Artists and Designers Networking Guide: Part 3 in this series tells how important it is to continue being in contact. Too many of us don’t do it. Jump to the other posts about networking:
- Part 1: How to Get Started
- Part 2: Practical Tips
- Part 3: How to Follow Up
- Part 4: How Gratitude Maintains Connection
Why follow up? Whether you’re hoping for a new client, a job interview, or just a friendly connection, following up is a key skill to practice. We all want to be surrounded by positive, trustworthy, and responsible people. When people see your name in their inbox, caller id, or text message notifications what do you hope they will feel?
If we know that opening your message, there will be something useful, kind, or positive of course that will be something I’ll want to read! If when I see you on the street, I know that I’ll be greeted with a smile and generous words, then, of course, I’ll be happy to say hello! You might ask what’s in it for you. What if you say positive affirmations and don’t receive the response you hoped for? I’d rather know that I attempted to be giving. Other people may not want what I have to offer and that is okay! You have a lot to offer for those kindred spirits who want to receive what you have.
“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” C.S. Lewis
This is a key skill that we often don’t use to our advantage. When reading articles on job searching, have you noticed the inevitable quote about the job seeker who applied to 200 jobs a day and didn’t receive a single interview or job? One could guess that this person wouldn’t have time to follow up on every job lead. Asking a week or two later about the status of that application makes a difference. Even if you did get an interview and didn’t get the job, have you ever thought to contact them and ask them how their new hire is doing? If the answer is fantastic, they might still be expanding and you could now add yourself to be next on their list. If the answer is not as much, you could be the one they ask for next.
If you paint a picture and a friend says that it’s too big for their wall, you might ask them what they think of the next piece that is smaller. Think outside of the box when following up and staying connected. Remember, “networking” isn’t a thing. It’s just a word that means making some really good friends who happen to have a professional interest in common.
Here are 10 ideas that might make follow-up interactions more possible and comfortable for you and your friends:
1. Be Respectful
Give the benefit of the doubt. Be humble. There’s always the possibility that friends are caught up in other tasks. We all have a long enough list of things we’d love to do that will take us the rest of our lives. We’ll never be able to get everything done. Be mindful of that with others. Even if others wanted to include you or benefit you, they won’t always be able to for reasons you may never know. If you haven’t heard from them, you might be helping them remember. Avoid anything thank can be read as “Why aren’t you answering me!?” Actions that consist of patience, trust, kindness, gentleness, and support will be favorably received.
Try this: Ask about their wants and needs
They know their needs and wants better than you could. No matter how much experience you have or the knowledge you attain, they will know their own lives best. Your scripts are kind when they include questions such as “How does that work for you?” and “What would you want in this situation?” No matter what the response, show empathy and consideration by using the most supportive and trusting language. One useful response, especially if the answer is unexpected or not what you hoped, is “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
2. Be Thankful
Gratitude is the foundation of relationships. A feeling of reciprocity helps create a sense of trust and connection.
Try this: Send a thank you note
Every time I hang out with a friend, I send them a thank you text the next day. Be specific about what you enjoy. “Thanks for having dinner and telling me about your trip! You’re always so inspirational and have an exciting life!” Life is too short to not notice the good qualities in those around you and to express your appreciation. For bigger events, consider sending a handwritten thank you note.
3. Be Generous
Generosity is giving with no expectation to receive. Many people are not generous because this leaves them vulnerable. To give without receiving can be scary. We don’t want to be taken advantage of. If we look at our lives with gratitude, we will notice that many people who impress us are the ones who do more than they could or have to. If we observe gratitude to the ones around us, we may even notice that no one owes us anything. None of our friends or family have to do anything for us. Even if we help them, they could choose not to help us anyway.
Why be generous then? It is for ourselves. To do something and know we can be charitable. If the person you are trying to connect with is genuinely someone who you appreciate or admire, then show appreciation for that inspiration.
A coworker inspired me to try going to the gym at 6 am. She went every week before work and while I tend to be an evening person, I thought I’d give it a shot. I’d tell friends about how she inspired me even though they didn’t know my coworker. A week or so later, making conversation at work it felt natural to say “Oh, by the way, I thought of you last week! You said you went to Bodypump at 6 am so I tried it. I’m still not a morning person, though because it worked for you I tried something new.”
“You make all kinds of mistakes, but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.” Winston S. Churchill
Try this: Show appreciation secretly
Think of how your skills can be used to help others or show appreciation. On The Uncanny Creativity Podcast, I’ll often mention helpful tweets and thank them publically. With friends and coworkers, one of the most powerful things you can do is compliment them when they aren’t listening. “Oh wow, you worked with Samantha Roberts? She is an amazing writer! I worked with her on a project where she did her homework and I learned a ton about Baltimore.”
Complimenting others when they may or may not hear tells the person you’re speaking with that you genuinely think about the people you meet. This also is a great way for you to feel like an appreciative person yourself. This also gives you a bit of conversation that you can share in future direct interactions. “Did I ever tell you how great that article is? I told John the other day that it helped me understand.”
As I discussed in the practical tips article of this guide, there are many ways to be involved in your community and the world including visiting art gallery receptions, volunteering, art organization events, and classes. If you’re attending events, then it often makes sense to invite others who might be interested. Make sure to invite them a few weeks ahead of time as they’re more likely to have less scheduled and will appreciate the notice Also be graceful if they decline. If you’ve given yourself a few weeks, you’ll still have time to invite someone else. If all else fails, go on your own as chances are you’ll see another loner who is interested. Great opportunity for at least a brief chat and maybe even a new contact.
Depending on the event, you may just invite one friend or contact or a few. I’d tend to keep my invites small and specific. I want to be able to talk with someone and create an experience together. Inviting a huge group of people and not having time or effort to invest in them can be both draining for you and less personal for them. Everyone loves an invite!
Try this: Follow up after the event
Whether they were able to attend or not, follow up on the conversation and let them know how it went. It’s another opportunity to discuss and have a mindful conversation. You might say “I can see why it wasn’t for you! Though I did hear about this website which you might want to check out.” If they did attend, thanking them as described above, a bit of a recap, and asking their opinion on key points is a good idea. Just be yourself, a friendly human with a soul.
5. Persistence Versus Annoyance
Give a reasonable amount of time before following up on something you haven’t heard about. A general rule of thumb is to connect weekly or even every other week. This keeps you in mind without being overly attached.
Try this: Stay in touch
For contacts, you haven’t heard about in a while or for former coworkers, check-in and ask how they’re doing. If you’re a freelance designer, use all of the tips in this guide to stay connected with clients. For artists, we can still connect with former buyers. If we befriend our clients and buyers, we gain friends. Our friends love to support us. The better you know them, the better you can offer your generous support as well.
6. Give space to decline
If you are getting responses that seem uninterested or if you are getting no responses at all after two or three attempts, give a longer period of a few weeks. Most people will appreciate not being pressured. Disengaging helps others know that you understand their not obligated to respond. If at this point you decide to send another follow-up message, you can say something like “It’s okay if you’re too busy for this right now!”
Most people know how it feels to be rejected and don’t want to put you in a place to feel that way. Let your new and old friends know that it’s not a big deal if they don’t respond. The timing may be off or the task or conversation may not be a good fit. Craft a message that is polite and understanding as possible as you don’t want to burn any bridges. They may still think of you as a good friend when their schedule clears up. A new project may come along. They may have another friend who would be better served.
Try this: Believe them
If they decline or you have any sense of interest, drop it. This might mean talking about something else. It may mean less contact. It may mean discontinuing contact completely. Ask directly about their interests and then proceed as if you believe them.
7. Add Value
Show excitement about their new project. Adding value means that think you know something they might be interested in. With all of the above in mind, if you’re reading through articles and find one they may be interested in, pass it along. “Hey, this reminded me of a conversation we had about classical music!” Passing on an article is a great way to show that you don’t require a response.
8. Prepare for the worst
If you’re looking for a job and you know you would be great at that job, sometimes that company may want someone different from you. They may just feel better about hiring someone with certain experience that you don’t have. If you’re looking for a client, they may want to spend that money on a different product. If you’re looking for a friend, they may just want a different kind of friend or just don’t want to deal with the basic stages of a new friendship right now.
When it comes to our art and design work especially, it’s purely subjective. Your work may be the most amazing, it’s just not what that person likes. A certain green that you love may remind them of their mean babysitter’s ugly wallpaper. Nothing personal. The analogy I often go to is my dislike for coffee and mushrooms. The most amazing coffee shop or the most wonderful restaurant still wouldn’t be able to make me enjoy those tastes.
Try this: Hope for the best
Yes, if someone tells me they’ve cooked mushrooms then I’m not going to enjoy that dish. This doesn’t mean that every attempt to have a meal means being offered mushrooms.
There are a few phrases for a phone call that you need to know and use. Always always always ask “Hey, is this a good time to talk for 10 minutes about X?” This communicates that you have something specific to ask about and at the same time are mindful of their time. If you would like more than five or ten minutes, then you can arrange a mutually beneficial time to speak longer.
Few people enjoy cold calls. If you want your call to be greeted warmly, the next question in a phone call has to be “Are you interested in X?” or some variation. If they aren’t interested in connecting or discussing this topic, it’s a waste of time for both of you. You’d prefer a conversation with someone who wants to talk with you.
Try this: Make your cold calls warmer
The final question is the next step. Stick to your 10-minute time limit. If the conversation has dragged on past that, you might ask “Is it still a good time to continue talking, maybe we can set up a call or hang out to talk more about this later?” Giving them space to decline often creates a more comfortable environment and conversation. The next step could also be an e-mail or another type of meeting. Let them know what you’re guess is if you have one, “I’ll e-mail you with that information and a bit of detail about what we’re talking about.” Then you can continue following up via email or address the continued steps in the e-mail.
10. Send Snail Mail
Postcards, cards, and letters are an underused way to stay connected. If you’re traveling and see your friend’s favorite artist why not send them a postcard? Since you’re an artist yourself, you can also make your postcards. If you have better handwriting than me, you can write a special sentence or two just for them. Have your postcards printed with a note that them know they could frame it if they like it. People will often ask me about framing options for my postcards. I point them to the dollar star where they have some nice frames for a dollar. One of my friends since high school often sends me postcards. They’re just sweet little images that remind her of me.
Try this: Mail something, anything
You could also design a flyer or newsletter and mail that to your contacts. It’s a less personal way to use snail mail and yet could be effective. Use your artistic abilities to make your holiday cards. This is a time of year when you’re already feeling generous.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.