The number-one thing I learned so far in life, that I keep re-learning time and again, is that connections are necessary. The other corollary to that lesson is to always, always take caution in whom you connect with.
You and I both know by now, dear reader, just how important networking is to survival in business, whether as an employee or as a business owner. I straddle both sides of that divide, having the employed foot in accounting and the business foot in photography and music, and there is nothing, nothing more important to the survival of your business than networking and professional self-presentation. Though myself I’m an introvert to the point of being a hermit, I know very well that if I want my business to thrive, I need to push my inner hermit down and into its cave and get out there and gather the contacts I need and network my heart out. And, for the longest time, my motto has been, “I will give anyone a chance – you never know.”
While that still holds true to a degree, I found that now I am amending this and I’m amending it to say as follows: I will give everyone a chance to show their true colors.
And from there, I’ll judge who gets to stay.
The most important thing isn’t how many associations you might have, but whom with and what kind. Not everyone in your life is an asset to you, and not everyone in your business wishes you well. Not everyone will respect you as a person, and not everyone will take you seriously. Which is why it’s important to, very regularly and routinely, to cull the herd, so to speak. Who people are as people is just as important as their business and how it’s conducted, and this is something that I am learning – and acknowledging as a necessary thing. Inevitably, one’s personality can, will, and does bleed into their business, and in the world of music, art, photography, and writing, it’s inevitable. So being a good judge of character is essential.
Moreover, I think it’s fair to say at this point that in the creative world, how one’s business is conducted is indicative of one’s personality, and vice versa.
What I determined, though, is that if I find that I cannot tolerate someone on a personal level, I cannot conduct business with them after a certain point. Patience and compromise only go so far, and it soon becomes pretty clear just to which extent this partnership is going to go. If someone does not, in fact, deliver the benefits promised in your endeavor, then all considered, the partnership needs to end. Likewise to yourself: if you find that, for whatever reason, you cannot work with someone, or cannot deliver, then bow out of the arrangement. There’s no shame in saying, “this can’t continue” and no matter how bad you feel for bowing out, it’s worse if you are stuck in, or stuck with someone who isn’t delivering.
It’s kind of similar to personal relationships, but the thing about business relationships is that your brand and your product and your work that will get a reputation based on whom you affiliate with. If you recommend someone to a business connection and the person you recommended screws up, then trust me, it does come back to you. Similarly, if it’s you or your business who are recommended for something, then make no mistake: everything you do reflects on the person who recommended you.
Which is why I have severed a few of the relationships and connections I had within the world of music and media. Plainly put, I cannot afford to be affiliated with the individuals and organizations whose behavior and/or actions with others will tarnish me by association or are anything but respectful and courteous towards me. If they cannot respect me or what I do, and it shows in either their words or their treatment of me, then I know very well that I will glean no benefit by association. And lest you think I’m painting myself as an angel – give me a break; I know me, and I know I’m not the easiest person in the world to be around, and I know I have the same effect on others – that’s just how life is. As far as my business is concerned, that comes first in my book. I will protect it with all I got.
I had a run-in once with a journalist whose apology for a wrongdoing consisted of an immediate backpedal and blame-shift within the same two sentences. If she wanted to apologize to me, doing that was likely the least effective way to do so. Fingering a completely innocent party was not helping her case and, frankly, was low on her part. Result is obvious: she and I no longer speak. A similar severance also met a photographer who just couldn’t get through his head that 1. I had my own opinion and had been proven right in it before and 2. just because I’m of a certain age (younger) and look a certain way, does not mean that he – or anyone – has the right to address me as “my dear”, which is something that I see as grossly patronizing.
Lest you think I’m overreacting at the last, consider this: since I’m a female and I’m half the age of most people in jazz, as well as most people in jazz photography, I have twice the uphill battle to be taken seriously. And when a guy who’s two and a half times my age says “my dear” to me, especially on the heels of a not-so-veiled implication that I don’t know what I’m talking about, topic regardless, what that person actually says is, “Well, I don’t take your seriously at all, you little dumb child. Here, have a backhanded compliment so you can go play somewhere else.” This person has a longstanding habit of disregarding others’ opinions and wishes on both a professional and personal basis, and the absolute last thing I will tolerate is being patronized.
Yeah, I’m half these people’s age, but you sure as hell can’t tell my age or cup size from my portfolio. So I don’t see why, exactly, I have to tolerate this treatment from people, twice my age or not. If someone cannot be bothered to respect me as a photographer and as a woman, then why, pray tell, should I even acknowledge them, never mind affiliate myself with them?
Think on that. You can have a thousand likes on your facebook page, but what’s more important: the number of people liking what you post or the right people liking what you post? I’d rather have quality over quantity. Yeah, it’s a lonely road to travel, but so much more fulfilling. I pride myself for conducting my business by the book, in any endeavor I decided to take up. The least that I can expect is for people that I affiliate myself with to meet a certain standard with their behavior. I expect others to conduct their business with the same sense of integrity as I conduct mine. Really, that’s not that much to ask.
You’d think, in any case.
Be that as it may, the moral of this blog post is as follows: judge your connections with care, because not everyone will wish you well, and people can, and will, ride on your coattails with impunity if you allow them to do so. Know what weight on your coattails does? Creates drag. Slows you down. So don’t let people do that.
Being selective may leave you on a lonely road in the short-term, but I assure you from experience – the long-term pays off in stereo.