Friday, April 27, 2007


Sometimes we build our network and find mentors in the most unexpected places...or in my case, in a most unexpected person. Sometimes people are too busy working to always be the mentors we want or need. Fast forward 3-4 years. Once I made the decision to start Piccadilly Arts this past December, a creative strategy firm, I knew the performing arts was a vertical industry I wanted to serve. I understood a great deal, but I still needed input, guidance, and direction preferably from a seasoned professional. Half expecting an old colleague to say he didn't have the time, (the other half aware of my vulnerability and hoping he'd help), I sought out this person and his 20 years of knowledge. He graciously offered to take me to lunch and chat. In the last six weeks, he has surprised me over and over with his willingness to share his time, thoughts, and knowledge. As a newbie to the small business world, these pow wows enlighten me, guide me, refocus me, and inspire me.

Building a valuable network is crucial not just for someone like me getting a business off the ground, but for anyone in any profession or industry. Some people will be mentors, others will schlep your rez around their company or to friends of theirs, some will listen and build your confidence when you're despairing...some will be that go to person in your sector when you have a question...and so forth.

Networking and seeking out mentors is something we should always be doing...I didn't understand its necessity and power until I was laid off at 23. During this time, I'd make myself lists and write down every person I knew, personal and professional. Then I'd think of people they knew (or might know through an association). I'd also make the "ideal" list - the list of people that via researching an opportunity seemed interesting, well connected, and worth the cold email or phone call. After I completed all my lists, I'd follow it up with emails, phone calls, even visits. I'd also research industry events where creative types were likely to attend and go to as many as possible. It's all about opening your mouth and letting some words out...make friends.

To this day, I use this strategy. Many of my initial emails are introductions and express my passion for the arts, communication, and design. I offer a bit of my background, links to my web site and portfolio, why I am reaching out to him or her. I'll name drop if it's relevant. Maybe the agent has a terrific roster of artists...maybe the shop or organization is local and involved in some noteworthy causes, maybe someone mentioned the firm to me because of stellar work. Whatever the reason I've found that tons of people are just like me - everyday people who love being complimented. That's really what we are doing when we network and reach out to others. Finally, I close my introduction with some call to action - what is it that I want from this person?

I can't tell you how excited I get when someone replies to me...While it's terrific when there's work involved, just establishing the connection equals success to me. One more person in my more person I can ask a question, approach at a conference and say, "Hey, I'm Chrissie and we spoke briefly a few months ago..." Blah Blah Blah. I get more praise from people I don't know because of my ability to persevere, to remember, to follow up. People appreciate it.

Even if someone doesn't reply or respond favorably, I don't throw in the towel. Relationships are like sales cycles - sometimes the timing is right and other times it just isn't. In my case, it made more sense for my friend and colleague to be the mentor now vs. then. While working with someone can often be the best scenario for mentoring and networking to thrive, it can also be tricky. It's about balancing expectations.

There are TONS of people in our industries, so many who do want to help. Keep asking. Give those people a chance to say yes or no. Just don't forget about those unexpected people and places...they are the ones who surprise you and literally take you under their wing and pat you on the back and ask when you're visiting again. Who doesn't love that?!