Become a “Relationship Artist” to Build Your Career

Here's the thing about networking: It's really nothing more than talking to other people.

But for some reason, many, many people have trouble doing that.

Whether it's not knowing what to say or imagining that others don't want to talk to you, something seems to get in the way of simple communication between two people.

My friend, Jay, came to NYC almost 30 years ago to be an actor, but he's ended up making his living by painting apartments. He hasn't had an audition in years, and depends on the painting to keep him afloat.

When he doesn't have another painting job waiting for him, he starts to worry that the work has dried up. But just at that moment, as if someone were watching over him, the phone usually rings, he gets another job … and he doesn't have to think about it anymore. Until the next time, of course.

Well, recently, Jay went through a dry spell. Things had been quiet for a little longer than usual, but he continued to wait for the phone to ring. He waited. And he waited. But it didn't ring.

The holiday season came around and the rent came due and he had nothing lined up. His bank account was dwindling and no one was calling. And still, he waited. What else could he do?

You know the answer.

When Jay told me what was going on, I asked him, “How is it possible that, in a city where you have to wait months to get an appointment with a painter, you have no work on the horizon?”

The only conceivable answer: No one knew Jay was out there.

And the only reason for that was because he hadn't told anyone.

Jay had done no networking at all. He didn't tell people he's a painter. He didn't have a business card. The painter was hidden inside him.

If any part of Jay's story is familiar to you, you should be networking more effectively. In fact, you should set yourself the goal of becoming a relationship artist.

If an artist is someone who is skilled and adept at a particular art form, then a “relationship artist” is someone who is skilled at forming and developing and growing relationships.

If you have been a recluse for a while, it will take some effort and time to transform yourself into a “relationship artist,” but you can do it. Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

  1. Get out and meet new people.
    Networking is more than attending meetings and passing out business cards. It's a way of engaging with the world, making a difference, exploring, learning, connecting, putting people together, helping people, offering your ideas and resources, showing your competence and reliability.

    Your in-person presence makes a much stronger impact than all your email messages and phone calls and mailings put together. That's just a fact.

  2. Be aware of others.
    Take the focus off of yourself and put it on others. This may sound like an oxymoron, but that's actually the secret to self-promotion. Stop worrying about what others think of you and start wondering what's really going on in their mind (which probably has nothing to do with you).

  3. Practice relentless relationship management.
    In addition to reaching out to your network on a regular basis to let them know what you're doing, keep in touch with selected members through quick “hellos” via phone and email. See what they need and what they're working on. And don't be discouraged by silence. Know that your name on their radar screen made an impact, even if they couldn't take the time to respond.

After my conversation with Jay, he started talking to the people in his immediate circle, and we all gave him work right away. (I had several things that needed doing around the house, but just hadn't gotten around to finding someone to do them.)

He put up flyers and, lo and behold, other people started calling him. He signed up with an online service that provides leads for painting jobs. Now he's too busy to come back and finish painting my kitchen. Oh well.

Here's the reality of it all: Anything can come out of a conversation. So many people are full of fear, but once you're doing it, it's not that painful.

Besides, if you don't toot your own horn, who will?

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Published: March 9, 2006

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