Whenever someone asks me how I get most of my work I have to respond with “it’s mostly about who you know”. The most pretentious response in the universe and my least favorite of all, but unfortunately the most truthful. About 85% of my freelance work comes from referrals by friends, bands, co-workers, and any other people I’ve met along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to have consistent freelance work for the past year, but it hasn’t always been that way. The hardest part is getting started. How do you get those initial referrals or build a client base when you don’t know anyone and are so shy it’s too stressful to speak sometimes?
Growing up my family thought I was never going to speak because it took me so long to finally say my first words. Even throughout elementary and middle school I didn’t speak much because I was painfully shy. That has transitioned to just not feeling like speaking sometimes. Most of my friends will say I am outgoing and speak almost too much sometimes. Some people are shocked at how much I don’t speak. Especially in the photo pit between sets, of all places, I tend to not speak for any number of reasons including just feeling shy. I consider myself an ambivert and truly value my alone time, but becoming more extroverted has been pivotal to my growth as a professional and person.
My shyness is mostly situational at this point and is directly related to my anxiety levels in any given environment or moment. The more I started working in the music industry the more daunting the idea of networking became. I had to begin to challenge myself and take baby steps towards getting out of my comfort zone.
One important step is embracing anything that makes you uncomfortable (within limits that will not distress you too much at any given time). Attending events and concerts alone was a crucial step. Of course things are more fun with friends, but going alone forces you to exist in the environment by yourself. This is how I learned to accept conversations with strangers. From standing in the crowd at shows to sitting at the bar alone, it’s okay to engage with someone you don’t know. Chances are you have at least one thing in common that you can use as a jump off point to further the conversation.
If you have someone in mind that you hope to connect with at a specific show or event maybe plan out a few talking points. Don’t obsess over or repeatedly rehearse the conversation in your mind. This will lead to expectations and expectations lead to anxiety over disappoint. If you’re hoping to talk to someone that sells merch or maybe the box office attendant you always see and want to learn more about how they started working there or any other human, think about how you’ll introduce yourself and what you hope to ask them about. Starting off with a compliment is always a safe approach because it instantly makes people more interested in what you have to say. Don’t be disingenuous about it so make sure it’s an honest compliment.
Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. If you overcame your nerves enough to get through the conversation and get the person’s contact information, following up will go a long way. It shows that you care and is an easy way to thank someone for their time.
With time and practice (maybe a few awkward interactions with strangers) it will be easier to not feel as shy. While the other little tips are more outward and a conscious step towards being more outgoing there is one more subtle change that will adjust your outlook. Telling everyone what you do and hope to do. I used to rarely mention my interest in photography and didn’t feel confident enough to bring it up. Making your goals a key part of your persona makes people keep you in mind for future gigs. Reflect your passion and tell people what you hope to achieve. You will come off as a motivated individual and the next time they hear about a position or freelance job maybe they’ll recall a conversation with you. A change as small as being more open has changed how others perceive me and how much work I get.