Finding Resources to Help Your Art Business: Networking

As I’ve mentioned, I’m all about making 2020 my year for this art business endeavor, and a big part of that for me has been realizing that I can’t do it all on my own. So, out of necessity, I’ve been on a path to discover some cheap or free resources (hello, local library) and… it hasn’t been as hard or as intimidating as I thought. I’ll share a few of them here over the next few weeks, especially as I explore them more myself.

An invaluable tool for networking. The back has my website, email address, and Instagram handle.

I’m going to start this little series right off with Networking, because for most introverted artists, it’s the least exciting thing, but also apparently one of the most necessary. Yes, some people manage to make a living (or more) by doing everything online (business, research, marketing, etc.). But that’s not the norm, and without people to guide you a little bit, it can be a lot harder to cut through ALL THE NOISE of the very saturated internet. Once I started searching online for art-related business strategies, courses, or coaches, I was inundated by options (and ads, especially on Facebook, for anything that seems remotely relevant. I’ve been getting regular ads for dance studio marketing strategies, seriously. No, I don’t own a dance studio.) It can be hard, too, to know which information is relevant to you: business and product launches, websites and marketing, social media presence and content, etc. — the overwhelm is real. Not only are there apparently huge numbers of people trying to start creative businesses online, but there also are huge numbers of consultants for people trying to start creative businesses online.

So I basically decided to forego most of that. Yeah, I’ve put in my email address to get a free “44 Questions Your Website Should Answer” worksheet or a “How to Sell on Etsy” worksheet but to be honest, I didn’t actually look at them once they came. What Facebook in particular HAS been good for, though, is showing me local art events and networking opportunities, especially once it figured out that’s what I clicked on.

I’ve even actually gone to a few of these events.

My day job is customer service, and I’ve done it for years, so I don’t have a problem (anymore) going up to someone I don’t know and introducing myself, even though I do tend toward the introvert side of the spectrum. The trick with networking is, make it a two-sided conversation. Don’t just give them a 10-minute monologue about who you are and what you do, but know something about who THEY are and what they do. Usually this is easier than it seems; if they’re at an art event, for example, there’s a good chance they’re an artist, a patron of the arts, or an event organizer. Ask them about themselves, or mention how you know who they are.

For example, there’s a local arts organization that I’ve become more familiar with lately — visiting their website, seeing their name linked to different exhibits, etc. They recently had a networking event for an annual art fair that they sponsor. They created a Facebook event for it, which I found and made myself attend. I went alone, and it was a little awkward at first, because I knew like 0.5 people there (fortunately there were hors d’oeuvres and an art exhibit on view too). I soon discovered that the point-person for the fair was there, of course, and I know that she’s also an artist who’s shown work at a bunch of exhibits. So I walked up to her and said (with a little more finesse, in the moment, I hope), “I see your name everywhere and I’ve seen your art around, and you seem like a good person to know.” And I introduced myself and we had a chat. Afterward, she directed me to someone else who’s organizing an exhibit I want to be part of for the art fair, and I was able to find out more about it. Then I was able to introduce that person to the guy who managed the space where I’d had my exhibit for last year’s art fair. And there you are, networking accomplished.

I had a similar experience at a “grand opening” event for a new shop in town that offers year-round vendor space for artists, which I also found on Facebook. I didn’t know anyone there except the founder, whom I’d messaged a little online to find out more about the space and how it works. Breaking that ice ahead of time made it easy to go up to her and say, “Hi, I’m the one who’s been asking you about exhibiting here.” Also, because it was clearly a venue where not everyone knew each other, people were open to mingling and having someone (me) walk up to them and say hi. I ended up meeting and having a conversation with a woman who works with the local office that issues arts grants that way, as well as a couple of other local artists who are already signed up as vendors.

So here’s what I’ve figured out so far:

  1. Prepare your elevator pitch (ugh, I know, I hate it, but you have to have a ready answer when someone asks you what you do, because they’re going to want to know more than, “I paint watercolors,” and their eyes are going to glaze over if you just stand there and list every single painting you’ve ever done.) Also, have business cards with your email and website address, at the very least, so they can follow up/see your work later on if they want to.
  2. If it’s possible, do a little research ahead of time about the event or the people who might be there. You don’t have to stalk anyone (and in fact, I strongly discourage that) but being familiar with names and public info ahead of time can give you something to start a conversation with, even if it’s just, “I saw that you’re the organizer for [insert event here], how is the planning for that going?”
  3. Read the room. Or the person. Notice when they’re engaged and responding enthusiastically, vs. looking around the room for an escape, giving you monosyllabic answers, etc. You don’t want to monopolize someone’s time, especially if there are other people waiting to talk to them. I’m always paranoid (seriously) about being an annoyance to someone, so I’m pretty sensitive to these cues, but you can start to pick up on them just by watching and noticing how other people react to one another in conversation (but don’t, you know, be creepy about it.)
  4. Think about the exchange as a give-and-take, if you can. If there’s any useful info you can give the other person, or someone you can introduce them to, go for it. (This isn’t always possible early on, but I’m finding that the opportunities pop up in unexpected places.) Mentioning a mutual acquaintance can also be a good way to strengthen new connections (“I just talked to so-and-so, who said you’re the person working on such-and-such event.”)
  5. Don’t feel like you have to stay for the whole event, especially if noise/crowds/social situations make you uncomfortable. If the event is set up like a party or a mixer, the organizers expect people to come and go. My last event, I got there about 10 minutes after the start time and only stayed about half an hour, but I was perfectly happy with the contacts I made in that time. If it’s really uncomfortable, just set yourself a specific goal — say, have a conversation with two new people — and let yourself leave once you meet it.
  6. Don’t pass up the chance to speak to people you’ve already met when you see them again at other events. Even just a, “Hi, how are you?” in passing is a good way to remind them of who you are, let them know that you remember them, and to keep the door open for future conversations.

I’m sure I’ll refine and add to this list as I get more involved, but so far these points have served me well. (I also have some experience networking as a writer, which was my thing in a past life, and a lot of these tips apply there, too.) Those of you with some networking experience, do you have anything to add? Anything major that I’ve completely overlooked in my list? Let me know your questions and comments!

1 thought on “Finding Resources to Help Your Art Business: Networking”

  1. Hi, I love your post it’s great!
    Selling yourself is really cool, but making the first step is very scary. Before you step into the room and your starting take a good look at your best works, courage is born from passion. Make sure you have a file on your phone or book with your work with you, because they always ask. And in those moments the internet always bugs. So your prepared. Just walk to someone and say hi. Then let them speak, people love to talk about themselves, you get to know them and you will feel more at ease. If they are nice people you would like to work with. They will ask you what you do and you have your pitch ready. Just make it as natural as possible, while telling you know what your doing !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s