This is the last of five posts on the topics of my presentation at New Hope Academy’s Ask An Expert Day. Check them all out here!
#5. Seek Out A Community
One of the biggest aspects of college that I miss is the community. I was surrounded by artists for five years, in class and out of it. My friends were artists. Half of my roommates were cartoonists. Since we were in an academic setting, helpful criticism was everywhere, as was encouragement and inspiration.
What a shock it then becomes to leave college and lose that community. I still have a wide collection of friends, but now my friends are actors and directors and writers and teachers and administrators. Very few visual artists. This is natural because, unless you find work at an agency that employes a menagerie of artists, most companies don’t need more than one designer, and freelance and fine artists are by definition alone.
This is why it is vitally important that you seek out and maintain your own community of artists wherever you, preferably in the flesh in addition to online. I meet up with an ever-changing group of freelance professionals once a month and we exchange stories and helpful tips about our work and our businesses. There is no substitute for being around people who really understand what you do. And you never know— that community can become its own studio, or you can all rent work space together.
This community is good not only for your soul, but your business as well. Every potential client that has ever contacted me out of the blue did so from a recommendation by a current client or a colleague. Not every job is right for every artist, and being able to recommend somebody from your circle is not only good for your friend, but good for you too because that client may turn around and recommend you to someone else as an artist who cares. The more connections you make, the larger your community becomes, and the less you have to toil to bring in new clients and new work.
However, there is a wrong way to go about this. When I was in college, many professors impressed upon me the need to “network” — to go to functions and meet people for the purpose of creating connections between yourself and potential colleagues and employers. I hated this idea; it felt like schmoozing and made me feel creepy and desperate. And I’ve seen people attempt this: the girl who shakes everyone’s hand, drops a few lines about what she does, and moves on. Or worse yet, the guy who walks up to a table and just hands out his business card, says thanks, and moves on. If you’re good at it, you can work a room, you can develop a tight network of resources, cultivate a faceless following, and manage to be great at business. But more often than not, those cards get thrown away immediately; the girl leaves your memory within the hour. And the reason is because they are networking without connecting.
Networking, if done right, is the same as making friends. You meet people and talk, you find common interests, you tell jokes, you hang out a little while. I have found it is better to cultivate meaningful relationships with a handful of people that you meet in any business social function than to try carpet bombing the entire event. You will discover that having a community of 10 colleagues and business contacts that you’ve cultivated through friendship and goodwill will serve you better than a network of 100 people who barely know who you are, but follow you on Twitter. This reliable community isn’t just a business tactic, it’s a necessary part of being both a good artist and a human being.
So that wraps up my posts on my presentation at New Hope Academy. It took a little longer to complete than I had anticipated, but I think I’ve covered all the bases I want to. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. I’d love to keep talking about this stuff.