A few weeks ago, I asked a simple question to the nearly 1,500 musicians who subscribe to my email list:
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to growing your network?
I got a bunch of great responses and wanted to share my thoughts on how to approach the most common struggles musicians have when it comes to networking.
The challenges fall into three primary buckets can be summed up by the following quotes:
- “I’m nervous about reaching out to people.”
- “I’m afraid people will think I’m just trying to get something out of them.”
- “How do I relate to people ‘above’ me?” (I’ve got an email script you can use for this exact problem below)
I reached out to every single person to learn more about their experiences and wanted to share my best advice in one place.
If you’ve ever struggled with any of these challenges, this one’s for you.
Challenge #1 – “I’m nervous about reaching out to people.”
One of the biggest challenges of networking is that unless you’re in a very privileged position where others are actively trying to connect with you, you’ll need to be the one to initiate outreach.
This poses a problem for many musicians who view themselves as being introverted because it can be pretty damn scary to put yourself out there.
The second you walk into a room filled with people you don’t know, or the moment you open up your email to start reaching out to folks, the negative thoughts can come pouring in.
What if they have no interest in meeting me?
What if they think I’m just using them to get gigs?
What if I come off too eager?
This is what I call the What-If Syndrome.
It sucks to feel this way. Trust me, I’ve been there.
But there’s good news. This is all in your head.
The reality is that almost everyone is interested in meeting new people because they know that the key to getting new gigs is through their networks.
The cure to What-If Syndrome is to simply focus on the likelihood of a positive outcome instead of immediately jumping to the worst-case scenario.
Think about the difference between “What if they have no interest in meeting me?” and “What if they’re excited to meet someone new who they can chat with in the dressing room before the show?”.
By focusing on the possibility of a positive outcome, you’re instantly flipping the negative effects of the What-If Syndrome into something that is going to benefit the people around you as well as yourself.
This mindset shift will completely change how you interact with people and make it a more positive experience for everyone involved.
Challenge #2 – “I’m afraid people will think I’m just trying to get something out of them.”
If you go into an interaction with the intention of just getting something from someone else, it’s not going to go well.
It will likely be painfully obvious and not an enjoyable encounter for anyone.
This poses an interesting challenge then for people who would like to meet other people that could potentially open up professional opportunities for them.
So how do you approach this in an authentic way?
Look for ways to be valuable to the people around you.
People like others who are helpful or can offer them something of value.
Imagine for a moment that you’re an in-demand freelancer that gets a lot of inquiries from younger players trying to pick up some gigs around town.
Would you rather connect with someone who is obviously just trying to hit you up for a gig or would you rather meet someone who reached out to you with some ideas about how you could potentially get more gigs for yourself?
There’s a massive difference between the gig-hucksters out there that are just trying to meet people to get something for themselves and those who are actually trying to be useful to those around them.
Here are a few simple ideas of being useful to someone you’d like to meet:
- Recommend (and share!) an article on a topic of similar interest
- Refer them for a gig you can’t do
- Offer to grab them a coffee or snack during a break at rehearsal
Notice that none of these examples require any special skills.
Just be a good colleague or peer and you’ll be amazed how easy it can be to connect with other.
Challenge #3 – “How do I relate to people that are ‘above’ me?”
First off, nobody is “above” or “higher” than anyone else.
We’re all people who have professional and personal challenges.
Nobody is any better than anyone else because of what kind of gigs they get.
That being said, it can be extremely valuable to connect with people that might be further along in their careers than yourself and you should absolutely reach out to them.
Everything we’ve mentioned thus far applies to this particular situation, but I think there’s one very simple strategy that very few people use.
Ask people for advice.
This is so simple and it almost always gets looked over.
It almost feels silly to call this a “strategy”, but the truth is that it can be an excellent way to connect people that might be a little more advanced in their careers than yourself.
Here’s a simple email script you can use to reach out to people for advice that I’ve had tons of success with:
Hi *Their Name*,
My name is *Your Name* and I’m a local *what you do* interested *type of work*.
I’ve been doing some research around the opportunities in my area and noticed that you’re involved in *Group/Company/School/etc*.
Would you be open to getting together for coffee somewhere convenient to you in the coming week and ask you a couple of questions about your experience working in *type of work*?
Here are a few times that I am available:
*Date – Time*
*Date – Time*
Thanks so much for your time and I hope to hear from you soon!
P.S. – If it’s better for you, I could also just send my questions via email as well. Thanks again!
This email might seem a little forward, but let’s break down why this works.
First, you want to do a quick introduction of yourself and tell them how you learned about them.
By using the phrase “in my research” it instantly lends you credibility because it shows you’ve put in a little legwork before reaching out to them and it lets them know that you’re someone who actually took the time to learn a little bit about them.
Next, when you tell them you would like to ask them a few questions, you are acknowledging that they know more than you and you are also giving them an opportunity to share their experiences.
I don’t care who you are, at some level, we all love to be heard and share our stories.
By directly asking them for permission to ask them questions, you’re appealing to that part of themselves.
This can work wonders when it comes to getting you in touch with others.
Our short email script closes with you suggesting a few time windows to meet up.
This may feel presumptuous, but by selecting specific times, it makes it easier for them to say yes or no.
If you just simply say “Are you free this week?” that requires them to look at their calendar and try to figure it out.
That may not sound like much, but when you’re asking for a favor from someone that doesn’t know you, it doesn’t take much for them to not follow through.
By specifying a few time options, you’re shifting the the question from being open ended and vague to a yes or no question.
Finally, thank them for taking the time to read your message with a quick PS that states you can also share some questions via email.
The PS is really important because even it offers them a lower-level commitment and still gets your foot in the door.
Not everyone will respond.
Hell, you might send 25 emails and only get two responses.
Even if that happens, you have already established two additional connections that you can seek advice from.
Once you have successfully connected with someone via email, you’ve officially taken the first step towards creating an authentic relationship with them.
But remember, this is only the first step.
The way to make sure the relationship continues to evolve is to seriously listen to their advice and implement the lessons you learn.
At that point, you can reach out to them again and let them know what kind of results you have gotten using their advice.
By following up and sharing your progress, you will continue building on the foundation set when you initially reached out to them.
If you’re struggling with any of these challenges, I highly encourage you to try out the strategies outlined above.
There are no magic bullets when it comes to building a freelance career, but having the ability to successfully create and grow your network is going to be the most satisfying and financially rewarding skill you can invest in.
Everyone struggles with this skill. However, by facing these challenges head on, you will fast track your way to growing a network filled with great friends and colleagues.
Have any questions about networking?
Leave a comment below or email me directly at seth@sethhanes.