I was in a bad spot about 15 years ago. I was a 22 year-old college dropout with a burning desire to make a living as a creative professional, but working 50-60 hours a week at a job I hated (a print shop). I was stuck because I couldn’t get anyone to take a chance on me: I had pretty good skills as a self-taught graphic designer, but without a degree or any real experience, I was really struggling to get anyone to give me the time of day. I knew that I would rock it if someone would just give me a chance, but I just couldn’t make it happen— I felt trapped in a life that I hated, and was getting increasingly scared that I’d never find a way out.
That changed one day when someone I’d never met came in to the print shop. We had printed something for the marketing agency he owned and apparently had fucked it up. He was upset, and they asked me to talk to him about it and smooth things over. I sorted it out and ended up talking with him for a while about the cool stuff they were doing for clients like Nike, Red Bull and Nintendo. It was a very inspiring conversation and I was left with an unquenchable thirst to be working on shit like that— I didn’t want to be doing that work, I *NEEDED* to!
The next day I had a crazy idea: I picked up the phone, called him up and asked for a job. I mean fuck it, why not?? The worst he could do is say no, right? After a couple weeks of haggling, he finally said yes and I got my foot in the door of the marketing world as a graphic designer!
That phone call literally changed my life— no joke! He was the only person who would take a chance on me, and the experience I got working with him was the foundation of the rest of my career. I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t make that call.
That is the power of networking. It changed my life, and it will change yours too— if you put in the work!
WHAT NETWORKING IS *NOT*
First, you need to get your head in the right place. If the word “networking” gives you douchechills, then you’re thinking about it the wrong way. And you better get your head out of your ass because if you ignore networking, you’re gonna get left in the dust by all the people who don’t.
Networking is not being that lame dude who abandons you in mid-conversation when someone more “important” walks into the room. It’s not punishing everybody he meets with a sales pitch for his new project/band/whatever (the “listen to my demo” guy). It’s not being fake-nice to someone because you think they can do something for you. And it’s definitely not using or manipulating people for your own gain.
Networking IS: building authentic relationships with people who you like and respect, with the hope that you will be able to help each other at some point in the future. Instead of thinking of it as corny dudes in Dockers shaking hands and passing out business cards, just think of it as a slightly different version of hanging out at a show or a game and getting to know everyone in the scene. Only instead of trading high-fives, you trade business plans!
STEP ONE: TALK TO LITERALLY EVERYONE
Practice your networking skills by striking up a conversation with anyone and everyone: the dude behind you in line at Starbucks, the woman who manages your apartment complex, a person at your cousin’s birthday party, whatever.
Talking to anyone and everyone might sound like the shotgun approach, like throwing shit at a wall and seeing what sticks— but it’s not. Here’s why:
- You never know where a valuable relationship will come from, like when I made a life-changing connection at that print shop. I also had many life-changing conversations with the security guard of the building I used to live in (a 50 year-old former crackhead who taught me some valuable lessons about swallowing your pride).
- If you’re only talking to people who appear to be “high value,” you will seem like a phony douche. Actually, you won’t SEEM like a phony douche, you will actually be one.
“BUT I HATE TALKING TO STRANGERS!!!”
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an introvert. Most creatives are introverts and talking to strangers can seem intimidating to them. I know because I’m one of them– and even though I know how important networking is, I still have to give myself a little pep talk before jumping into a room full of people: “OK dude, put a smile on your face and go be social for a while. It’s only an hour, then you can go back to your hotel room and read!”
It’s ok if you’re intimidated, but I’ll give you a little cheat code that makes it super easy: The best way to breaking the ice is to ask people questions about themselves. Start with “So what do you do for a living?” and go from there: how they got started, what the toughest part of their business is, what their long-term goals are, and so on.
There are two reasons why this approach is awesome. First of all, everybody loves talking about themselves, so even if you barely say anything they’ll walk away thinking it was a great conversation. If you’re skeptical about this, consider that the #1 piece of advice you’ll get from great salespeople is “talk less.” Second, the less you talk the less opportunity you have to say something dumb!
One note here: when making conversation, do NOT talk shit! It makes you come off as immature and negative, and there’s also a good chance that you’ll end up inadvertently talking shit on something the person you’re speaking to was involved with- very embarrassing! If you have to say something negative or critical, say it in a mild way. Like instead of saying “That thing fucking sucks,” say “I totally respect what they’re doing, but it’s not really my thing.”
“Relationships are your most valuable asset so treat them accordingly!”
KEEP THE RELATIONSHIP ALIVE (IN AN AUTHENTIC WAY)
Once you’ve made a connection with someone, keep in touch with them. Don’t just hit someone up when you want something from them, because that is a douche move and people WILL notice. Send them a note when you see good news about something they’re involved in, stop by their office just to say hi, etc.
Although I only worked directly for Chase for a year or so, I made it a point to keep in touch afterward— not because I wanted to get something from him, but because he’s my friend and I always enjoy seeing him and catching up. I hit him up whenever I was in town, sent him examples of stuff I worked on over the years, etc etc. Although I wasn’t keeping in touch with the goal of getting anything from him, he ended up hiring me again for what has been the coolest, most rewarding job I’ve ever had— which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stayed in touch for the last decade.
Building great relationships with great people ALWAYS pays off!! Relationships are your most valuable asset so treat them accordingly.
ASK FOR ADVICE, NOT A JOB
When you make a connection with someone who’s a big deal in your field, make sure you play your cards right. Straight up asking for a job is usually a bad idea. It’s like asking a girl, “I like you. Do you like me back?” It’s awkward (puts them on the spot) and makes you look like a rookie. Instead, ask them for advice on how you can get into their field or a company like theirs (ideally in person over coffee/lunch, but phone/email works too).
They’re not dumb, so they know that what you really mean is “I want a job.” There’s no need to make things weird by explicitly saying it. This “informational” meeting will be a semi-job interview and if you make a good impression, they might offer to help you with an introduction or even a job.
DON’T BE AN ASKHOLE
An askhole is one of those people who asks your advice on something, then does the opposite of what you told them to do (usually followed by a lot of complaining and blaming others for their misfortune). These people find themselves on the outside pretty quickly, because investing your time giving someone a bunch of advice that they don’t follow is really, really annoying. If someone smart gives you advice, follow it! Even if it doesn’t sound right, do what they say– 9 times out of 10 you’ll quickly realize why they were right once you actually follow their advice.
HELPING OTHERS IS THE BEST WAY TO HELP YOURSELF
Networking is like Christmas: it’s better to give than to receive. You should always be asking yourself how you can help other people, because the best way to level up your own career is by helping others level up their careers. It will ALWAYS come back to you in one way or another.
- Networking will be the key to unlocking the biggest opportunities in your career
- Networking IS NOT manipulating others or being a phony starfucker
- Networking IS connecting with like-minded professionals with the goal of helping each other
- Talk to literally everyone you can
- Keep relationships alive by staying in touch
- LISTENING is always better than talking
- There is NO BETTER WAY to help yourself than by helping others!