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50 Ways Artists and Creatives Can Build Their Professional Network

A professional network is an invaluable resource for any artist or creative professional. Our professional connections and relationships provide us with a sense of belonging, access to valuable information, sources of advice and ideas, resources and skills that we don’t possess ourselves and new opportunities. Building a professional network is an important piece of our work. For some artists and creatives, networking comes naturally. As an introvert, it’s not something that has come naturally to me. To be honest, over the course of my career I often avoided networking situations altogether.  It’s something I have had to push myself to do and get better at. So it feels a little ironic that I would be someone writing an article sharing 50 ways artists and creatives can build their professional network! But over time, in observing other creatives who are good at networking, taking chances to try and challenging myself to put myself out there and connect with people in different ways, I have gotten much better at it.  Seeing the value that has come out of the relationships I’ve built, motivates me to keep doing it. Networking in various ways has really helped me build my coaching practice. And my clients are also often looking to me for support and strategies to expand their networks and build their own professional relationships. Helping them find ways that work for them has given me additional insight into strategies that creatives can leverage.


I’m sharing some strategies and best practices that I have worked for myself and that I’ve seen work for other artists and creatives. I offer this list not as advice, but in hopes that it will help you find some inspiration and motivate you to try some new ways to build your network as a creative professional.


Here are 50 ways that artists creatives can build their professional network and relationships:


Participate as a professional.

  1.  Apply for professional opportunities!  You can meet new people through residencies, group shows and retreats.

  2. Participate in art fairs, exhibits, showcases, industry and professional events. The more you put yourself and your work out there in professional contexts - the more other professionals you will meet. 

  3. Take part in local open studios, art crawls or business events. The nature of these types of organized events is that new people will come to you. You’ll build your audience and client base and more than likely some visitors who pop by will be creative professionals such as curators, gallerists, producers, agents or media professionals. You never know who might come through your door!

  4. Join and get involved with organizations or groups within your field and professional interests.  You’ll meet other artists and creatives at all stages of career development and tap into a knowledge network as well as resources, mentorship opportunities and other types of professional support. 

  5. Show up to support other artists and creative professionals. Go to other artists’ and creative business owners’ events!

  6. Join directories, professional or industry associations.

  7.  Join collectives or artist run spaces.

  8. Take a class or workshop.  I was recently delighted to connect with two creative professionals at a hands-on textile workshop I participated in a couple of months ago. One referred me to someone who has since become a client and the other I’m collaborating with to present a workshop in a few months and also to syndicate some of my blog articles. I hadn’t even thought of the workshop  as a formal networking opportunity!

  9.  Attend professional events in other cities (and countries).

  10.  Arrive early or linger after things.  It’s easier to have conversations when there are fewer people in the room and people are more likely to talk to strangers when they can’t gravitate to friends or people they already know. Plus it’s less overwhelming than arriving in the midst of a jam packed event.


Be the instigator!

  1. Introduce yourself and initiate conversations.  This can be challenging for introverts such as myself. Just start with “hello - I don’t think we’ve met before…”

  2. Craft your talking points for brief introductions and interactions.  A straightforward introduction of yourself and a couple of key points about what you do that will help others understand and connect with what you create and the focus of your practice or business. 

  3. Talk to presenters at events.  Share what you enjoyed about their talk or presentation. They will undoubtedly appreciate your positive feedback and you will have made a new professional connection. Plus you never know who else they may introduce you to while you are chatting with them. 

  4.  Invite people you’d like to connect with, know better or build relationships with to presentations of your work, to your studio or just for coffee. 

  5.  Send a personal email or handwritten note to someone you’d like to connect with to introduce yourself.  I made a practice of doing this frequently when I was first building my practice. Not everyone I reached out responded, but some long-term professional relationships developed as a result of those who did.


Make a practice of asking

  1. Ask for help or advice.  In my experience, people are flattered and generous when asked for advice. Even if they don’t have time to help they may be able to refer or introduce you to someone else who can. Plus - once they’ve invested their time to get to know you and help in whatever way, you’ve forged a solid connection. They may help you build other connections or offer to help you in other ways that you didn’t ask for or anticipate. 

  2. Ask for introductions. Make the most of professional opportunities by letting organizers and other participants know you are eager to meet people they know and ask them to introduce you to people. Personally, I enjoy introducing people to each other and I have met and worked with lots of other creatives who take pleasure and a lot of pride in connecting creative professionals with people in their networks.

  3.  When travelling to an event or residency or for business, ask your host and other creatives participating to facilitate meetups, studio visits or introductions.

  4.  Tap into the networks of other creatives and friends of friends. 

  5.  Partner with a more extraverted artist friend or creative professional.

  6.  Join a co-working space or studio. 

  7.  Collaborate with other creatives.


Get out of your bubble

  1. Practice connecting as your professional self in different situations and settings.

  2.  Go to art and creative events outside of your own discipline or niche.

  3. Cultivate different kinds of connections. 

  4. Volunteer with personal interest and community groups. 

  5.  Join something outside of your area of expertise. 

  6. Diversify your network.  Nurture professional relationships with service providers such as art shippers, framers, designers, as well as curators, producers consultants, administrators at art organizations, galleries or non-profits, researchers, educators, journalists, content creators, agents, stage or studio managers and the like as part of your extended professional network. As they get to know you, all of these people within the field will get your name around and potentially can connect you with people in their networks.

  7.  Share that you are an artist or creative professional and what you do even outside of professional contexts.  You never know who might be in front of you in a coffee shop or what the parents of kids at your child’s daycare do or who they have in their networks.

  8.  Have photos of your work on your phone and share them.  I recently worked with a client who followed an impulse to share photos of his paintings with a colleague in the lunchroom of his day job at a courier service. His colleague said  “I need to introduce you to a friend of my wife’s who runs a gallery.” The next thing he knew he had his first solo exhibition lined up. True story!


Connect virtually

  1. Leverage social media  Follow people you would like to connect with professionally, Engage with their posts. Direct message and request to meet via zoom or in person. I’ve met and built professional relationships with several creative professionals who reached out to me directly to connect.

  2.  Connect to online forums and communities.

  3.  Join online networking platforms and directories.


 Work on creating and cultivating genuine connections 

  1.   Look to connect authentically, not to sell.

  2.   Align with causes or interests you genuinely care about and that motivate or inspire your creative work. I had a client whose work depicted urban plant life who connected with clients and other professionals through her involvement with a community based environmental protection and education initiative.

  3.   Connect in small but meaningful ways. Make the time and effort to thank people who help you. Reach out to congratulate people on their successes, new positions and when you see they are being formally acknowledged with awards. 

  4.  Send a newsletter.  Keep your network updated on what you are up to in your practice, your milestones and accomplishments and opportunities to see, experience or buy new work you’ve created. 

  5.  Follow up with people you’ve met.  Send a personal dm or email to let them know you are glad to have met them and relate to the conversation you had at the event or when you first talked. Make a point of keeping regularly in touch. 

  6.  Practice small acts of kindness towards other artists and creatives.

  7.  Share your contacts, knowledge, experience and resources to help other artists and creative professionals. They will appreciate it, feel more connected to you and be more inclined to reciprocate.


Be prepared and organized

  1.  Make notes on your phone when you meet new professionals so that you remember their name, organization or role. Then, follow them or ask to connect on social media.

  2. Keep a contact list and make note of contact types or relationships.

  3.  Keep track of your clients and prospects. They are part of your professional network.

  4.  Study your field. Learn who the players are. For example agents, agencies, dealers, art directors, important collectors, curators, critics, thought leaders, journalists, stylists, gallerists, producers and other professionals.

  5.  Research and keep up to date.  Keep expanding your resources and searching for new organizations and programs that you could possibly become a part of or that are aligned with your artistic practice or creative business. 

  6.  Have a professional address. Have a card, website, online shop or social media profile that people can visit to see your work and connect with you as a professional in your creative field.

  7. Be strategic. Reflect on and review the types of contacts you have and what types of relationships you want or need to build and why. 


Be curious and creative

  1.  Ask questions. It takes the pressure off of you in networking situations and helps you discover points of connection and shared interests to build meaningful connections.

  2.  Make a game of it.  Set networking challenges (or goals) for yourself like “I can’t leave until I’ve introduced myself and talked with x# of people.” or “I’ll reach out to 5 people or organizations a month.” Reward yourself with a prize when you hit your target.

  3.  Get creative. What other strategies could you experiment with to make new professional connections?


There are many ways to build a professional network. Different strategies work for different individuals depending on the nature of their work and who they are as a creative professional. It’s important to try and develop a range of ways that work best for you. Very likely you are already doing some of the things in this list.  What else makes sense for you to try?


How can you leverage some of these ideas to build and strengthen your professional network and relationships? 


What actions will you take to build your professional network this month?


.

Image Credit: Allyson Mitchell, 2018, Me networking with Art Gallery of Ontario curators at Museum of Modern Art cafe, NY





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Great post!! Thanks for sharing.

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