Drake doesn’t say “started from the bottom, now I’m here.” There’s a “we” in that line for a reason.
Even though we’d like to think we can get to the top on our own, a good reputation requires attention and help from other people. Our ideas and creations are our own, but our reach only goes so far. Networking is increasingly important, especially if you’re seeking any form of influence as an artist or entrepreneur. When we expand our social circles in a professional way, we move ourselves to a place of expanded potential— generally, opportunities for collaboration or independent and contracted work are offered first to an insider circle before being outsourced. If we want opportunities for growth, we can’t afford not to network.
It can be intimidating to reach out and connect with someone you don’t know, but it pays off. Tim Ferriss, entrepreneur and author of The 4-Hour Workweek, summed up the importance of networking when he said, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” We have to be willing to put ourselves out there, to ask for help, for opportunities, for contacts, for publicity, for an hour of someone’s time.
We can’t let fear of a negative response deter us from pursuing our dreams. There’s truth to the adage that fear kills more dreams than failure does, so by keeping ourselves soft and being open to hearing “no,” we won’t be afraid to ask for what we want. As a result, we’ll inevitably hear “yes” more often.
The first thing you have to do is believe in the work you put out. Don’t half-ass it or publish anything you’re not proud of just to . Your body of work is your reputation, so you should be a perfectionist when it comes to your content. Most people are convinced that they’re incapable of achieving anything more than mediocrity, so they settle for being “good enough.” That means there’s more people in the middle than at the top, so competition is more intense for “realistic” things, making them more energy and time consuming. Don’t compete with anyone who isn’t at the level of your ideal success; instead, study those who are where you want to be and emulate their styles. The quality of your content— and your reputation— will improve as a result. When you’re proud of your work instead of looking at it as “good enough,” you’ll have an easier time pitching it to someone else.
Then, reach out. If someone has been a positive influence on your life or your success, let them know. Shoot them an email or message their Facebook page. Even if they’re wildly popular and you think they’ll never see it, that shouldn’t prevent you from trying. Give credit and ask questions if you’re inclined. The worst thing that can happen is you won’t hear anything.
When you do pitch, or make the initiative to connect with someone, expect nothing. Sometimes the best way to develop a working relationship with someone is simply by putting yourself in proximity with them as nothing more than available if they need anything from you. Networking is a two-way street, and it’s best to approach it in the sense you would a friendship: “I’m here if you need anything from me.” We don’t enter friendships thinking of how someone’s companionship will benefit us in the long run; we simply enjoy a person’s company and time we spend with them. That said, when we connect with other influencers, we should be connecting because we enjoy someone’s work and the ability to have energizing and constructive conversations about our content.
When you help people in any way, whether it’s promoting their brands or publicly commending them, don’t expect anything in return or to earn brownie points. Do it from a genuine perspective. Long-term industry relationships, like friendships, are not based on favors but on mutual respect. And because the universe has a way of giving back what we put out, when we do receive praise or favors, it’s important to express gratitude. It keeps us humble and there is no such thing as being too grateful.
On the flip side, be conscious of the energy you put into conversations. Don’t ever talk bad about anyone. It’s petty and unprofessional, and it’s a habit that belongs solely to chronically unsuccessful people. When we tear other people down, it’s because we subconsciously are trying to make ourselves look better by comparison. People who are truly good at what they do don’t need to be better by comparison; they stand tall independent of what others are doing. Remember the golden rule of conversation: small people talk about people, average people talk about things and great people talk about ideas. Your ability to talk about ideas instead of people and things is the difference between a conversation that is energizing and one that is energy depleting.
Finally, connect people with other people and offer opportunities to your network. Be the person that knows everyone, and don’t be afraid that you’ll get left behind if you put two people in contact with each other. We can’t be involved with every project we hear about, but this allows us the benefit of focusing solely on projects that we’re interested in and passionate about. Sometimes our role in a project is simply connecting two people who need to connect or offering an opportunity to our network when we know of a role that needs to be filled. All networks grow as a result, and we’ll earn respect for our ability and willingness to help where and when we can.
In short, reputation and networks are built on honesty, genuinity, humility and dedication. No matter how successful or influential, people are still people, and we should treat them as such.