A Critical Strategy to Grow Your Creative Business

Have you heard the old adage that “Success depends on who you know, not what you know?” The reason this bit of traditional wisdom has lasted is because it rings true.


An Art Salon event at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandra, VA

An Art Salon event at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandra, VA


There are many talented artists and makers out there, and there is seemingly no end to their creativity. That’s not enough, though. Many of them are not successfully selling much of their work, and some don’t sell any at all. Part of the reason that entrepreneurs fail is a sheer lack of business skills, including the inability to properly plan and follow through. But another major factor in the failure of small creative businesses is that the artist is working in isolation, and not focusing on making connections with others who can help them face challenges, and find resources.

One of the most critical strategies in building a successful small business is developing a network of people who are supportive of you, interested in what you do and who can introduce you to others. It is through word of mouth, conversation and referral that you will find opportunities, collaborators, and ideas that can really help your business thrive.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to get started building those relationships. You can begin now, with these simple steps:

Meet the right people.

Who are the people that you want to meet and develop a relationship with in order to grow your art business? That depends on you. Some people in your network will fill a role of being supportive and encouraging. Others might help you solve problems, or act as a mentor. Other network members might become collectors, or be able to send referrals to you so that you can cultivate more collectors. And some might be willing to act as partners, to collaborate with you or become a strategic ally. Find art communities by seeking out local guilds and groups, or attending an art salon.

Are you in a niche market? Then go where your “tribe” goes. If your work is a perfect match for wine lovers, you will want to join organizations and go to conferences that relate to the topic, attend wine tastings, and participate in discussion groups. Connect with others in the wine industry online, through networks such as LinkedIn, and in person as well.

Pay it forward.

The key to networking success is to approach it with an attitude of giving, not receiving. Rather than beginning each conversation by seeing what you can get out of it, listen to others and see what it is that you might offer them. Ask them about their own businesses. What would help them? What are they seeking? You cannot help everyone, but you may have advice, or a referral or resource to share with some of your contacts. And, as you give to others, you will naturally receive in return; not necessarily from the people you helped, but from others in your network.

Successful networkers understand the give and take of the process. It takes time to meet the right people and deepen those relationships. Networking is a long-term, ongoing commitment, and one that can do wonders to help grow your small business.

Know what you want – and ask for it.

When you are in a situation to meet people, you must be able to speak clearly about what you do. When you know this ahead of time and understand how to speak about yourself, you can prepare for networking opportunities. One way to prepare is to write and memorize your “elevator speech” – this term refers to being short enough to fit into the space of an elevator ride if you were to meet an ideal contact there.

In addition, you need to be able to express what you want. Who would you like to meet? Can you name a specific person or type of person you want to connect with? Be specific so that people in your network can respond. Saying, “I’d like to meet people who want to buy my art” doesn’t give anyone a concrete idea of who you are seeking to meet. If you say that you are looking for retailers who sell wine-related items, you are making a specific request, and are far more likely to receive an introduction.

As you build your network, notice the resources and opportunities that others have to offer you. Sometimes one introduction can revolutionize your whole business.


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