This week, I’m talking about a dreaded topic: networking. I say “dreaded” because even I used to hate networking! Forcing myself to go out into the world with the sole purpose of meeting people in my business in order to garner connections (and possibly work) has always seemed inauthentic to me. If people like my work, why can’t they just reach out to me and hire me? Why do I have to mix and mingle with people? It’s exhausting!
That was the old me, but I’ve since read up on this topic to find out how to take the bad taste out of my mouth. I’ve learned that networking isn’t a one-way street; it should be beneficial for both parties. It’s not just “What can this person do for me?” but “How can I help and enrich this person with my expertise?” If you give value without strings, it will come back to you in spades. I’m not suggesting you work for free, but reframing the way you think about networking will change your energy around it and will attract like-minded people.
A popular way to network these days is through social media. I’ve written a lot on the topic in my column on Backstage. The first and most important rule is to use proper etiquette. In the world of social media, you should behave as you would at a dinner or cocktail party with guests you’re just meeting. I hope you wouldn’t barge into a room of strangers and tell them to watch your demo reel. Same thing with social media. In addition to social media, here are my four favorite networking tips to get you going:
1. Google Alerts. Set Google Alerts for the people you’d like to meet. Go and see them when they’re speaking on a panel. Ask questions and engage with them. No stalking!
2. Tweetups. Tweetups are essentially in-person social gatherings and networking events organized through Twitter—a great opportunity for turning social media interactions into in-person meetings.
3. Social gatherings. This is the time to shine and be yourself and not just talk about work. Natural, everyday social gatherings with friends are a great way to make real connections with people with whom you can circle back down the line to make work connections.
4. Turn to your friends and family. I’ll bet your friends, family, and work colleagues know several people that you’d like to meet. The best way to meet someone is through a personal referral! Ask around. Do your homework.
To further shed light on how actors should go about networking, I turned to actor and entrepreneur Ben Whitehair, who has taught me much about how actors can and should interact with casting directors and film professionals.
There are so many ways to network with casting directors. What has worked for you?
I’m now actual friends with dozens of casting directors, and in each case, I followed three guidelines: Always add value; remember that casting directors are people, too; [and] practice patience.
In my online business academy and coaching community for actors, working.actor, we are constantly talking about how important it is to remember the mantra “Offer instead of ask.” Casting directors are bombarded by actors, and most actors are asking for something—follow me, watch my demo reel, give me an audition. A wildly more effective approach is to add value for the casting director. Maybe that’s simply expressing your gratitude, offering tips or resources related to what the casting director is posting about, or promoting a film they cast to your followers.
It’s also so helpful to remember that casting directors are fellow human beings in this crazy industry. They want to get a break from their busy lives on social media, be treated with kindness, and interact with genuine people. Find ways to interact on a human level instead of only talking shop.
I also find that when I focus on building relationships over time rather than trying to get something in the short term, it always works for me.
What are the no-nos?
The biggest one is what we discussed before—asking for something instead of adding value. If someone feels like you’re just trying to get something from them, they won’t be inclined to help you. Beyond that, I’m shocked how many actors have not taken the steps to make sure their own social media profiles are optimized and professional, [which requires a] quality profile photo, well-written bio, link to your IMDb page or website, quality content, what city you live in, etc.
How should an actor approach a CD or other industry professional on social media?
The first step is to listen. Before even reaching out, pay attention to what that specific person is interested in. What do they post about on social media? What sorts of things are they interested in? What do you have in common? It can feel intimidating, so start with simple interactions and look for any opportunity to add value.
What are some other ways an actor can network?
Outside of social media, there are so many ways to network and build relationships with industry professionals. Film festivals, for example, are a wonderful place to meet directors, producers, and writers. I’m also a huge fan of attending industry events such as Q&As, panels, screenings, and educational workshops.
Charity events and organizations are also a wonderful avenue to meet people. There are plenty that are related to the entertainment industry, but that’s not a necessity. Again, do the listening—there’s a very good chance the person you want to connect with has a favorite charity they are involved with.
OK, I’ve met some amazing people. Now what?
To maximize these opportunities, remember to follow up! “What’s the best way to connect with you?” is a great way to ask permission to follow up and learn how that person wants to be reached. Giving your contact information to others is fine, but you’re then relying on the other person to do the work. Rather than focus on handing out your business cards, put your energy toward being the person who reaches out after meeting. Almost no one does that, so sending an email or note about how great it was to meet them will set you apart. Bonus points if you can find a way to add value in your follow-up by sharing an article or resource related to the conversation you had when you met them.
Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s film audition listings!