I am the admin for a group of peers. We meet for the chance to get feedback, share ideas, and set intentions. Then comes the fun part when we cheer one another on for actions taken. We celebrate failures, successes, and everything in between. If you've never had the benefit of a group in your corner, I urge you to try it. There is magic in the collective spirit.
A few months ago, one of our champions, er, members, had a piece of work to shop and no real idea how to go about it. She had been down the unsolicited-work road to in the past, and cared too much about this piece to risk waiting for people who would never read it. She needed outside help. So we noodled around the problem as a group. Who do you already know who might have useful information or the power to help? What is the best way to present your situation? In short; how do you leverage existing relationships, without being a pest, or coming off as pathetic, or seeming like you're using the other person?
I offered a method I'd seen two important mentors use, in unrelated industries, with utterly different personal styles. The only things these two amazing women had in common was 1. they were freelancers and 2. they were very successful.
You could call this a very friendly, casual version of networking.
You carefully compose a list of people whom you have met or worked with in the past. Out of that group, you choose the people who can help you. Friends are great, as long as they can see your work separate from you, and respect it.
Then you find a way to speak to each person, preferably in person if at all possible. Have some specific topic, but don't ask for a job, reference, or anything that requires action on their part. (Social media such as LinkedIn is superb for many reasons but it is no substitute for a live conversation.) A face to face meeting is best; offer to stop in. A phone call might be the most comfortable. A more social event can be good, so long as it's not an opportunity for awkwardness.
You simply connect, broach your soft topic, learn about what that person is up to, and share what you are doing. If you see a way to help (by sending them job candidates, useful information, or other completely genuine offerings with no hidden agenda) you do it. You ask for advice in an open-ended way, without expectations.
You might inquire in a subtle way about any needs they might have. You certainly congratulate them on their work success (that you've researched) and share your praise. Did they attend a recent event? Was it a worthwhile use of time? Is this or that trend affecting their business? What is their opinion on relevant news/articles/gossip? Sports, current events, entertainment or other topics are all fair game. Just don't confuse the other person as to whether or not this is a business convo. It is.
Some industries have stricter boundaries than others. What you don't want it to waste the other person's time or make them think you have a crush on them. Establish rapport, see if there's any common ground, anything you should keep an eye out for, then thank them and end the call. You can just say honestly that you are pursuing your own career, and hoped they had advice for you. It's a compliment to them. Few people are ever offended by such a request, though many of the wisest people are also the busiest. Don't take their lack of response personally; you can still send along the affirmation of having asked.
Then in your travels, without strain, you keep an eye out for news, gossip, opportunities or connections that might benefit them. If you come up with anything worthwhile, you check in and give them the scoop. Again, you do this in person or by phone. Your contact may or may not ask if you need something in return, but simply by chatting for five minutes, they'll understand your situation.
This is the part I found so enlightening; it's understood that you have needs. The other person is well aware of if they can help or not. If they can, they will. If they can't (at that moment), they will very likely give you what they do have; access, direction, or some other form of help.
If that person proves fruitless, don't sweat it. Just cultivate your list, adding and subtracting. But don't be surprised if your person calls in a few months to check in with you. In the meantime, things will happen. Meetings, leads, or offers will arise. There will be movement, which in turn gives you news to share.
People love to give advice, and provide help, as long as it is comfortable and beneficial to them to do so. (As I did, that day in my creative group.) They love to have a stake in someone Else's success, as long as the relationship is organic and not manipulative.
This approach worked well for my colleague, almost immediately. Most of her potential contacts never got back to her, of course. But an important one did, and the exchange provided her with perspective, a sense of worth, and some concrete, practical help.
Pretty good for simply emailing people she already knew and asking for a meeting.
Wouldn't you think I would take my own advice? Duh. Yet, it was weeks before that thought crossed my mind. As you may know from previous reading, I'm shopping for a book agent. I have someone in my corner on this project, my amazing manager. So I was kind of asleep at the switch. It wasn't until recently that it hit me that I could connect with some the many writers I have met and befriended over the years.
So I did. And it opened a door so enticing that I am still kind of giddy about the potential there. Nothing concrete has happened yet (I will be sure to share here if it does) but wow. I didn't ask for help, I only asked for advice. But this exchange may turn out to be life changing. (Or, not.) But still, I am very glad I asked a few relevant parties for a coffee date.
What about you? Regarding networking, moving creative careers along, or some other aspect of life; what would you tell a friend that you ought to take to heart?
What wisdom do you readily pass to others could you act on for yourself?