by Carolyn Edlund
How can developing a strong network of connections grow your art business?
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You’ve probably seen this scenario before: an artist is incredibly talented and creates wonderful art, but doesn’t get the exposure they deserve or make many sales. Sometimes this happens because the artist doesn’t take an active role in marketing or presenting their work to the world. But it also results from not having a network of people to help build connections that are beneficial to that artist.
Start with Artists
Network building, when pursued on a regular basis, helps you meet people who might be instrumental to your success. And importantly, it puts you in a position to contribute your own experience and skills to help others. Your local art community is the perfect place to start. Artists are among the most giving people around, and often will share resources, feedback and opportunities with you. A local artist salon is a wonderful source of support, bringing together individuals who have a diverse set of life and career experiences.
Artists also congregate online. Facebook alone has hundreds of groups to support artists that vary from local to international. LinkedIn has many as well. Want to discuss ways to market your art or handmade work, or perhaps how to find an affordable printer to create reproductions? Looking for recommendations on the best places to sell online, or opinions on particular fairs or festivals? Tap into these free resources and participate.
Collaboration is another result of successful networking. Artists may choose to work together on a project, share a booth, or create a strategic alliance that benefits both parties. Strategic allies usually have non-competing products but share a similar audience, and may act on each other’s behalf to increase the reach of their marketing efforts. In an alliance with another artist, you might write a blog article about their work, share their posts on social media, or mention them in your email newsletter. They can reciprocate to help promote you as well.
Are you looking for gallery representation, and want to know how galleries find artists? Your network can be a source to tap for introductions. Note that artist recommendation is the number one way that galleries find artists, according to a poll of New York art dealers.
Movers and Shakers
Want to broaden your network to others in the industry including leaders and influencers? Start by looking for events where that can happen. Gallery openings, lectures and conferences are great places to meet people and get to know them. Consider attending museum galas and high-profile events that attract collectors, sponsors and decision makers. As art lovers, many of the attendees want to meet artists – like you!
Volunteering is another way to meet arts organization leaders, collectors and supporters of the arts. Give some of your time to help a cause that reflects what you care about and believe in. You will become a valuable part of the group while connecting with people you want to know. When you make these contacts, everyone they know is also potentially in your network. Conversations may naturally lead to doors being opened for you, including opportunities, collaborations, or introductions to potential collectors or galleries.
Once you’ve found groups that reflect your own interests and values and have gotten involved, there may be additional options. You might want to become a leader yourself and serve on an advisory board or as a committee chairperson. Your level of involvement will depend on your interests, your schedule and your own goals.
Be a Giver First
There is no substitute for developing relationships with artists who are successfully doing what you want to do, or with arts leaders and industry players. But networking is not a one-way street. True engagement as a networker involves a “pay it forward” attitude. That means you must be willing to be of assistance to others before you expect results for yourself. People who do this gain a reputation as a connector and are quickly appreciated by others in the network. As you give generously of your time to assist and introduce others, you’ll find that these efforts come back to you in like form.
Have you grown your creative business through networking? What was your experience?
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