; Sheila, a former colleague, now in a different industry, who gives her candid feedback; and her husband, Bob, an executive at a philanthropic organization. She also has close relationships with her fellow volunteers in a program for at-risk high school students and the members of her tennis group and book club.
This is Deb’s social network (the real-world kind, not the virtual kind), and it has helped her career a lot. But not because the group is large or full of high-powered contacts. Her network is effective because it both supports and challenges her. Deb’s relationships help her gain influence, broaden her expertise, learn new skills, and find purpose and balance. Deb values and nurtures them. “Make friends so that you have friends when you need friends” is her motto.
“My current role is really a product of a relationship I formed over a decade ago that came back to me at the right time,” she explains. “People may chalk it up to luck, but I think more often than not luck happens through networks where people give first and are authentic in all they do.”
You really don’t know who your next boss is going to be or who’s uncle will die and leave them a couple million to blow on an indie film. Treat everyone special, no matter what. Also – if you’re an actor, don’t just talk to artists. If you’re a model, don’t just talk to other models. Branch out and make contacts who have other interests; you might benefit in the long run when they hear of an opportunity you wouldn’t have seen otherwise, or want to collaborate on a project.
Compare the regimens of star performers to those of the also-rans and you’ll see the difference. Here’s a personal example:
I used to open as a comic for the singer, “Marky Mark.” He was a white rapper whose claim to fame was pulling his pants down to where you could see most of his boxer underwear. I prayed with these guys before the gig – which pretty much was 12-year-old girls throwing ice at me, because I wasn’t Marky Mark.
Eventually I quit because the music wasn’t for me, the crowd wasn’t for me, the money was just okay and it was really getting me down. But Marky dug me. He even tried telling jokes before I went out (which made it worse for me, truth be told – but I admired it) and we were casual friends.
Well, you know the end of the story I’m sure… Marky Mark grew up to be Mark Wahlberg and if I would have stuck with it and done a better job networking – at least staying in touch with him – great things might have happened. I was in the right place at the right time and I fucked it up.
Here’s another thing: Mark told me his daily regimen of eating, working out, studying, practicing, going to classes, etc. and I felt like a total loser when comparing my goofy days. Of course I was a comic, so forgive me for doing a lot of observing and thinking – but I still could have been better with more discipline. I had and still have a wonderful career – but if I merely looked at this guy and did some of the things he did – it probably would have paid off.
And he’s a great guy, so I might have ended up with a legit friend – who knows?
Anywhoozer – I never thought in a million years I’d be laying in bed, binge-watching Boardwalk Empire and seeing the Executive Producer credit 20 years later of a guy who was genuinely interested and very complimentary of my talent way back when he was a billboard on Sunset in his underwear…
Back to learning: Before you get out there to network, you want to make sure you’re presenting yourself in the best way possible both online and in real life.
Prospective producers, casting agents, etc. need to be able to find you online—and, when they do, they shouldn’t find an outdated or sloppy presence. Get your shit together and be honest – you’re who you are and then some.
The old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true. But it’s more nuanced than that.
When you do meet someone, you need to be able to give them your elevator pitch – a 30-second explanation of what makes you and your work so interesting. People assume this is just for salespeople, but don’t kid yourself – that’s what you are and if you’re waiting for an agent to do this for you – good luck with that.
The last thing and most important thing is how you come across in real life and if you’re nervous before heading out to a networking event, ask a friend to literally rehearse with you—introduce yourself like you would to a prospective client and get their feedback on how you’re coming off. With what our body language, facial expressions, and voice inflection convey, this could be a lifesaver. Lose your pride, Mr. Know-it-all.
Get out there.