Network? "Ugh," you say. How about meeting people?
“You’re a nice person and I like you. And I would like to help you with your business.”
These words were said to me by a fashion designer in 2005, at an art opening in east London. I was starting an art dealership and she thought that ‘business networking’ would serve my new enterprise well.
A few days later, as per her invitation, I arrived at a restaurant in the City of London at the shocking hour of 7am… well before many people have so much as stirred. It was a cold, pitch black October morning, and I wondered what on earth this was all about. As it happens, the man sitting alongside me during the formal part of the meeting became the first individual to commission my business for a bespoke work of art, more than a year later.
Although I had not previously come across ‘networking’, the experience was as natural to me as a duck taking to water. This was fortunate too, as building a robust contact base was essential for someone who hailed from abroad. At the time, there was only one other London gallerist who belonged to this networking organisation. Fast forward 9 years, and artists and dealers alike understand that actively meeting people is of great importance for building a self-sustaining practice (and now we can do it online as well).
But even so, the term ‘networking’ has a negative connotation to many. Most of us enjoy going out to meet people, but going out networking…?
A few years back, I found myself being criticized by an old-school art dealer for wasting time ‘networking’, when what I needed to do was focus on my business. He started talking about how baffling it all was. He explained that in his day, he’d always chatted with dealer buddies along the streets of Mayfair, in the auction room and in various members’ clubs. One didn’t need to ‘do networking’.
But you know what? He had been networking without thinking about it since the 1950s! I got him to understand this, which was a great surprise to him. In today’s world, this ranges from running into people at art fairs to actively connecting with others in an art group on LinkedIn. The difference between now and then is that now we explicitly recognize the value, and do it consciously.
In the 21st Century, we can’t afford to wait until we bump into people. It’s essential to actively make connections and maintain conversations in an increasingly fast-paced world.
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Photographs © Chris King.