Sometimes the most obvious things are the strongest.
Today’s essay will be shorter than usual as I just returned to Los Angeles from a trip to NYC. Before the pandemic, which is said to remain unnamed, these trips were a common occurrence. I’m an advertising executive and photographer and many of my clients are based in the Big Apple. So the cross-country flight was something of a routine.
Of course, in recent years, for obvious reasons, the number of such trips has diminished, as has my pleasure in boarding a plane packed. But after two of my films won awards at a prominent annual awards show, I figured it would be one of those occasions when it would be worth packing a bag and sending my dog Archibald to the kennel for a while.
It was only going to be a short drive. Many of my contacts, while technically still working in New York, have scattered across the country since working remotely became a thing. So there were literally fewer doors to knock on in the city. So it only took me a few days to make the rounds of face-to-face meetings prior to the main event of the cocktail party honoring the winners.
Of course, a lot can happen in NYC in 48 hours. While there I managed to accidentally bump into a 40 person brawl literally outside the door of my AirBnB, got locked out of my room at 2am, dressed only in my underwear, was punched in the chest by a martial artist and… accidentally bumped into the most beautiful British woman I’ve ever seen on the tube at midnight and fell in love instantly, only to realize our romance would be short-lived as she and I are leaving town the next day would. Think Before Sunrise, but with a less handsome lead.
But aside from all that excitement, the main reason I was in town was of course the awards show. It might seem like the height of frivolity at first to fly all the way across the country to attend a party. As an introvert, it can often be difficult to get myself to drive across Los Angeles. But even though we live in an increasingly digital world, the simple fact is that our business is still people-based. Social media, email and Zoom make it easier than ever to stay connected. But the best way to make a connection, a real connection that has a chance to last, is to get a chance to speak to someone in person. To shake their hands. Being forced to lean in and listen carefully to hear them over the sound of overzealous party music. To have the opportunity to say, “Hi, my name is… and I’m doing this.”
Obviously you don’t have to fly to New York to do these things. You can connect with your clients and your creative community much closer to home. Perhaps there are social mixers at your local community centers or chambers of commerce. Perhaps there are marketing events organized for like-minded creatives to network. Maybe you are even the person who organizes such events. I sit on the board of directors of a professional organization for photographers.
But whatever the method, taking the time to connect with people in real life can be key to broadening your perspective and growing your business. For example, the awards show I attended had awards in three categories: photography, illustration, and filmmaking. I work in two of these categories. So, by attending the event, not only did I meet other photographers and filmmakers, I also got to know and say hello to a number of illustrators. Even though my illustration skills stop at stick figures, expanding my creative circle has been fulfilling and helped provide additional perspectives. Many of my customers also take part in such events. Being able to not just engage with them via Zoom or email, but actually see them in person adds another layer of connection to our relationship. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll call me for the next job. But it allows us to get to know each other on a deeper level than just sending you a link to my latest film or photo project. It also increases the likelihood that they will actually open the next email I send.
I’m a committed introvert, so it would be a lie to say that I find it easy to attend all these events. I was traveling with a friend over the weekend and as an introvert she asked me how I could do so much personal marketing. My answer to her was simple. I do it because I have no other choice. If I want to build my business, I have to do whatever it takes to be successful. This includes getting better at my craft. But it also means doing everything I can to get in front of the right people who can make the difference in my career. Meeting people face to face is not a luxury. It’s a necessary skill.
So despite the quick turnaround and my unfortunate wardrobe choices that left me feeling too cold and too hot at the same time, it was worth the trip. And who knows, even if I don’t get any work from the ride, at least I have the memory of the beautiful woman on the subway. You never know what can happen when you put yourself out there in the world.