The other evening I had dinner with two artists. One was visiting the area, searching for galleries that might be a good fit for her work. I introduced her to the second artist, who had a working relationship with a local gallery.
They admired each other's work, and made an agreement. The visiting artist was introduced to the gallery owner, who agreed to review her portfolio. She in turn agreed to recommend the local artist to a gallery in her own town.
This is networking. Artist recommendation is one of the top ways that galleries find artists and my dinner companions used it to create a win/win situation. Their actions gave both of them coveted introductions that could further their careers and their art sales.
You might think of other artists as primarily competition, but I'd encourage you to consider how your art community is actually a perfect place to start your own network. Artists need each other. No art festival could exist without artists exhibiting together to draw a crowd. And it's been found that artists who start businesses in isolation are far more likely to fail than artists who surround themselves with a supportive community.
How can you work with other artists for common benefit?
1. Attend (or start) a salon, guild meeting or other group to share helpful discussion, resources, opportunities, advice, and mentorship.
2. Identify those people whom you like and feel you can work with in your group. Introduce them to people you know who could be helpful to them. Share feedback, give encouragement, and act as accountability partners for each other as you work toward your business goals.
3. Share referrals with others. Just as my artist friends traded gallery connections, reach out to your own existing network to introduce people who could mutually benefit. You might also share links on social media to a networking partner's website or event, or recommend them to your customers and fans. They can reciprocate, and thereby you extend each other's social "reach".
4. Partner up. You might consider sharing a show booth, a pop-up space, or an open studio event with your networking partners. Each person invites their list to the event, and everyone gains in exposure and potential sales.
Networking starts out with a giving mentality, but this doesn't mean that you have to be a martyr, running around assisting everyone else. Know what you want, and be open to receiving. Who would you like to meet? Let others know what you are trying to achieve, and what introductions would be most helpful.
The nature of networking is that at times you can help someone else, but they don't currently have an introduction or help for you. Don't worry. That assistance will come, frequently from yet another source. When you approach the networking process with a "pay it forward" attitude, you become known as a connector, and a great person to know. Your network will naturally evolve, and referrals will come.
Getting personal introductions to the very people you would love to meet helps avoid the stress of reaching out "cold" and feeling like an outsider. It's often who you know rather than what you know that helps you become successful. Start with your current circle of acquaintances, and start reaching out. Use those networking skills on a daily basis as part of your regular practice, and watch your own business grow.