Building a community (and having fun while at it)
Not long ago, I met an artist who has lived for the last couple of years in my new-to-me hometown. During that conversation, I joked that I’d developed more of a community in three months than in six years in a London village (many people consider the UK capital to be comprised of multiple ‘villages’). The artist and his friend asked if I’d been randomly walking up to strangers in the street to talk with them - and were genuinely puzzled as to how one could make so many contacts in a matter of months.
What made the difference? A concentrated effort. I’ll tell you how...
The back story is that in 2000, I moved across an ocean an to a different country where I didn’t know a soul. Anyone else who’s built a network from scratch knows that it takes time and effort. While at first overwhelming, I discovered that folks on either side of the Atlantic were open to becoming part of my wider network, and provided new cultural perspectives, new outlooks on life, and much more. So on deciding to up sticks and move to the English countryside, I started to actively research the community and make in-roads.
A first step was getting hold of the community magazine each and every month. There, I read about local issues, local businesses, found out about regularly occurring events and so on. I noticed a listing for a business awards event that would be taking place several weeks prior to moving, so bought a ticket and attended. (Little did I know that other ticket holders were supposed to be employees of companies that had been nominated for prizes!) However, the paid-for ticket was legitimate and there was a seat for me, so I simply felt like an official gate-crasher. This was well worth the effort, as several key contacts were made who I would later start bumping into around town.
A second step was identifying (again in the community magazine) local networking events, saving them in the calendar and, as much as possible, attending. Literally three days after moving, I was keenly swapping cards and conversing with folks at the First Friday Network. Next will be the Women in Business network, which waited a bit longer owing to calendar constraints. You do what you can!
The third step - and arguably the most crucial, has been making a point of meeting people on the ground. One example is a conversation that I was overhearing at a local pub. A staff member was telling a customer that many newbies had recently been in, and the two of them were speculating that some of these individuals might be future regulars. It was then that I took the opportunity to join the conversation, noting that I was a new local and they might very well be talking about me! This was the beginning of a new friendship.
Fast forward to today, and the town, Lewes of East Sussex, is 24 hours away from presenting what is known to be the biggest ‘Bonfire’ celebration on earth (see Lewes Bonfire on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewes_Bonfire). As part of an embrace of the new community, I’ll be taking part as a Buccaneer with one of the Bonfire Societies, processing along the High Street in an official manner alongside other townspeople as well as those who visit for the occasion. Not only that, but the occasion follows a piece of networking already done in that society… One morning while making torches I kid you not, I met a lovely lady who works for a company that provides platforms for online courses. BOOM! We’ve already had coffee and are continuing the conversation. (Note: I made a conscious effort to bring my business cards for torch-making, ‘just in case’.)
It goes without saying that community is one of the most important aspects to a person’s life and career. Not only have I personally experienced this (for example in professional terms, the majority of the BEST business you get is the result of personal referrals), it’s been seen in research conducted by Be Smart About Art. When we conducted a survey called Confidence for Creatives in early 2015, it was revealed that community plays a serious role in continuing and moving forward in your career. This tangible finding inspired us to develop the program unlike ever before, and continue to do so.
Whenever it’s time for you to develop your community or deepen existing relationships, the trick is making a concentrated effort.
And hey, sometimes you end up diving in head-first into major community events that you thought were fairytales. I look forward to reporting from the other side in next Sunday’s edition.