Friday, 28 September 2012

Networking or Not Working

It's very un-British to be proud of and share your achievements, but in the para-phrased words of Charlotte Bronte's preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre: fuck convention.

One thing I'm particularly good at is networking. Now, I know that conjures up an image of shiny suits and phrases like 'blue sky thinking', 'USP' and 'maximise potential', but I promise you I don't mean or do it in a wanky way. Or in a sycophantic, obnoxious, flirting, touting for work by laughing at your racist jokes and offering my boobs on a plate kind of way. My sort of networking is basically built on the fact that I'm very friendly, like talking to strangers, and I'm passionate enough about my field of work to want to talk about it to anyone who'll listen. So there. One of my male friends also told me I have a way of looking at you like you're the only one in the room (feel free to swallow the vom in your mouth, I won't take offence). I am the polar opposite to the guy Lisa Mitchell sings about in her delightfully whimsical video for Neopolitan Dreams - I AM IN THE ROOM (OK, she's not to everyone's taste -  and my sister's boyfriend would probably call it whiny white girl music - but check out her song Coin Laundry below if, like me, you like Edwardian nighties, bird cages and girls who steal buttons. And she's talking about meeting someone in the coin laundry - a fabulous example of networking in unusual places!!).

So, many people - hundreds, thousands, maybe - have asked me: 'But, Kate, how do you network so awfully well?' They say: 'I'm shy', 'I don't know how', 'I can't talk to adults' ('But you are an adult', I reply. 'I know, but I can't talk to them!' they reply, 'Not real ones!'). Now, as a freelancer, networking is fundamental to my acquisition of work (networking or not working - punalicious!), and at this fucking horrible economic time, it's becoming an increasingly intrinsic part of securing work. So, to be blessed with this talent is a very useful tool. And - because sharing is caring - I'm going to give out some much coveted advice on how to do it.

NETWORKING FOR PLEBS (as Andrew Mitchell might say):

Firstly, do you own a cute thing? Babies and puppies work best, as do kittens and bunny-rabbits, although these are less easy to transport.

If yes, this is your conversation hook. Spend a day on public transport, in a doctor's waiting room, or in a department store like Debenhams. Use your cute thing to ensnare passers-by. Baby twins are clearly a big win, but are obviously rarer and harder to find, steal or produce. Although their rarity does contribute to their awwwhhh-quota (although please do not dress them identically, even if this might make your task easier, as this may psychologically damage them and suppress the development of their distinct identities; not even a job with Clean Break or Safe Ground is worth that. And please don't dress up puppies either; that could alienate a number of potential networkees, and embarrass other dogs). Wave your cute things at passers by. Drop a cute little sock. Obviously struggle to get through doors. Be creative. Use any means legal and ethical to start a conversation. The cuter the baby/puppy, the easier this will be.

If no, have a little cry about the lack of cute things in your life. Have a little look at pictures of the Cutest Little Kitten in the World to cheer yourself up. Oh dear god, just look at it:
And again:
HOW ADORABLE IS THAT??? THE CAT IS IN THE JEANS! IN THEM!

Still, if you owned something that cute, you wouldn't want to go to work, would you?

Anyway, once you've got over the lack of puppies and kittens in your life, it's time to re-group and re-focus on how to NETWORK LIKE A PRO. So, you've got no baby to steal. Fine, you'll just have to strike up conversations with people who do. When getting onto a carriage on the underground, have a quick scour of the existing passengers. Does anyone have a baby? If not, Plan B: is anyone reading a book you've read? Or is there an old lady who's gagging for a chat about her grandchildren? You never know - one of them might be a passionate philanthropist looking for young people who need a cash-injection to their arts projects. Or a policy-maker who'd love to read your MA thesis. YOU JUST DON'T KNOW 'til you ask them what they're knitting. Go on, bite the bullet!

So, you've gone for Plan A and you're sitting next to a baby. Where do you go next? Try something like, 'I wish the kids I teach were this well-behaved'. Or: 'I know this is a bit of a random question, but do you know a good children's toy shop where they sell cheap juggling balls?' Filled with curiosity they'll then ask why, and you can explain, 'Well, in my last Drama workshop with drug addicts in Hammersmith, someone threw mine a bit hard and they burst'. And Bob is your proverbial uncle. Bish bash bosh. Conversation OPENED. And if they look at you like you're crazy, rather than putting you in touch with all their friends and relatives who would be really interested in what you do and pocketing your business card, get off at the next stop. And go looking for the next puppy you can stroke (that is in no way a euphemism).  


DISCLAIMER: If you are the lovely man I met in Debenhams yesterday, with the baby with the big blue eyes, to whom I gave my business card and am genuinely interested in your work, I promise it was not all part of my plan for world domination. You were my muse, not a pawn in my great big networking chess game. I genuinely thought your baby was cute! I promise! 

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