Five tips for successful networking

Networking daunts most of us, but it is essential in acting, where the normal career pattern consists of short term contracts for a variety of employers interspersed with meetings which may bear fruit in the future. Once you have met and worked with someone, chances are you’ll do it again and again.

But networking is how you initially meet new people, and meeting people for the first time is how you get that first, all-important job with them. Nothing will work like personal contacts – by people thinking of you before they go to the casting directories.

But of course, you hate networking. A lot of people feel like this even in the commercial world, but the problem is exacerbated in the arts, where there is a lingering feeling that an actor who approaches their career with a strategy is somehow compromising their artistic standards. This is amateurish rubbish. It matters hugely in this business who you know, not because it is ruled by nepotism, but because personal recommendation lies at the heart of all casting.

Basically, no-one recommends you for a job unless they’ve seen your work themselves, or met you in person. Contacts are all, so follow these five simple networking rules and you’ll gain in confidence, form a wider circle of contacts and get more work.

1. Be charmed, not charming

Remember, everyone you meet while networking is also networking too – and is probably as ambivalent about it as you are. Where most actors slip up is in thinking that networking is about selling themselves as performers to strangers, without the comfort of a character to hide behind. It isn’t, and once you acknowledge this, you’ll relax.

Of course, you must be positive about your talents but you don’t need to ‘perform’ in any way – just be yourself. Successful networkers know that networking isn’t just about making other people interested in you; it’s about you being interested in them. […] The surest way of making someone uncomfortable is to foist yourself or your career details on them without first establishing a bond between you. So listen rather than speak.

2. Be businesslike

Adopting the right tone when you communicate is essential, as are correct spelling and grammar – no text-speak or slang. […] Keep messages brief, polite, businesslike and to the point.

You will meet thousands of contacts throughout your career, and forget most of them, unless you keep a record. Create a contacts file on your computer, and a profile for each person you have ever met in the business – every fellow student, tutor, playwright, actor, director, etc.; what they look like, where you met them, and so on. Add new people every week, and update once a month.

This isn’t school, where it’s cool to do as little as possible; this is the business where graft counts. To stay in the game for the long term, it’s important to remember to cultivate contacts in the generation before you as well as the established figures you meet. In ten years’ time the fresh-faced wunderkind you vaguely remember could be producing a movie with you in it – if they know who you are.

3. Start with those you know

You already have a network. The people you train with are your most valuable asset – there is a bond there which may survive a lifetime, so stay in contact and share those contacts. This is not just a matter of swapping names, it’s about going to see people in shows, meeting casting directors and writers and theatre directors, and then keeping a log of those you’ve met.

If you hear of a job going for someone you know, tell them. If you can recommend them, even better. Like for you, these initial contacts will gradually widen their own circles of contact and influence. Some of the people you share grotty flats with and see at old school reunions will end up running the very companies you’re both desperately trying to get work with now. Staying in contact with each other and promoting each other throughout your careers is essential.

4. Never turn down an invitation

Most actors tend to isolate themselves when they’re not working, and then reconnect when they are. But it is impossible to tell when you will make a valuable contact – and for that reason you must go to any gathering you can, to learn, and to network. This is especially true of something you’ve actually been invited to, and can gain entry for free!

Get out there, and meet people in the flesh. Go to first nights, to talks, to festivals. If you are invited to a play reading, be there, and stay and talk afterwards. Somewhere out there are people who could employ you, and would do so if they know you existed. Go find them.

5. Be the first to keep in touch

If you go to see a show you like, send a message of thanks to the director. Again, keep messages brief (two lines is good), businesslike and positive. If you get a casting, ditto: a short message of thanks to the director, producer and casting director. Let people know if you have a show on – send emails to everyone on your contact list.

Finally, a word of warning.

These rules are not to be applied sometime, or next week, or when you feel like it. If you are serious about this career, they should be applied now, today, every day. Tomorrow depends on it.

From Actors' Yearbook 2013, Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury)