Thursday, January 31, 2008

Networking in voiceover

In voice-over as in all business ventures we think a lot about networking, and numerous articles have been appearing about it lately in various internet haunts that I frequent, including voice actor haunts like the Voice Registry Blog. It’s an indispensable activity, intimately related to marketing. But, it is not marketing and it shouldn’t look like it. It's just making connections of all kinds in all kinds of ways. What does it look like for you?

I have several formal outlets for networking: my local Chamber of Commerce, my local Ad Club, and another local group called Hidden Tech. The Chamber has the most regular meetings – a monthly “Arrive at 5”, quarterly breakfast meetings, and in addition I’m a member of its tourism committee. The Ad Club has a monthly luncheon series and an annual holiday party. Hidden Tech meets occasionally. I have not seen any measurable benefit to my business from the Chamber or the Ad Club - but then, I'm not measuring! A member of Hidden Tech needed a favor, which I was able to perform, which led to her giving me a spot as a speaker in a program she was organising, which led to a reporter writing a story about me for the local paper, which led to a call from a toy maker who needed a voice for a talking doll. My goal in participating in these various organisations is to be part of a community, which is especially important for those of us who work alone. When I go to these meetings, my challenge as a shy person is to talk to one or two people in some depth (not the trap-your-neighbor-and-talk-their-ear-off kind of depth, more like, find something that interests them and get them to talk about it). I want to make sure they know what I do for a living, and everybody asks, just as I ask everybody what they do. But nobody wants a sales talk at a party – what a turn-off! For thoughts on how not to network see a recent article by Ilse Benun.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this – at networking events, far more often than we voice actors hear “oh, you do voice-overs? I might have a job for you!” we hear, “I’ve always wanted to get into that – how did you get started?” There is nothing to be lost by giving a helpful answer to that question. Although I didn’t get started in this business by asking a voice actor how to do it – I was already in the demo-in-hand marketing phase before I ever talked to a working voice actor besides my coach – I hope I will never be too busy to try to give somebody a hand if they need one. We are always hoping somebody will give us a hand and we need to make sure the universe is balanced! I really like what casting director Bonnie Gillespie has to say about that in her column, The Actor’s Voice:

How often do you meet with new-to-town, enthusiastic, completely-clueless-to-the-biz actors upon whose lives you could make a huge positive impact, just by showing them how to format their resumé or where to download sides? Not too often, right? ("Why would I? What's in it for me? Who has the time?" Exactly.) Well, let's seek to change that. Do a little mentoring. Pay it forward. Invest in a relationship with someone who offers you absolutely nothing whatsoever in return....It could even connect you with someone whose career will skyrocket long before yours does, and that person might be so grateful to you for the early support that you'll benefit in ways you never imagined possible.

Hear hear! At the very least, being helpful makes the world a more pleasant place for our own selfish selves - that's worthwhile in and of itself, isn't it??

Blogging is another way that I network. Most of what I write is just more internet noise, but occasionally something will resonate with people and then I get a lot of email about it. Most of the people I hear from are other voice actors, which is a great boon in this age of isolation. It’s really nice when people email and leave comments at my blog, and I try to do it myself at other blogs. If you’ve never left a comment here, please think about doing it – as soon as you leave a comment, you become visible – people learn that you exist. That’s a good thing! So leave one here, and then go to some of the blogs listed on the right and leave a comment there too.

I have to say that, so far, social networking has not taken up much of my networking time-budget. I have a profile at the major sites and a bunch of others, and have spent some time reviewing others’ profiles for possible connections. But I spend more than enough time on the computer as it is, and I SO do not need another reason to be here – there are more efficient ways to connect with colleagues and with potential clients, and I’m too old to be using them for friendship-related stuff (as it was so well stated at Beyond Madison Avenue: “social networking is only social if you’re alone”).

I think the most important thing to remember is that any networking you do as a voice actor and business person is like creating a garden from bare soil – you don’t plant only one kind of plant, such that your garden will look great for a week when all the flowers are blooming, and then there’s nothing going on at all. You’re planting for the present and for the future – a variety of annuals with different blooming times, a variety of perennials and shrubs and even some trees. Aim for great diversity, so that there is always something going on in your garden. Although I can't point to concrete ways that my business has benefited from all of my networking activities, I never know when some little seed I've planted at a party might take root and grow into something wonderful. It takes 3-5 years to establish a business, so get out there in the dirt and get busy!! And don’t forget to leave a comment to tell me how your garden grows.

Note on 5 Feb 2008: another article on acting and networking! It's in the air - as it always should be.

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