I’m out in Los Angeles again this week, and one thing I’m hearing from a lot of people here is that they find networking intimidating. This isn’t anything new — I’ve been hearing the same thing from my clients in New York for years. One of the main reasons that people seem to get intimidated by the process is that they feel like they have nothing to offer in a networking relationship, especially when they’re dealing with people in the industry who have a lot of influence or power. Well, fear not: I have just the thing to help with this.
In the Artists In Action program, I go through the 10 Principles of Authentic Networking (two of which I blogged about here), and one of them addresses this very issue — it’s called Win/Win. The Win/Win principle focuses on the idea of authentic networking being mutually beneficial, meaning that you have something to offer that is just as valuable as whatever it is you hope to get from the relationship. Networking from a perspective of win/win is based on respect, trust, and equitable sharing. What’s tricky about networking in the arts is that the supply and demand of artists is so out of whack that it’s easy to feel like you need “Them” (whoever they are) more than they need you. But when you apply the win/win principle, you enter into a relationship as equals. Neither of you is better than the other. It’s about being able to confidently say, “I have value to add.”
Last year, one of my coaching clients, a writer by the name of Jocelyn, had her first short story published in a small literary journal around the same time that she was finishing the rough draft of her first novel. Not long after that, she ran into her neighbor, Pam, in the hallway of their apartment building and, after catching up on each other’s lives, Pam offered to introduce Jocelyn to her husband’s sister, who happened to be a literary agent.
At first, Jocelyn was thrilled; she didn’t have an agent and would certainly need one now that her novel was nearing completion. But when Jocelyn heard that the agent in question worked for one of the more prestigious literary agencies in the city, she started to have doubts. In her mind, she didn’t deserve to be playing on the same field as that agency without having a major body of work to stand on. She basically felt like an amateur.
Pam told Jocelyn that the one thing her sister-in-law always complained about when it came to her job was a lack of original voices and new perspectives. If there was one aspect of her writing that Jocelyn felt most confident with, it was her unique voice, which was the very thing that the literary journal found so compelling in her short story.
The more that Jocelyn thought about it, she realized that the agent needed quality material just as much as she needed quality representation. And even if she only had one minor success with her published story, it was still a success that she could point to as an example of her unique voice; one that she felt would be a benefit to the agent, no matter how prestigious. Shifting her perspective to win/win made all the difference when it came to Jocelyn stepping up to the plate and moving her career to that next level.
I’ve seen countless examples of this principle put into practice, and I can’t tell you how much of a confidence booster it is. So, the next time you feel hesitant about initializing a networking relationship, stop and think about what it is that you can bring to the table. It may not always be obvious, but with a little creativity, I’m sure you’ll find that you have something of value to offer in any situation.