For creative professionals, networking means more than a fancy badge on a LinkedIn profile or sharp business cards. While the flashy details can help attract attention, many “creatives” should feel confident that they have a competitive advantage when it comes to networking. While creativity often does require solitude and enough alone time to generate new thoughts and ideas, creative people are social beings who should flaunt the unique and truly valuable aspects of their personalities.
Says Kristen Dolle, founder and CEO of Pink Brick House, an up-and-coming media agency, “As a creative, you’re one of the most interesting people in the room, so just think about how everyone else feels. Flaunt what you got.”
“Whether they explicitly acknowledge themselves as leaders or not, artists often move others to follow them — into neighborhoods, into a new a social movement, or even just a dialogue. They do it through the skills that are inherent in their work as professional “inspirers” and provocateurs,” writes John Maeda, for HarvardBusiness.org. “Sure, some artists might be introverts and some extroverts, but through their art, they act as creative leaders in their boldness to often express a point of view as the naked truth.”
Given the brutal economic climate and its uncertain future, job applicants in all industries need to find ways to help themselves stand out in a desperate crowd. Suffering industries like media are powered almost completely by creative individuals. Despite their influence and power, creative people are sometimes undervalued; to the ignorant outsider, a Master of Fine Arts degree can seem like a vain pursuit, and a strong entrepreneurial drive might look like a crazy streak. Seeking opportunities within a professional network is a way for creative professionals to approach individuals who already trust their talents and respect their accomplishments.
“I know it can be difficult to grow professional relationships as a creative person. It can feel gross,” says Erik Fabian, a performance artist and entrepreneur living in Brooklyn, NY. “But networking is just a skill that can be learned. Networking is not about selling out; it is about allowing people to see your talent and capacity to help them solve their problems.”
In 2004, Fabian graduated from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a Master of Fine Arts in Performance. When he’s not busy being a performance artist, Fabian runs his own consulting business: Double Happiness LLC. He helps other businesses find inspiration, generate ideas, plan engaging events and experiences, learn how to talk about their products and services in a more engaging way, and access new talent, among other things. He has been able to use his inherent creativity and creative education as a way to help him generate new techniques for networking.
“Create projects with friends and use the time as an opportunity to look beyond your immediate circle for help. Have a party based on making stuff. Invite the kind of people you want to meet, not just the people you know,” says Fabian. “Consider entering a project challenge put out by a social entrepreneur organization. Send out calls for interest through your social networking channels.”
Food bloggers and creative cooks have no shortage of online challenges to inspire their creativity and whet their appetites. In November, The Daring Kitchen posted a cannoli challenge for brave kitchen creators. Hosted by food blogger Lisa Michele, of Parsley, Sage, Desserts, and Line Drives, the November 2009 Challenge invited food bloggers to craft their most creative cannoli: “The filling is YOUR choice! Anything you want to fill them with is perfectly fine, sweet or savory, or you can use the filling recipe provided – making whatever changes you want to it…The sky is the limit here, be creative!”
A Google search for “Daring Bakers November Challenge” will yield many of the results. Photos of “cream cheese and dulce de leche cannoli“, “cannoli with peppermint mascarpone filling“, and “pumpkin spice cannoli” are aggregated on sites like Tastespotting.com. After the challenge, bloggers comment each other’s creations, finding more inspiration and ways to improve in the future.
What unites most creative people is a passion for their art and the fact that they would do their work whether or not they were receiving compensation for it. Money is a topic that many creative people would rather avoid; if given the choice, most would love to pursue their passions and not worry about how to monetize them. Those food bloggers weren’t paid for their time and effort, but they did gain meaningful relationships with other bloggers who share the same passion. Says Fabian, “Regardless of the format, online or off-line, it helps to give more than you receive. Don’t start off asking for things. Get to know people and find out what interests them. Look for ways to help others enjoy their interests and achieve their goals. And be sure to follow up with people you meet.”
Offering products and/or services for free can make creative professionals seem like expert and give them chance to show off talents to an audience that’s increasingly numb to their pleas. Jarvis Slacks is a Maryland-based writer who has made the first draft of his first novel, Milton Called Ton, available for download on his website. When he’s not teaching writing classes at a local community college, Slacks updates his blog and works on his fiction. He says, “Someone downloads it once a week, so I’m getting my stuff out somewhere. I think it is important that your name is on people’s lips, no matter how you do it. Money isn’t the only thing important.”
What’s important to creative people? Many value originality, a commitment to innovation, and aesthetic appeal. Therefore, most creative professionals are usually turned off by unimaginative situations and organizations like standard networking mixers or happy hours. Says Dolle, “The more creative I am, the more standard conversations bore me. Asking questions that I actually want to know helps me figure out how a person can be relevant to me quickly and instantly makes me seem even more interesting to them.”
Catalogue all your interests and brainstorm new and creative ways to use them as networking tools. Twenty-eight-year-old Michael Bell didn’t feel comfortable networking at the bar after work, mostly because he would rather be at the gym or looking for a suitable running trail. Finally, Bell realized that he could exercise and meet people at the same time, even though his peers made it seem like happy hour was the only way to connect.
Bell owns The Modern Brand Company, LLC, an advertising agency based in Birmingham, AL; he has done print and web design and logo and identity development for small businesses. Says Bell, “I have spent the last three years building a professional network without going through the stodgy business channels like the Chamber of Commerce. Young professionals have much better success at networking if they use their natural channels to meet like-minded contacts. I formed several local running groups and invited clients and friends to join. Now, I host weekly runs that allow me to network while I exercise. Some of my best connections have been formed during runs;there is plenty of time to talk about business but also time to get to know people personally. Sharing a passion forges stronger connections.”
Ultimately, creative professionals possess the unlimited power of their imaginations. They can imagine themselves as the people they would like to become and carve that niche for themselves in any industry, as long as they realize that the same skills and talents they use to generate art can work effectively in the business world too.
“Use your imagination to become an amazing, unique celebrity version of yourself,” says Dolle. “Whether they love you or hate you, people will remember you.”