The palpable slowdown of the summer breeds in my northern-reared self a reactive, darting, squirrel-like anxiety. This year, it's accompanied by the acute feeling of, “Hey, it’s time for Austin, phase two.” The moment of networking just for the sake of getting out and meeting people is over. The door is open for intentional, focused, strategic networking while still (and always) leaving room for chance. It’s great to be able to wrap words around that shift in my own head, but the benefit of that clarity is limited if no one else knows about it.
Cut to this past Monday. Once a month, I meet with a content creation group. Our collective goal is to all produce something, regardless of medium or quality, outside of what we’re regularly expected to produce in our work and life. The social benefit of meeting and the built-in feedback mechanism are almost secondary—the primary objective is to just get it done and out into the world. #SHIPIT.
At our most recent meeting, I met the content production goal and found satisfaction in the process of creating it—success. But I was wrestling with a substantial ask: more clarity and direction. I had started new projects: illustrating daily (#100daysofDUH) and blogging regularly and have been keeping up, for the most part. Despite publicly posting the content, however, the fact was (and is) that it’s not reaching many people (I have the analytics, I know). The simple but profound suggestion from the group? Time to ask for help from my network.
What is my network? It’s the supporters I’ve built through various jobs, projects and businesses. A fiercely loyal contingent comes from my popsicle-on-a-bicycle days in Providence (thanks for sticking by me even though I made the popsicles go away). There are friends, coworkers past and present, and newly-met Austinites who aren’t quite sure what I’m about but remain open and curious.
As a professed hater of email I never thought I’d be making moves towards email outreach. But the reality is that there’s tons of social media noise and unpaid content doesn’t have a lot of reach anymore. Also, people are busy. A personal appeal is necessary. Perhaps the endless bombardment by promotional emails exchanged for that extra 10% off has a silver lining after all: the novelty of a personal email may have actually returned.
Before the week is out, I’ll be setting up a mailchimp account I can actually remember the password for and sending a short email asking my network to support my creative efforts if the fruits resonate with them. (I’ve written this in part to make sure I follow through on that to-do.) The mechanics are pretty straightforward—the larger issue is the psychological block, i.e. why didn’t I just ask for help sooner?
If you know me well you know I’m fiercely independent. I get a huge kick out of collecting skills and knowing how to do lots of different things myself. There’s also a great deal of stubborn pride wrapped up in my ability to be self-sufficient. Many times I’ve taken the more difficult and labor-intensive path because I just wanted to prove that I could do it myself. It’s dumb, and a fundamental personality flaw, but it’s part of the reality of who I am. Self-awareness is a virtue.
When you’re working to produce things, you spend a lot of time simply producing them. You’re so close to the act that you often forget no one really knows what you’re up to (or can read your mind), particularly if you have a lot of interests and change course with ease and/or frequency. To many, I’m still the popsicle lady, even though we’re coming up on two years since the last ride. If I want them to know what else I’ve had my hands in, I need to tell them. And moreso, I need a specific ask if I'm taking up their time to share what I've been working on. It can be as simple as “Take a look if you’re curious” or more directly, “If you like what I’m making, please social media “like" it, and if you know a friend or colleague who would enjoy, please share it with them,” or more brazenly, “Who wants to pay me to make hilarious illustrations?"
There are few joys greater than knowing that a simple gesture of yours helped a person dear to you move forward. If you have good friends and contacts, there is no doubt they feel this towards you. Your job is to make it easy for them to be helpful. Put what you want to share clearly and directly, and make your ask specific. We all have networks of people around us who are interested in our work and invested in our success. There is no shame in acknowledging we can’t do it alone.
The newsletter asking for a bit of a hand went out as intended. Read & subscribe here.