Stakeholders are all the people who have an interest or concern (a stake) in your work or your career. The obvious ones are (potential) clients and the decision-makers at venues, galleries, agencies and any other places key to your success. If you think more widely about all of those who can impact your career, it also includes collaborators, rivals, and city officials. Start to consider your current social capital, the people you have already surrounded yourself with. Then, see how to expand your network, so you can find the right people to learn from, collaborate with, and sell your work to.
When looking for a job, the more social capital you have, the better your chance of success. This means having a network that’s not only wide, but deep: friends, family members, and neighbours that you’re closely connected to. These are the people who know your wants and needs, and are willing to help. Social capital is about the number of connections you have and the strength of those connections.
It’s not just about being the life of the party, it’s about building relationships. If you’re the positive, talkative type and you come from a family of successful entrepreneurs or artists, chances are that building social capital comes as second nature to you, and your existing social capital is already quite an asset. If you’re more of an introvert, or if you’re surrounded by people who constantly struggle to achieve, or would rather complain about the way things are than fixing them, you will need to work a little harder to gain some social capital. Seek out wealth in all its forms—ideas, positivity, resources, knowledge, experience, etc.—and cultivate your own wealth too, so you have something to give back. The people in your life are resources you can draw from, and vice versa,so make it a part of your practice to build and nurture connections.
What are some ways to reinforce the positive relationships you have?
How can you expand your network with new people?
There are many forms of collaboration. Beyond working with others in your own discipline, there’s also collaborations that are cross-, multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary, and so on. The options are numerous and sometimes vague (yet worth looking up), but the underlying motivation is the same: together we are stronger. Working together, your ideas and abilities are amplified. You have more to say, more ways of saying it and more people that you can reach. Working with others also means having to negotiate between yourselves and share any earnings afterward, so before you set off together, be sure you set clear expectations and terms for smooth sailing.
Find people that do not think and work exactly like you do. It may be pleasing to see our interests and attitudes reflected back in others, but it will not push you toward the best result. People who know things you don’t know, people who like things you don’t like, and people who have different skillsets than yours are more likely to supplement you as an artist and an entrepreneur. You can inspire true creativity in each other, as you each work from your own perspective. Whether working with a specialist in another field, a practitioner in another discipline, or someone from another culture, you can give to each other a new and unique perspective on problem-solving, creation and your work.
Architect David Adjaye and his composer brother Peter worked together on an album where they explore the relationship between sound and space. PJ Harvey and photographer Seamus Murphy teamed up for their project The Hollow of the Hand, combining poetry and pictures. If you are the expert within your field, you can deepen your work through collaboration with other art disciplines. Or take it a step further and work with a scientist, psychologist or philosopher.
Artists often benefit from coming together for like-minded goals, for example finding a place to work, raising visibility, or getting feedback. Think about what your own needs are, and realise there are more than likely a lot of other artists who are in search of that very same thing. Get the ball rolling: start a collective, organise a workshop or feedback sessions, create a festival or an exhibition to get work seen. If you’re looking for a working space, find other people with similar or complementary skills and help each other. This not only helps with your goal of finding a working space, but also builds a community in which every visitor is a double opportunity, as well. A lot of success is bred by coming together, creating hotspots of creativity: Portishead and Tricky set up the trip hop scene in Bristol; The Hacienda nightclub of Manchester (check out the movie “24 Hour Party People”); The Dusseldorf School of Photography studied at the same art academy in the mid-1970s.
Nobody becomes successful entirely on their own. From birth to death, other people bring to you support that you may not have even realised you were missing, whether it’s technical, practical, emotional, etc. So, to give your projects a better chance of success, make it a priority to always be meeting people. You never know when they’ll be able to help you along, and hopefully you can help them, too. While the last chapter on Collaboration is about teaming up with someone so that together you can amplify your message, this chapter is about making strategic choices on who you surround yourself with.
Who you need to work with
It is essential to have a clear grasp on who runs the business you are in. When you start out in music, for example, you might think that the only person who’s important is the record label boss, but once you dive in, you meet A&R managers, sync-deal agents, publishers, front of house managers, festival programmers and an array of other people who can profoundly influence your success. It is no different in the art world, in commercial photography, or in any other industry. So, do your homework: speak to others who are starting out, read biographies of those in the business, volunteer at a venue. Ask and ask and ask. Build up a map of the people who can influence your career.
Who you want to work with
Now try thinking from a different angle. Ask yourself, “If I could work with anyone in the world, who would that be?” It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone in your same discipline—remember, you can work across boundaries—but it may help if you start with your passion. Who truly inspires you? If your answer is Bob Marley, or some other artist who’s already deceased, then take note about why you would’ve loved to work with him, and what you would’ve gained from it. Can you find someone else who could give you something similar?
SOME QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU GET A SENSE OF THE PEOPLE YOU COULD WORK WITH:
You cannot be good at
You should understand the basics of your craft, your rights, your money and your time, but you don’t have to be a master at every single aspect of your work and your industry. You can outsource tasks you don’t want to do, or aren’t very good at, to experts and specialists, freeing yourself to focus on what you do best.
An accountant can help with your bookkeeping and money management. They can also support with financial decisions like buying or renting a house, renovating a studio or opening a shop.
A good manager will help get your business organised and running smoothly. Hiring one will cost you some income, but if they’re good at their job, will eventually make you money. Not to mention save you some stress.
An agent is out in the field trying to get you work. A good agent is well connected and can get you opportunities easily that would be hard to get on your own. Agents usually take a percentage of your income. Make sure the agent has an incentive to work specifically for you.
A publisher is someone who takes your creative output (be it photos, music or a book) and makes it into saleable products. A publisher puts in serious work and money (some will pay a band/writer/artist an advance) and so will want a serious cut of the income as well.
Having someone keep track of what you’re up to and what you need to do can vastly improve your productivity. An assistant role could also be done by an intern.
Communication and P.R. expert
This person has the role of getting word about you into the world. Someone that can manage your social media profile, get you interviews and come up with ideas to get you and your work noticed.
A mentor is someone further down the road than you who wants to help you grow as an artist. It’s a relationship usually based on trust and goodwill, rather than payment, with someone you click well with. Ask nicely, and you may be surprised how much people enjoy helping.
There are people and companies that help you find grants or subsidies for your work. If they do good work, this service can pay for itself.
Many artists get so preoccupied with making their work that they forget to think about who they’re making it for. While entrepreneurs take for granted that they need to define a target audience or target groups for their products, this is something often overlooked in the creative industry. But, when you put something into the world, you need to have an idea of who your audience is.
Creating for an audience
You can produce work first, and then seek out the audience best suited for it when you’re ready to share, or, you can look at the demands of a specific audience and produce work based on that. This doesn’t fit everyone’s creative process, but some may find it inspiring, as well as a clear-cut way of speaking directly to an audience.
Reaching out to your audience
Thinking that your art is interesting for everyone is, quite simply, a mistake. The better you can understand who your audience is, and target them, the better engagement you will get.
Once you know who your audience is, it will help you know how and where to reach them. For example, the best place to reach your audience may be in a museum, a bar, in a children’s bookstore, on chocolate packaging, or on the street. Make a conscious choice based on the best way to experience your work and who you think it can reach.
A target audience of “culturally interested 20 to 40 year olds” is way too broad. Narrow it down – what is your real goal? One example of micro-targeting is a billboard printed with the name of the president of a big company, placed along his usual commute to work. If the attention of this one person is worth so much, spend it on a campaign that is sure to reach him.
Find innovative ways to pinpoint your target audience. Find Facebook groups or forums based on a specific topic, for example. Or find events where the chance of interest in your work is significantly higher than elsewhere.
One way to better target your audience is to focus on interest intersections. For example, if you’re a photographer who takes pictures of landscapes that you digitally alter into fantasy worlds, you’ve got three keywords for specific target audiences: photography, digital manipulation and fantasy. Try to find groups online that are interested in at least two of these three topics, and you’ve got a well-defined target audience, already much better than a generic ‘museum visitor’.
When putting your work out to the world, always ask yourself: am I shooting with buckshot or do I have specific targets?