Freelance Friday 07: Valueing Your Network

Happy Friday! Carrying on from last week’s Network at Events blog, I’m going to have a quick look at what to do (or not do) with said network.

Also, continuing the downhill trend from last week’s sketchier illustration, this week there’s no illustration at all! Shameful! Ah well – I know you come for the words anyway, but hopefully I’ll get them back on track!

My network is something I value and do my best to tend well. So I have some rules for myself about how I behave towards my fellow industry peeps (all pretty much along the lines of thinking more in terms of relationships than “Capital N Network”) – who range from the vaguest acquaintance to some truly wonderful friends. These are just for myself – your mileage may vary, as with everything!

We’re all peers

I love this comic by fantastic cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks about her experience being a guest at SDCC this year – including meeting some of her creative heroes. It’s a great reminder that we all have people we look up to – and, as the years go by and we develop our careers, we also may have people who look up to us as creators. So it’s good to remember that we’re all peers in this industry – treat everyone with respect but not god-like awe, and be open to relationships, so you can connect with both those whose careers you aspire to, and those who are at a place in their careers that you used to be at once.

Care and interest

Industry people – complex and interesting humans, not just job titles.

Share yourself

See above – so are you, so it’s worth sharing a bit of yourself beyond your work. This comes more naturally chatting at a con – but I think bleeds into social media too. True, I think one should keep it professional, but that doesn’t preclude making connections with people – and indeed, it’s hard to maintain interest in someone who only ever posts “Available now! Buy my book! (link)” and nothing else.

Help other peoples’ careers

Be a cheerleader for others. Enthuse about work you love. Recommend others for jobs you can’t take. Compliment others’ work frequently. Don’t be fake, of course – spread work you love, recommend those you trust to do a professional job – but the more you involve yourself with other creators, the bigger those lists will get. Likewise, thank and appreciate your own cheerleaders and recommenders (huge appreciation to all of you who do these things for me. You are seriously the best!)

Sometimes it seems like every interview you read about how someone got started in comics/illustration/writing/etc has some story about someone they knew who recommended them to an editor, so it can be easy to be stressed about how to make this happen for you. But the above – that’s how it happens, I think. Karma, do unto others, etc. And it takes time. But in the meantime, you get to enjoy the growing support network of creators you find yourself in the midst of. We may work by ourselves at home, but we’re hardly on this journey alone, and why would we want to be!

Avoid putting others in awkward positions

What I mentioned above about recommending those you know will do a professional job? I know some creators who are, for example, still students and figuring out what sort of work they enjoy. Or whose work and approach to it I simply don’t know well enough. If I recommend someone, I’m essentially saying “this person is a pro and will be good to work with, meet deadlines, and create reliably good work.” It’s tricky if I don’t yet know enough of the person to know that that’s true. Now and then I may send links with a caveat like “I don’t know this person, but it looks like their work may be along the lines of what you’re after”…but yeah. If someone who I didn’t know well, or who I perhaps thought wasn’t quite ready at the time, asked me to recommend them to a contact, I’d be put in an awkward position of either doing something I’m not 100% professionally comfortable with, or having to hurt their feelings, and that sucks.

Even asking for help with something that’s totally reasonable to ask of friends – like feedback on a rough draft, or help with a thorny freelance problem – can put them on the spot if they’re busy and it’s not clear they’re entirely free to pass on it.

So I make it a rule to try and think whether whatever I want to ask will put the person in an awkward spot. Perhaps bcc in multiple people when emailing for feedback, and make sure they know you’ve done so, that it’s not aimed at one person, and anyone busy can just ignore.

I probably trip up and do something awkward sometimes – don’t we all! – but I don’t want to be someone who puts people in tricky positions or makes them feel guilted into things, until they just start avoiding me to avoid said situations!

Favours – reasonable and few

Along the same lines, no one wants to feel you’re only cultivating a friendship or professional relationship so you can cash those relationship chips in for favours! Keep it to a minimum.

Counterpoint: Be more cheeky!

This is for the people who totally related to the above two points, because, like me, they’re the sort who don’t want to be a bother to anybody. I think we all can tend more towards one extreme or another on most things when really we could use a bit more balance.

So if you tend pretty far to this side of the spectrum, you’re probably asking for way less than you feel like you are, and it’s probably fine to be a little more cheeky! Sometimes, I think “Don’t ask, don’t get” can be true, and if you’re the sort to be worrying about putting people out, then you’re unlikely to go to far. So go forth and be cheeky! It’s something I need to work on too!

Keeping connected

We’re all busy, and try as we might often barely get a chance to chat even at cons! So I think it helps to send an update now and then, to those you know are interested in your work – fellow-creator friends, writers and editors who’ve expressed interest, etc. This could be when you have something new out, sending out a Christmas illustration, or just when it’s been a while. Where possible, I like to have something to offer too – a free download of a short comic, a desktop wallpaper…just something nice! For industry friends, it lets them know what I’m up to, and for others who’ve expressed interest, it reminds them that I’m there!

I think a nicely designed email mailing list is a great way to do this (and is something I really need to do!).

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And that’s my strategy of tending a network (which really boils down to “be nice to people”!) – would love to hear yours, so leave comments if you’d like to share! Lovely shiny comments!