The Three Jaguars on: Communication (Part 2, Business Partners)

So, we’ve dealt (effectively, we hope!) with fans and customers and patrons. Let’s move on to the next set of people. This business of communication, it never ends…

Communicating with Business Partners: Business Manager

     As an artist running your own business, you’re going to need to interface with a lot of people in pursuit of your business goals. Banks, coordinators, agents, freelancers, corporate buyers, gallery owners and venue operators, licensors and distributors… the list goes on and on. You can minimize your contact with people outside your studio, but your business will die quickly without partnerships. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing books or making costumes, you will need supplies, business licenses and people to help you get your work into the right hands.
     The proper person to manage these relationships is Business Manager. She’s the one with the account books and an understanding of the bottom line. She’s the one who’ll be able to evaluate these partners on their performance: are they doing the job? Are they doing it well? Is it worth the hassle/expense to maintain the partnership? What have they done for you?

     So here’s the watchword for communicating with business partners: equality.

      Why? Because you are not a beggar. Too many creatives setting up their own businesses buy their business licenses and then continue thinking of themselves as individuals with brushes and keyboards, hoping to get people to like their stuff. Once you start paying taxes, you are no longer just the Artist; you’re a small businessperson, running your own enterprise. You don’t need other people’s charity; you are making money, and you’re looking for people to help you do it… people who will not so incidentally get a share of your profit. Repeat these things after the Jaguars:

      Have you got that? Put it on your wall. You are not a charitable cause. You do not need to beg for people’s money or help. You are there to present a case on why doing business with you is a good risk. They get to decide whether to take that chance.
      Let’s talk about specifics.

      One of the first places Artist fails in business communication is networking… because she is too aware of the importance of other people, and wonders why they should choose to talk to her instead of some other artist. This worry drains away all her natural brilliance and makes her look timid and desperate, and no one likes the scent of desperation. So as tempting as it is to have Artist show up to network with business contacts… send her back to the studio. Marketer and Business Manager work together at networking events; Business Manager evaluates the crowd and decides who should be approached, and Marketer goes off to be shiny and excited at them… with Business Manager at her shoulder to keep her from getting carried away. (Marketer and Artist have a tendency to promise things in the heat of the moment that they should probably have thought through more carefully, so make sure Business Manager is riding herd on them whenever they’re out.)
      Your goal at networking events, whether it’s a party or a convention or a fair, is to think of everyone as a potential partner. A potential partner, not a victim, not a godlet who would never be interested in you, and not a target to be hunted down. These are all people, business people like you, who may or may not have something to offer, and what you’re seeking is a mutually beneficial business relationship.
      The jaguars cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep a clear perspective on people at networking events. So here are some principles for networking:

1. Be interested.
      Sound familiar? The people at networking events are involved in the same things you are, and that gives you a great deal in common. Additionally, they are involved in segments of the business you might not be. The layout specialist knows things about books you don’t as a writer (unless you also do layout!), and might pass some fascinating stories and tips to you. The maintainer of the famous cosplay blog can tell you what kinds of posts got the most attention, and what kind of things she thinks are newsworthy. The lighting expert can tell you what kind of effects are possible on stage and which look ridiculous or cost too much. Ask about what someone does and be interested in their answers. Learn as much as you can. Share your own experiences in kind—

2. Don’t Make it All About You
      —but don’t take over the conversation and talk about your latest awesome, whatever that was. Don’t talk about how brilliant you are, either, and nothing else. Don’t go into monologue mode and don’t try to sell yourself.

But wait! Isn’t that the point of networking?

     No! The point of networking is to find good relationships. Relationships exist between two people… that means you and someone else. Not just you. If you spend all your time talking yourself up, you’ll never have the chance to evaluate someone else’s talents and personality. You’re looking for a good fit for your needs and your style. The highest-power distributor in the entire room might be someone who hates methodical workers—what if you’re one of them? Even if you manage to interest that person into signing you on, they’ll never be as invested in your success as the medium-sized distributor who’s looking for dependable, less volatile artists. That person might be very excited to work with you, and do a lot more for you, and you would never have known because you were too busy talking about yourself to listen.

3. Don’t Be Catty.
      The other powerfully helpful thing you can do about yourself is… don’t talk about other people. Unless you admire them! But don’t expose any of your secret doubts, fears, or jealousies. Nothing turns someone off more than hearing someone tear down another artist. It hints at the kind of emotional instability that leads to prima donna behavior, and no one wants to deal with a prima donna when they can go with someone more sensible. Be professional, be courteous. Never say cruel or mean things about other artists. It’s a good idea anyway, for your emotional health. It just also happens to be good for your reputation.
      If you do admire other artists, feel free to mention them now and then when the conversation is appropriate. Doing so demonstrates that you have enough self-confidence not to be threatened by other people’s success. Nothing says ‘winner’ like someone who doesn’t have to tear other people down to feel good or get ahead.

4. Pay Attention to Your Peers.
      If you approach a likely person and discover they’re not a potential business contact, but rather an Artist in search of them like yourself… don’t cut them off. Apply the same principles you would to a potential business partner: be interested, don’t make it all about you, don’t be catty, and get their business card. They may have had experiences you can learn from… they might even become friends.

But wait! This all feels very Machiavellian. Aren’t I being disingenuous here?

      Not at all. You are putting your best foot forward, and disciplining yourself to be courteous, friendly and interested. You are learning from other people, listening to them, and keeping yourself from saying mean things (which is, after all, something our mothers have been telling us to do since we were old enough to talk). The reason that acting this way is good for your reputation is because it’s the behavior of someone thoughtful, mature and with some self-control. Your goal is to be that thoughtful, mature and self-disciplined person, and let your reputation take care of itself. But being that way takes work, and the work sounds to jaundiced ears like putting on a mask. It’s not. It’s practicing being a good businessperson, and a good person.
      Contrary to popular belief, that does require practice. So don’t put it off!

Following Up
     So you’ve done some networking, gotten some names…
     …and this is where people usually stop. They manage the first part of networking, opening the channel… but they never follow through. Almost invariably this is due to a lack of confidence, or a desire not to bother someone.
     Think you’re not doing one of these things? Have you ever thought the following:

‘Oh, this project isn’t quite right for them.’
‘I’m not ready to pitch this one, I’ll get back to them when I am.’

     All of these interior comments are signs of procrastination. Repeat after Marketer:

     Once again: you must stop thinking like an Artist. When your work becomes your job, you need to ping your contacts to see if they’re interested in what you’re doing, so you have a sense of whether you’re going to have a market for it before you’re done. Nor can you do someone’s job for them. If you have an editor who likes fantasy, and your fantasy has modern elements, or romantic ones… let the editor decide if she wants to look at it. You don’t have to read someone’s mind before you ask them if they’re interested. Don’t let yourself get in your own way. Don’t tell yourself you’re not ready; if you’re not ready now, you never will be, because it’s not about your confidence in the project, it’s about your confidence in whether someone else will want it. And the only way to resolve that question… is to find out.
     Send that email, fax, pick up the phone. Write out a script if you’re going to be talking on the phone, it will help with the shakes. Make a template for the email. Something like this:

Dear Networking Contact:

We met at Function X, where we discussed [something interesting/memorable]. I have a project that might suit your [product line/catalog/label/imprint/etc]. It’s a [short description of product: one phrase or sentence at most]. I’ve attached a [sample/synopsis/photo/etc]. Tell me if it looks like a good fit.

Business Manager

     Notice that nowhere in this letter do we mention whether the project is finished. If your business contact isn’t interested, then there’s no rush. If he is, well… there’s incentive for you to finish. If you’re close to finished, put in a few all-nighters. If it’s going to be longer than a week, send a partial to the contact so they can decide whether they want to go forward with it.
Whatever you do, don’t let those business contacts lie fallow. You acquired them for a reason.

Maintaining the Relationship without a Project

…but wait! You don’t have a project you could pitch them. At all!

      There’s no reason not to keep a line open to someone even if you don’t have a project to pitch them. Maybe you’re between albums, or you’re retooling to do a new style of jewelry, or you’re taking half a year off to do research and continued education. That doesn’t mean your contact doesn’t have useful information you might want. Maybe you’ve run into a fabric supplier and taken their number, and you’re not currently buying to make costumes… but you run into some new fabric on some website and want to know more about it. Why not ask? Your contact has the expertise. The layout freelancer you shook hands with at a convention; even if you don’t have a job for him, he might be willing to answer your questions about font choices and book packaging. The editor who buys fantasy might be able to tell you who to contact to buy romance.
      Your networking contacts are not cardboard cut-outs whose only talents are helping you with specific projects. They are part of a business ecosystem, complex and interwoven. If you cut yourself off from their entire expertise, you are missing out on a vast fund of knowledge and goodwill and opportunity.
      So stop neglecting your contacts. And remember, if someone contacts you to ask you about something… that’s your chance to become a valued part of the network.

      …and from here, we pause for an important digression.

Positive Language
      One of the most difficult things for Artists to learn is the art of positive business language. Their lack of self-confidence often sabotages them: they either go the route of being too self-effacing and use weak language that makes them sound like poor risks; or they go in the opposite direction and talk about themselves constantly, declaring that of course you will love them because they are brilliant, and turn off just about everyone.
      Positive business language is neither self-aggrandizing or self-deflating. It is confident, friendly and professional. Compare the following:

      “Here’s my stuff. Um, yes, that’s $5. I know it’s a lot, but it costs $3 to make…”


      “Hi, how are you? Ah, yes, those are $5. I also have a lower-cost option over here at $2, if you like stickers. If you want to see the image better, check out these posters.”

Or these two:

      “I just finished this… it’s not as good as I hoped it would be, but at least it’s finished.”


      “Here’s my latest piece. I learned a great deal from it, which I hope to apply to my next project, already on my work table.”

      Your job is not to apologize for being an artist or for your work. You should not be embarrassed to ask for your prices, should not belabor your mistakes or errors—you can admit them if asked, or you must admit them if they’re related to a product mix-up, but you shouldn’t beat yourself about them in public. You shouldn’t think of yourself as a beggar when approaching business partners or customers. You are offering something of value to people who might be interested, or not, and both cases are okay and normal and good.
      The number one thing to avoid in your language is deciding in advance what someone is going to feel and telling them. For two reasons: first, it’s rude; you don’t know whether someone is going to like or dislike something, and telling them will not convince them of your telepathy, it will irritate them. Secondly, particularly when it’s a negative feeling, it has a chance of influencing them to agree with you. If you tell someone ‘it’s not very good, I made a lot of mistakes…’ then you have primed them to look for mistakes. In fact, they will seek the mistakes before they even see the piece. Don’t prejudge the work for someone else. Tell them ‘here it is’ and grant them the right to make their own judgment. Without your help.

Sealing the Deal: Contracts
      So you’ve made a decision to do business with someone, whether that person’s a contractor, a bank, a distributor, another company, a friend who freelances.
      Get a contract/agreement.
      Read the contract/agreement.
      There is no substitute for these steps. Like other kinds of relationships, business partnerships benefit from knowing where the boundaries are and what each party’s expectations are. Happy, long-lasting relationships are good at communication and responsibilities. The contract will help both of you set out those responsibilities and expectations so that no one is surprised by anything, or uncomfortable doing the labor/exchanging the goods and services.

But wait! What if you’re dealing with a friend?

      The jaguars know it seems painful to ask a friend to sign a contract, but it’s still the safest way to keep things on track. If it makes you feel better, don’t call it a contract… call it a list of deliverables, or a schedule. Put something down in writing that makes it clear what you are giving one another… or be prepared not to count on it to happen.
      Which is fine, if you’re willing to let things go if they don’t happen. If it is important, though, we encourage you to either get that agreement… or pay someone to do it on time, and according to your needs.
      If you are accepting an agreement from a company, read the agreement and make sure you understand it. Check out a book from the library on contract law if you want to figure it out yourself, or ask your business partner for clarification if you don’t understand something in the agreement. If the document is long and complicated enough, consider hiring a legal aide for an hour to have a look with you and teach you what something means. Make sure that legal aide is conversant in that particular kind of law; a child custody lawyer won’t understand the nuances in a book contract the way a Intellectual Property law specialist will.
      If the deal still looks good to you after reading the contract, sign it.
      If it doesn’t, negotiate.

      That’s right. Who said you have to accept something as-is? Some types of business won’t allow negotiation, but it never hurts to ask. For most creative business partnerships, however, negotiation is expected. Check off some items that you want revised or discussed and go forth to discuss them. Before you go into that discussion, have your counter-offers prepared, and consider what kinds of compromises you’re prepared to make. Make a list of your priorities and goals, and be ready to evaluate whether a compromise suggested in the meeting or follow-up will still meet those priorities and goals. If it doesn’t, say so.
      Most business partners will be willing to negotiate, particularly if there’s some give-and-take: you compromise on some things to get the things you really want; they do the same. But if after negotiation you still don’t like the contract… walk away.
      Did you really expect the jaguars to say otherwise?
      In the end, this is your art, and your livelihood. No one is going to care about it the way you do. You owe it to yourself to fight for fair treatment and for the goals you want to achieve. Never believe that you need to cage yourself into the prison of a bad contract ‘because that’s the only way you can make it.’ Say no, and use that self-respect to find a different way. There’s always a different way. Even if you have to chart the course yourself.

     This concludes Part 2 of our chapter on communication. Next week Artist finally gets to have her say in Part 3, Communicating with Peers! Stay tuned! If you’re new to the Three Jaguars, you can check out my index of topics here, or just step back through the three jaguars tag on Livejournal. And as always, if you’re enjoying the Three Jaguars, leave us a tip, or share the link!

Mirrored from MCAH Online.

About M.C.A. Hogarth

Genderqueer sci-fantasy writer, animal geek, conlanger, pyrographer, painter, doodler, jewelry artisan, web designer, Kemetic, and musician. Snake-crazy.
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