Have you ever felt like a deer in headlights when it comes to marketing your art? Do you wonder what it will take to get the next client or to get hired for the next job you need to make ends meet?
I remember feeling this way as I was trying to find work as an actor right out of grad school. I had just worked with Labyrinth Theater Company and had the privilege of spending several weeks doing a workshop with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Patrick Shanley. Afterwards I decided I wanted to explore acting in film. I had just started to study Shakespeare and had done some plays, but my background was in dance and performance art, so I didn’t have the technique I needed yet for film acting.
At the advice of Philip, I decided to join an acting-for-film class taught by a well-known acting coach. This coach worked on acting technique as well as how to best network to get the right auditions for the work we wanted. She was an excellent technique coach, but in terms of business coaching she was scaring the pants off of me. She kept warning us that landing a job in film was one of the hardest things we could ever do, and that we should be auditioning constantly to “get in the game” or else we would be, in her words, toast.
I didn’t have an agent at the time, so I was having a problem getting any auditions for paid jobs. All the agents I was meeting were telling me to come back to them once I had a few better paying jobs under my belt. I couldn’t afford to leave my day job for the time it took to audition and work on non-paying jobs that took several weeks at a time, so it seemed like I was in a major catch 22 that left me feeling utterly doomed.
I had a feeling there was a smarter solution. So I went back to Philip and asked him what he thought I could do to speed up the process. He gave me the best piece of advice I had heard up to that point for my business, which was the opposite of what everyone else around me was saying.
“You only need to audition for a handful of people who cast the films you’re right for. Spend time finding those people, get to know them, and plan to work with them for the long haul. Get to know everyone associated with them along the way. In the end it’s your responsibility to get the work you want- not your agent, and certainly not random casting directors you randomly audition for. You have to stay on point with what you want and go for it consistently. Don’t wait for anyone- do it yourself, but do it in the way that makes sense for you. That’s your marketing plan.”
I looked at what he had done in his own career, and he had done just that. Labyrinth Theater Company was his home base as an actor for years, because he resonated so deeply with the work they produced. From there, he made connections that were directly in line with the roles he wanted to play and built his career by nurturing those relationships and staying true to his work as an artist.
So I made a list of ten connections I thought could lead me to those writers, directors and producers whose films I would want to work in. One of those connections was ironically my father’s insurance agent, Bill James. Bill was a friend of my dad’s for years and had mentioned to me a while back that Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise’s former manager, was from my hometown and a good friend of his family. Paula was someone I had wanted to meet, as she was a strong female power figure I admired for her producing roster. Aside from working with Tom Cruise, she had a hand in producing some very important and monumental films that Hollywood would normally pass up. I decided to reach out to Bill to see if he might be willing to make an introduction to her for me.
He said he would be willing to send a letter to her on my behalf, and tell her how he knew my family. I took him up on that and he sent the letter. A month went by, and I heard nothing from her. Crickets. Here is where I would normally have given up- I didn’t want to cross a line, after all, or come across super pushy- but thankfully I had learned from both Philip and my business mentor at the time, Beth Harrison, that following up in business was not only acceptable but necessary. Following up is how you let people know you’re sincerely dedicated to what you are proposing to them.
So I decided to take matters into my own hands, as Philip had suggested. I asked Bill if he would mind if I followed up with her on my own. He hesitated at first, but I reassured him I knew how busy she was and that following up was necessary. He agreed- he was a smart businessman, after all. So I wrote her a letter every four weeks for four months, telling her how much it would mean to me to be able to talk with her and get her advice on who I could best connect with in the industry.
At the beginning of the fifth month I received a call from Los Angeles. It was Paula’s assistant, asking if I could come in to see Paula the next day. Without hesitating I said yes, flew out to Los Angeles on a red eye and met with her in her office. We talked about our hometown, the kind of work I was looking for and who she thought I could connect with. She put me in touch with CAA, Creative Artists Agency, from whom I got my first agent. I auditioned for my first paid film, which was the exact kind of film I was right for and wanted to work on. That film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
From that moment on I began to work smarter- not harder- in the ways I got work both as an artist and business owner. It has served me well to build quality relationships with those who matter the most to both my life and my career. It’s how I built my business into a thriving, profitable entity with a mission that works to fulfill my vision, and continue to do so on a daily basis.
Your list of connections is the backbone of your business as an artist because people want to work with those they both resonate with and trust. The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reported that 70% of all jobs are found through networking. There is no surprise here- people hire those they know and trust over those they have never met.
Every successful business person I’ve known in my life- artists included- rely on their list of valuable contacts to continue getting work and propel their marketing plans forward. They nurture relationships. They collaborate on projects. They lift each other up in doing so. Business, after all, is a collaboration. No one can start a business without paying clients. Those clients are what make your business take shape.
You can begin to do the same, right now. If you’re wondering how to put together your first marketing plan, start at the place that will give you the results you want, without question, while staying in line with your goals and values: the people you already know.
Take the artist’s marketing challenge now by following these four simple steps:
2. List the top 10 people you can reach out to on your list
Think of 10 people you know who may be connected to someone you could truly bring value to with your work. Sometimes it may be a friend of a friend- or your father’s insurance agent!- or sometimes you might be connected to the exact person you want to talk with. List them all.
3. Reach out to them with their best interest in mind first, and tell them what you’re up to second
Note how you can you reach out to them to offer them something of value so you form a genuine connection that comes from the reason you’re reaching out to them to begin with. Then share with them what you’re up to (a word, a referral, an intro, a thank you). You can never go wrong with this genuine approach, no matter who you’re writing (including Paula Wagner!)
4. Take action
Schedule a time in your calendar to follow through with these connections, and plan to follow up with each one as well in the way that feels best for you. If you’re writing to someone you know and you don’t hear back from the, plan to give them a call in a week or so. Remember to always follow up with anyone you’ve been introduced to through these 10 contacts on a regular basis until you receive a response.
I believe artists are hardwired to run the best businesses in the world. Help me prove my belief by taking action and sharing a theme that is integral to your art in the comments below or on Instagram using #artistsinbusiness and tag me: @alexisfedorpics!