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Have you ever gone to a party or gathering where there were people who could be helpful to your career?

Maybe you passed out your business cards and told them about what you do. Then you went home and waited, hoping they would reach out to you with an opportunity, or to introduce you to other helpful people. And then…nothing. Not a peep. Has this happened to you?

We often read how important networking is for professional success. This is true in every industry, but especially in the music business. We’ve all heard the maxim that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I would add to this: It’s who you know that knows what it is you do. And it’s also who they know.

To reach the decision makers, it’s important to make connections and to actively network. Knowing powerful people will get you where you want to go in your career, but only if you have the talent and ability to back it up. You should still be great at what you do. Networking is a key skill that musicians, artists, and music business people must master in order to advance their careers.

These are the techniques you need to learn to excel in music employment related networking:

  • Networking: a definition
  • Sourcing
  • Networking rules of the game
  • Networking strategy
  • Sourcing via the web
  • Setting goals and getting organized
  • The tickler file
  • Relationship marketing

Networking: A Definition

Sometimes an overused buzzword, I’ve noticed that few people fully understand networking, or know how to do it properly. Networking means more than going to parties and handing out business cards. Yes, it’s important to meet people face-to-face when you can, but nowadays most networking happens online, starting with the various social media sites.

But sitting all day staring at your screen and tapping away on your keyboard doesn’t guarantee results, either.

True networking is more than just meeting and interacting with new people. It’s about building mutually beneficial professional relationships that last. It’s about making yourself useful to others with no expectation of anything in return. It’s not enough to just collect business cards for your virtual Rolodex or to build up a large following online.

Those things might help, but they are just a beginning. Strive to gain a deeper understanding of networking, how it’s done, and how to leverage your network once it’s in place. Then, practice and improve.

Some people are just naturally good at networking; they were seemingly born to do it. The rest of us need to work at it. There are some crucial techniques to learn, and more than anything, you need to be organized in your approach. Finally, it’s not only about building your network but how you will leverage it.

I like to think of networking as a game, or a puzzle with many pieces to be connected to each other. If you attack the networking game with the same diligence and persistence you devote to your music, you will certainly be successful.

Where to Start: Sourcing

What many people think of as networking, I call “sourcing.” This is the initial part of the game. I used to drive a different route home from my job every day. I would look for new bars, restaurants, and nightclubs about to open to the public.

When I spotted a new venue, I would walk in and look for the Manager or Owner. I’d ask if they were considering live music as a tool to get customers in the door and keep them there. This way I could book my band into new rooms and be first to play there. Some of these gigs would turn into long-term engagements for my band.

The advantage I got from being the first was huge, and I could build a solid partnership with the Owner or Manager before the place was well-established. Always look for innovative ways to meet new people, to learn about what they do, and to initiate the conversation. Then, try to help them succeed in some way. This is the beginning of true networking.

Building your list of contacts means you must first find the people you want in your network and connect with them. (Sometimes they will find you.)

There’s nothing wrong with going to parties and events to meet new people who share your interests in the music industry, and there are plenty of chances to do that. Besides events and meetings, there are conferences, concerts, meetups, community functions, and of course, live music clubs or hangouts where music people gather.

Networking Rules of the Game

There are numerous tried and true techniques you could use as you are sourcing. Always have a game-plan when you attend networking events. One rule I use is to not spend too much time talking to any one person. Limit the time spent with each person so you don’t miss out on talking to others.

I recommend you go by yourself, to avoid spending time hanging out with the person you came with. If you do go with someone else, agree in advance to split up for most of the time you are there.

A few more tips: whenever you pass out your card, make sure to get also the other person’s. That puts you in control of following up (more on this below). If you pass out your card but don’t get theirs, you’re leaving the follow up in their hands.

Most people won’t follow up with you, either because they forget, are lazy, or just aren’t avid networkers (many people aren’t great at it). If they don’t have a card, carry a small notepad and pen so you can write down their contact info. Make it your mission to leave each event with a set amount of new contacts, say five or ten.

Networking Strategy: Some Tips

It’s important to develop the networking strategies that work best for you. Here are a few. Spend more time asking questions of people you meet than talking about yourself. People like to talk about themselves, so find ways to draw them out. Don’t worry if you are shy or introverted; with a small effort, you can overcome the initial resistance to introduce yourself to others.

The key is to get them talking. Have a brief statement prepared to tell people what you do for work, where you are from, or anything you’d like them to know about you (this is sometimes called an “elevator pitch” because you should be able to finish it in the time it takes for an elevator ride).

After you introduce yourself, have a few leading questions prepared to draw them out. They will be more likely to remember you than if you monopolize the conversation and make it all about yourself.

Eat before you go so your hands are free (and clean) to shake hands with the new people you meet. You don’t want to waste time eating, and you shouldn’t talk to people with food in your mouth. Be careful about alcohol; you don’t want to get so lubricated you end up regretting your actions or interactions with people you meet.

I usually choose a soft drink; having it in my left hand leaves my right hand free and gives me something to do with my left hand that isn’t awkward.

Dress appropriately for the event and wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll be standing around for a few hours and don’t want your feet to hurt. There are many more tips available in the dozens of blogs and articles on networking. Do the research to help you prepare to get those important names and contacts.

Sourcing Via the Web

Take your sourcing game online. LinkedIn is the premier social platform for business networking. It’s super-important to have a credible LinkedIn profile and to use all the features.

To start, join some groups, post comments and likes, share relevant content, give and get endorsements and written recommendations, and research companies. Other social platforms are also useful, but LinkedIn is the best game in town and it’s free. Use it. Once you connect with people online, start the conversation.

Sourcing is only the beginning of the game. You are getting all your pieces on the board, but you still need to connect everything together.

What happens after you meet people is most important to your success. Now it’s time to get really organized in your networking efforts. Becoming a master networker takes time and effort, and you must develop and apply the strategies and techniques that work best for you.

Getting Organized: Have Specific Goals, Systemize, and Leverage

You went to the party, met some people, and came home. You hung your jacket in the closet, where it stayed for a few months. Later, you took it out, felt in the pocket and found someone’s business card. You could not remember the person, so you tossed it in the trash. This used to happen to me, has it happened to you?

Sourcing contacts is a start, but it’s just the beginning of a process. It’s important to move beyond sourcing. In order to benefit from your network, you must learn to leverage it. This requires organizational skill, the ability to learn from mistakes, a positive attitude, and most of all, persistence.

Think of your network as a living, breathing organism. It needs tending and care, and you are the caretaker. As it grows, you must direct its path. You need a system for this, and fortunately, there are some excellent ready-made ones available. Or you can always create your own.

Let’s first zoom out and ask some questions to help guide your efforts. Think about the opportunities you’re looking for. Write your goals on a piece of paper, and hang it up next to your desk, or in a prominent place where you’ll see it every day.

Maybe you want more gigs, or are seeking an internship. Or you want a job, or to get accepted to a prestigious school. Whatever goals you have for your career, whether immediate or longer-term, keep them in front of you at all times.

Look at the written goals several times a day. Stare at them and envision what your life will look like when you move into that role. Writing down your goals and keeping them in front of you is something most successful people do.

Next, consider your sourcing methods and how you might refine them to meet more of the people who could help you reach your goals. Consider the people in your network now, and the type of people you’d like to add in the future. Strategize about how to connect with them, whether in person or online. We will return to sourcing later on, but now let’s look at the next action steps in the networking game.

Build It, and They Will Come, Tickler File

Let’s really get organized and build a system for following up with your new contacts. This is where most people don’t succeed as well as they could. As mentioned, there are ready-made systems available, or you can design your own.

If you scale your network from hundreds up into the thousands, your contact management system will become crucial. Technology will be your friend. The term Client Relationship Management (CRM) is often used to describe software systems to help organize and track communications with your network.

Some CRM systems allow you to automate functions such as mailing out a newsletter or sending regular updates by email. If you are using social media as part of your strategy, there are some aggregators that allow you to see and manage all your accounts from a simple dashboard.

Before the internet took over our lives, we used something called a “tickler file.” This was an expandable folder with a pocket for each month and a folder for each week of each month. There were 52 folders for a year. You could create your own tickler file online or on your computer. The concept works. Here’s how it’s used.

When you meet someone for the first time:

  • Write a follow-up note to them within 24-48 hours; send by mail (or email).
  • Call them within 7-10 days to check in and make sure the channel is open.
  • Make a decision about when you want to contact them next, with a few notes on what you talked about last.
  • Put their card with contact into the tickler file’s appropriate week for next contact.
  • Enter their details into your contacts file (Rolodex, database, etc.)

I will quickly describe the rationale for each step, why it’s important, and how it works.

Step 1: Initial Followup

When you follow up immediately with them it increases the likelihood they will remember who you are, how you met, and what you talked about. It shows you care about them, and you are proactive about staying in touch. Since most people don’t do this, it sets you apart from all the others they meet regularly.

It’s a way to stand out from everyone else, especially if you take the time to send them something by snail mail.

Step 2: Personal Call

People don’t seem to pick up the phone much anymore. By reaching out to them personally, you solidify the impression you made with your first follow up. When you call, say you were just checking to see if the number works, and thank them again for taking the time to speak with you. It’s very polite to do this, makes you stand out, and adds the personal touch of hearing your voice.

If you reach their voicemail, make sure you leave a friendly professional message. Keep it short, and leave your contact number but don’t make it sound like they need to call you back. You’re just checking in to say hello in a friendly way, to show them you’re still thinking about them and your meeting.

It will make them feel a little flattered, most likely, and you have nothing to lose except the few minutes it takes to make the call.

Step 3: Decide When to Contact Them Next

Depending on who they are and what they do, you might consider letting a few months go by before reaching out again. Six months is typical unless there is some urgent action item, and you also want to be careful not to seem pushy by calling too frequently. Whatever you decide, put their contact in the tickler file folder for that week, as a reminder to reach out then.

If there is a likelihood of some impending collaboration or immediate opportunity that could come from the contact, you can always decide to follow up sooner.

Step 4: After Your Follow-through

Make a note of what happened and move their contact to the next planned date to contact. This is how the tickler file works; it reminds you who to contact and when, your last contact, and what you talked about. Make sure to look at the file every week so you are reminded of who needs to hear from you that week.

Step 5: Keep Track of Your Data

As a backup, and so you have everyone’s contact in one location, enter their name and information into your searchable master database or contacts file (Rolodex). This way you can always find their information when needed. Be sure to include a few notes about what they do and how you met. Include the company they work for if appropriate, to make it easier to find them if you forgot their name.

The tickler file is the heart and soul of your networking system. Investigate the different technologies for solutions that work best. There are some programs you can start using for free when your network is small, but later when you expand it to larger numbers you may have to pay a monthly subscription fee. Or, you can buy specialized software for the purpose.

This is how you organize and leverage your network as it grows. The process takes time and requires attention and persistence, but it will pay you dividends when done properly and efficiently.

Give and Take: Relationship Marketing

Wharton Psychology Professor Adam Grant writes in his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success that there are three kinds of people in the world: givers, takers, and transactional. Counterintuitively, the givers are on average more successful in their careers than the other two types (as long as they protect themselves from being taken advantage of by the takers).

Grant shows that those who add value to their connections by giving, with no expectation of anything in return, benefit from their network long-term by building confidence and trust in their professional relationships.

I use the term “relationship marketing” to describe this. My specific networking approach is to first always look for ways to be of service to the people in my network. For example, if I see an article I think one of my connections would be interested in, I will forward it to them.

If I hear of a fitting professional opportunity, I will recommend them for it. Sometimes just listening to another person explain their situation, interests, or a problem is enough to help them visualize a solution or next steps.

My goal is to create a relationship with each of my contacts that is mutually beneficial. I start with visualizing the benefit to them. I always consider the initial relationship to be a beginning of a friendship. A friendship based on business is always better than a business based on a friendship.

I’m looking for ways to collaborate with or help those in my network. This starts with me making some small effort. Most people will take note and remember me for it. The givers and transactional types will want to reciprocate, while the takers will at least remember me.

How Networking Can Make a Difference

Now that we’ve examined how sourcing works, and how to begin leveraging our network, let’s think about results again. What exactly do we want our network to do for us? What benefits will come from all this? The answer to this question will be unique to your professional and personal life goals.

If you are a freelancer, you want and need a steady stream of jobs to survive and flourish. If you are looking for a job, know that the majority of job opportunities are never advertised. They will come to you through your network.

It’s important to be diligent and persistent. This means you work at it every day, keeping your goals in the forefront. There are opportunities for sourcing at every turn, whether in person or online. In order to leverage your network effectively you must have a system in place that works for you, tracking your communications carefully, and monitoring activity in your network.

Continue to look for ways to be useful to others in your network. This means helping them whenever you can.

Helping others in your network isn’t always transactional. There’s an aspect of altruism; your goal is to help others succeed wherever you can and to not expect anything in return. This is the real basis of networking. In order to be useful, you must first learn as much as you can about each person you connect with.

What makes them tick? What are their background, experiences, training, interests, and passion? The more you know, the easier it becomes to find some way to support them. Some small gesture, like sharing or liking one of their posts, could be meaningful to them and may end up linking them to an opportunity.

The Heart & Soul of Networking

The biggest difference in your life one year from now compared to today is likely to be the books you read and the people you meet. Just a single chance meeting can make all the difference in your career prospects. We often read stories about how meeting one person was life-changing in an artist’s or business person’s career. It’s about building trust through reliability and authenticity.

Reliability comes from integrity: saying what you do, and doing what you say. Make it your goal to influence others in positive ways, and then follow through on every chance to do so. People will see you are consistently and reliably helpful to them, and they will usually respond and reciprocate where they can.

Authenticity means being yourself. Be who you are, and don’t try to be someone you aren’t. People respond to authenticity and easily spot when others are deceptive or pretending to be something they’re not.

The most successful people in life are almost always active networkers. They know who they are and where they are going, and they take pleasure in adding value to the lives of others, especially those in their network.

They have an effective system in place for sourcing, managing, and leveraging their network, and they use their network for the benefit of others. They are transparent about who they are, honest about what they do, and eager to engage with other like-minded people. This is the heart and soul of networking. It works if you work it.

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