Over the past year, I’ve been learning perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned about growing my photography business. And it was the LAST lesson I, as the introverted artist that I am, EVER wanted to take to heart:
Networking isn’t just a good business practice, IT. IS. ESSENTIAL.
I cannot do it alone.
And of course, I may find “success”… but can I really call it that if I don’t have anyone helping me out, cheering me on along the way, and celebrating with me when I finally “make it”?
(Other than my family and friends, of course, who I know will always be there.)
In my opinion, reaching the “top” alone is not success.
This vein of thought all stems from a couple weeks ago, when April Bowles Olin, the mastermind behind Blacksburg Belle published a case study of my business on her blog. The intent of the case study was to share with her followers how successful her membership program, Sunday Society, has been in helping its members grow their businesses.
(PS…. it’s been very successful)
Prior to publishing the case study, April took the time to sit down with me and go over my answers to the questions she had sent me several weeks prior, when I first expressed interest in participating in her case study. As we talked, she asked me what had been the best part of Sunday Society in helping me grow my business.
Now, when I had first answered her questions, my answer to this particular question had been different. However, in the time between my initial responses and our phone call several weeks later, a new month came, and with it, a new monthly challenge within Sunday Society: improving our networking.
Uh… hold up. I work alone. My art is myself and I don’t need OR want anyone else involved.
And I stubbornly stuck to that story through the entirety of that monthly challenge.
However, as the month began to wrap up, I began to have two realizations:
1. I realized just how frustrated I was with my current situation, of the almost stagnant growth I was seeing with my business
– and –
2. I realized this situation was never going to be fixed by stubbornly telling myself I would be able to do it all on my own (I guess I have control issues…)
Metaphorically speaking, before this networking challenge, I felt as if I was a tiny fish convincing myself not to make the leap from the comfort of my goldfish bowl to the enormity of the ocean. I told myself that I was either going to be eaten alive, or lose myself and what made my art my own in the vastness of what was out there.
But in continuing with this metaphor, here is a very interesting fact about fish: they are indeterminate growers. This means that as long as the quality of their environment is good they will keep growing. They can even outgrow their living conditions, if their water is clean and the food they eat is healthy.
When our month of networking was up (and I still had not reached out to a single person), I began to realize something: sure, making that leap may have felt like I was dooming myself to failure in such a massive way, or that I was departing from what made my art unique to myself. But if I didn’t make that leap, even if I was doing everything right… even if I was consistently creating new work, writing a blog post every week, and using all the right hashtags in my social media posts, eventually I was going to outgrow the tank of my own capabilities.
I would have felt as if my talents, although well practiced and honed to what I wanted them to be, would be stuck in that tiny bowl, unable to reach out to the wider ocean, to the audience I longed to reach.
You can’t do it alone. I can’t do it alone. We were not put on this earth to wander through our lives by ourselves. We are meant to interact with and connect to the thousands upon thousands of people we cross paths with throughout the course of our lives. Why on earth was I so caught up in the notion that my business, my art, would be any different?
And suddenly I realized, the one thing that was holding me back was the fact that I had tried so hard to do it all alone.
Last month I reached out to twenty fellow creatives. Costume makers, prop makers, and even a musician. Five of them got back to me. The first one wrote an almost scathing letter in return, telling me how little financial sense it made for him to work with me.
I was humiliated. I could feel my cheeks warming by degrees with each word I read of his response. I wanted to write back and say “I’m sorry, that was stupid of me. Forget I ever asked!” But I refused to allow myself to be defeated by that.
And then I got another response from another creative.
And do you know what she said? “I would be honored to have my work in your photos.”
“I would be honored.”
That creative is the maker of the headpieces you see in the images I am sharing today.
I have since emailed many more designers and makers and am in talks with several of them about future collaborations. My follower counts have been increasing ever since, and I finally, FINALLY, feel like I’m no longer screaming for attention.
Am I 100% where I want to be yet? No. I still have a long way to go before I can make the leap to a full-time artist. But I’m getting there.
As I sat there and talked to April, telling her how my answers had changed and about the things I had learned, I began to realize something important: the world in which I wanted to live, the world where I did it all myself and was independent of any one else, is no longer the world in which I want to stay. I don’t want to stay in the goldfish bowl, left to swim in circles endlessly in my own space. In making the leap into the ocean, I may feel completely overwhelmed at times and may lose my direction, but in reaching out to others, I have learned that I can indeterminately grow. I can keep learning as long as I keep seeking out those around me.
I have learned that I don’t need to do it by myself and suddenly, I don’t feel so alone anymore. And that brings me so much joy.