Sometimes, the most obvious things are the most powerful.
Today’s essay will be shorter than usual as I just got back to Los Angeles after a trip to NYC. Prior to the pandemic, which shall go unnamed, these trips were a frequent occurrence. I am a commercial advertising director and photographer, and many of my clients have home bases in the Big Apple. So, making the cross-country flight was something of a routine.
Of course, in the last couple of years, for obvious reasons, the number of such trips, as well as my enjoyment of being packed on a plane, have been reduced. Yet, after two of my films won recognition at a prominent annual awards ceremony, I figured it would be one of those times it would be worth packing a bag and sending my dog Archibald off for some time at the kennel.
It was only going to be a short trip. Many of my contacts, while still technically working in New York, have dispersed around the country since working remotely became a thing. So, there were literally fewer doors to be knocked on while in town. As a result, I only needed a couple of days to make the rounds of face-to-face meetings before the main event of the cocktail party in honor of the winners.
Of course, a lot can happen in NYC in 48 hours. While there, I managed to accidentally stumble upon a 40-person brawl literally on the doorsteps of my AirBnB, get locked out of my room at 2a m wearing only my undergarments, get punched in the chest by a martial artist, and randomly bump into the most beautiful British woman I’ve ever seen on the subway at midnight and fall instantly in love, only to realize that our romance was destined to be brief as both she and I would be leaving the city the following day. Think, Before Sunrise, but with a less handsome leading man.
But, of course, all that excitement aside, the main reason I was in town was for the awards celebration. It might seem, at first, to be the height of frivolity to fly all the way across the country to attend a party. As an introvert, it can often be hard to get me to drive across Los Angeles. But, even though we live in an increasingly digital world, the simple fact of the matter is that our business is still built on people. Social media, email, and Zoom make it easier than ever to stay connected. But the best way to form a connection, a real connection that has a chance of lasting, is to get a chance to talk with someone in person. To shake their hand. To be forced to lean in and listen closely to hear them over the sound of overzealous party music. To get a chance to say: “Hi, my name is… and I do this.”
Obviously, you don’t have to fly to New York to do these things. You can form connections 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 connect. You might even be the person organizing such events. I sit on the board of a professional photographers trade organization.
But regardless of the method, making time to connect with people in real life can be key to widening your perspective and growing your business. The awards ceremony I was a part of, for example, presented awards in three categories: photography, illustration, and filmmaking. I work in two of those categories. So, attending the event, I not only connected with fellow photographers and filmmakers, but I even got to meet and greet a number of illustrators. Even though my skills with illustration stop at stick figures, broadening my creative circle was fulfilling and helped offer additional perspective. Many of my clients attend such events as well. Getting a chance to not only connect with them via Zoom or email, but actually see them in person, adds another level of connection to our relationship. That doesn’t guarantee they will call me for the next assignment. But, it does allow us to get to know each other on a deeper level than simply sending them a link to my latest film or photography project. It also greatly increases the chances of them actually opening the next email I send.
I am a confirmed introvert, so it would be a lie to suggest that attending all these events is easy for me. I was out with a friend over the weekend and, as a fellow introvert, she asked me how I can do so much in-person 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 what it takes to succeed. This includes becoming better at my craft. But, it also includes doing what it takes to get in front of the right people who can make the difference in my career. Getting in front of people face-to-face isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessary skill.
So, despite the quick turnaround and my unfortunate wardrobe decisions leading me to somehow be both too cold and too hot simultaneously, it was well worth it to make the trip. And, who knows, even if I don’t get work out of the trip, 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.