This is a difficult subject for me, because even though I am a gregarious person by nature, I am not a natural networker. I find the whole idea fraught with insincerities and have been at networking events that resemble sharks circling around prey. It isn’t my comfort zone at all.
But here is the uncomfortable truth: nobody will find you, or your art, if you hide. You must take your art out into the world for it to have any sort of existence beyond your own home.
That’s not to say that networking doesn’t come with costs attached. It does cut into your creative time, it is real work and the results are uncertain.
Sometimes, though, things happen around you and because of a lack of networking, you can find yourself forgotten and excluded. That’s exceedingly disappointing, because the only thing that stopped you being considered and included was your lack of occasional presence in the world of the decision makers. That would have been a good trade off for your time.
It has been my experience that the results are poor if you attend pure networking events. You know the type. The ones organised on the basis that everyone will come and meet, with no other purpose in mind. Those events are generally only attended by those that desperately need a break, but rarely by those that can grant you a break. In my opinion, you are better off showing up at places where there is a creative benefit to being there and networking is a side effect. People need a good reason to go to the effort, expense and time of meeting up. Conferences can be good for that sort of thing. So can gallery openings, private showings and so on. Nobody likes being deliberately targeted on the basis of what you might do for them in the future.
Online forums related to your skills and interests can be another good way to get known, as can blogging, but you have to promote your blog through Facebook, Twitter and other places like StumbleUpon.com to build a readership. Just putting your blogged thoughts out there and hoping can feel like writing a secret diary that nobody else will ever read.
Of course, be a generous networker as well. Give as much as you take. Give more than you take. If you can help somebody, then you should. In networking, karma tends to work.
Don’t bet your entire life on networking. I’ve seen people in business and in art that have run out of options and are depending on networking as a sort of last resort rescue plan. That comes across strongly, when you are networking. It drives people away. Networking needs to be an adjunct to your normal marketing and promotional efforts, whatever those are, not the only card you have to play.
Don’t oversell or grandstand, but don’t sell yourself short either. I’ve seen people at networking events making all sorts of outrageous claims which people immediately sense are lies or fabrications, but I have also seen the most gifted and talented people hide their abilities out of sheer embarrassment. It’s amazing how many people find talking about themselves uncomfortable. I know I do. It’s a fear of rejection. There are always people that listen to a person talking about their skills and abilities in as honest a way as they can that (wrongly) conclude that the speaker is being arrogant and making outrageous claims which cannot be substantiated. That can serve to shut shy people that hate that sort of criticism down even further. But you still need to represent yourself honestly anyway. There is no other option.
By the same token, nobody deserves a tirade of your judgemental and ill-informed assessments, so refrain from discourteous criticism of others’ claims. The truth emerges eventually anyway.
Be authentic, be courteous, be generous and be present where you need to be. But don’t let networking become the work. Your art is the work.