Build a strong professional Network!

! Build a Strong Professional Network, by Kevin E. West!

If your goal is to build a strong professional network you have to ask why? Why do you need a strong professional network? The simple answer is necessity. In any profession to enjoy a successful career a strong network is absolutely essential. A successful acting career is no different than any other. It requires long term and focused effort to build anything. It is impossible to build a career without a strong professional network as a foundation, and additionally, a strong professional network cannot reap benefits without several years of work and maintenance. So long as you put the time necessary into building and maintaining a

strong professional network, you can achieve a terrific career.   What is the make up of a strong professional network? You must have diverse, intelligent, and professional people surrounding you who are moving forward. Ok, so how does this occur?  Well…you have to meet them so let’s breakdown this process.

Meeting: (Don’t forget that a lot of acting in Hollywood is TIMING!)
Actors tend to only put themselves in the position of meeting other actors far too often. You have got to spend time going out to diverse locations. One of the greatest elements of this profession unlike others is that in Hollywood, or anywhere in the world…you can commonly run into, bump into, or accidentally be introduced to…a Studio Executive, a filmmaker, a producer,
a director, an agent or anyone else who could eventually assist your career.  Make more of a regular effort to extend your activities beyond just a show or party. Realize that relevant people are everywhere…they’re in dog parks, they’re
at charitable events, they play on co-ed softball teams, they hike with the Sierra club, they take the Love Ride on a Harley…etc
etc. The bottom line gang is that we are walking billboards. We’re actors! We, by merely breathing and being in public, are
advertising. But the question is…to whom?  Please know that I am not talking about immoral behavior or being insincere. If you try any of that when meeting people then please do not be surprised by what you get…or don’t get…or if get propositioned in the end. I’m talking about with whom you consort I’m talking about your audience, about intelligent networking and intelligent

choices. So the first major step into building a strong professional network is diversifying and extending the TYPE of people you’re meeting. Additionally realize that this is not limited to Hollywood types. Bear in mind that every single person who is successful in this community probably is related to, works with or services someone successful…in the Hollywood upper structure. From lawyers, to advertising, to doctors, professors USC alums and on and on we’re talking about the foundational public of this community and many of their friends are going to be folks you need to meet.  You cannot predict luck or time luck…but you can certainly have a consistent type of behavior which lends itself to creating luck and that means you have to get out of your routine, and create a new one. Get involved with organizations, go places you have not been, try some new locations to have lunch, or attend a few events over the course of a few months. There is a great deal that you can do in your community regarding volunteering for key events. From film festivals to award shows, to the LA Marathon or the AIDS-Walk, there are tons of events in your area that can also be valuable networking opportunities.

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Assessing: (Get out of your routine, and create a new one. Stop trying to make everything happen at the moment you meet someone!)

Now the second step, in my opinion is the most important. Too often when we’re out and/or meeting someone we are basically just “hoping they will like us.” We lose sight of two very important things, and those are the simplicity of just being you, coupled with learning about THEM. All you have to remember is that if they are a legit person to put into your network then they can be found at a later date at their office. Stop, right now folks, trying to make everything happen “at the moment” you meet someone. If you remove this compunction, you will be much more successful in building a strong network. Ask intelligent questions and diversify your conversation beyond just entertainment stuff related to you being an actor. The key to having time to assess them is to get them talking about themselves by asking them nice simple questions. Now I’m not talking about interrogation here, I’m talking about finding out what they do, how it works, what is their favorite part or most frustrating part…and in the end…get their business card. Actors please STOP handing them your card.
Don’t be upset with me…just hear me out. As an actor you have to realize that it is our job to create and maintain contact with the “buyer” just like sales people do. If this is uncomfortable for you, then understand that you’re likely to have a tough time in today’s Hollywood profession. If you’ve assessed that this could be a useful contact for the future, let them simply enjoy your company whether it is for 2 minutes, 2 hours, or 10 seconds…BUT be sure you know how to find them.  In order to accurately assess people, our must have knowledge of the industry. If you don’t know a lot of names, company names or other such key elements, you have to start reading the trades more often, and I’m talking about Variety and Hollywood Reporter, not BackStage West. BSW is an important actor’s paper, but it is not the trade that runs Hollywood. Hey listen…run into the bathroom pull out a pen, if nothing else, and write down the persons name and whatever additional information you have and worry about the rest later.  Then go back to enjoying their company and being you.

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Researching: (Find simple ways to remind your growing network that you’re still here!) In today’s world the process of researching individuals is so much easier than it was before the Internet. The website,, has revolutionized one’s ability to at least get background information. The one tool that more actors should share the cost to have is the Hollywood Creative Directory. The HCD, as its called by us folks who use it a lot, is the top research tool in
Hollywood. Now, does it have every human in it you’re ever going to meet who is “legitimate”? Answer…no. However, it is a tremendous book for many of them as well as all of the studio, network, and deal information.  At The Actors” Network all of the key periodicals are provided to its members, in addition to their website, but you have 5-6 publications in Samuel French that can be purchased on your own. You also have the basic concept of 411. I’m amazed at how few people use 411 to find someone, and with what you can also accomplish on Google…researching the whereabouts of someone you met is not too difficult.  Then there should be several people you meet, even some of them being fellow actors, that you don’t need to research because there is nothing to research because they’re not “there” yet. But your assessment of them…over the course of about six months is that they ARE a quality person. One of the absolute key elements to building a strong professional network are the 3-12 people who you meet when they are at the beginning of their career. You know, you just inherently know, that they will continue to climb the ladder over time. I can look back at my career, and there are only a handful of people I have known that have either stayed in the business and even fewer still who have moved forward throughout those years. But I can tell you that the folks I met back in the late 80s that I just knew would be valuable friends for a long time to come…I was pretty right about most of the time.  Once you’ve researched someone, have a business card or whatever it may be the key is to initially drop them a note to simply say that is was nice to have met them. Nothing more. I don’t care if it is a CD, or an Executive Producer, if you can just send a simple note without a picture it is enough initially…trust me. One of the most common human mistakes, which I totally understand but it is still a mistake, is to try and get results within seconds or days of meeting someone. This is how you kill your network before it even starts. Don’t ever forget that a lot of Hollywood and actors is TIMING. Think of it as dating and you’ll be much better off. Just because you’re currently available does NOT mean that someone you’re attracted to is either attracted to you…or available. This is not a personal statement against you it is just their eyes or their situation. You may THINK you’re right for something but unless you’re the director, producer or decision maker…it isn’t your decision to make when you’re an actor. And you could meet a terrific contact but they may not really have anything that they could bring you in to interview for in the near future. It could even be years before they have a project that you’re truly right. Actors hate to hear this but it is absolutely true. That is why you have to be constantly meeting people so that you have more folks in your network that can possibly
have a project or need for you. Always keep this in mind.

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Maintaining: (You have to keep in touch with them, but they do not have to keep in touch with you.) Now we have reached the fourth pillar of building a strong network, and it is not your favorite. It requires organization,
weekly/monthly effort, and most notably…work. We know we have to maintain anything to keep it or build it because
we’ve all wanted to STAY in shape after getting in shape,  many of us want our garden or rose gardens to FLOURISH
after planting them. Well if you look at everything we’ve discussed thus far as buying and planting seeds…then you cannot grow anything if you don’t maintain it properly. This couldn’t be more applicable for this subject even if it bugs you. You have to keep in touch with them but they do not have to keep in touch with you…that is the deal.  Most actors I know really hate being called wanna-bee’s, lazy, narcissistic, selfish or self-centered. But if you’re not willing to make efforts to maintain your contacts to grow them into solid alliances then by definition that is how you will be coined. Too many actors just constantly perform hit n” miss efforts and wonder why they do not work. Well as I mentioned above it can sometimes take months or years for a legit contact you’ve made to have a tangible role or job that is right for you. Sorry, that is life, not just acting. One of the issues about maintenance for us is we think we always have to say something “new about our career” simply to say “Hi” to someone with a note. Again, this is a terrible misnomer and it is actually counterintuitive. Can you imagine if the only time you heard from someone was only when they ask you for something they need…or just talking about themselves. Ugh. But that is exactly the reason actors “claim” to not maintain people. Well I haven’t “booked anything” so what am I going to say. Please cease thinking this way folks, and realize that the most important thing you can do is simply be courteous, ask them how they are, offer good luck on a project you know they’re working on, or just wish them a Happy Holiday season. It is called being human, and we all want to feel that from someone else. So do yourself a big favor and find simple human ways to remind your growing network that you’re still here.

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Presenting yourself: (Have a few short statements ready about your acting career.) This is a key element to your network but there is no need to spend too much time on it because it is so subjective and so difficult to quantify, but you must become more proficient about it. When you’re out, and I mean anywhere, you have to be present and ready to chat and be jovial. You have to have something to say about the industry other than about you. It is absolute death to be just another human with a headshot, whose only comment is that they’re an actor. Stating you’re an actor isn’t special because anyone can say that. There is no entry barrier in our profession. This is a great reminder, and note for you.

When you are introduced or meet anyone, ask them questions, get them to talk about themselves, and when you finally disclose that you are pursuing a career be sure to have a few very short statements to make about it whether about your recent credit or with whom you’re studying and get away from you. Bring up a current industry subject, topic, or something totally off subject and just about life.  Part of being likable to a woman is that you seem interested in her, but not desperate. Part of having THEM find us likable is that we take our career seriously…but that we’re not just desperately waiting with a headshot for a handout. Trust me on this one folks, trust me, it will serve you well. THE FINAL FRONTIER…PATIENCE!

In the end we have to exercise patience. CEO’s do not build fortune 500 companies overnight, and they did not get to their position overnight. You must institute patience into your career thinking and your master contact list of who knows you. Think of your network as a spider web…and you’re at its center. Your network and web, if built initially with these principles in mind,
will grow and grow and maintain a strong quality…but it will take time. Rome, nor your career were built in a day. Good luck.  Kevin E. West

The Actors’ Network is a highly professional and the most industry endorsed business information, and education organization for performers in the world. With business curriculums available that require actors to set goals and reach them month after month, the Network helps actors build not only lasting relationships with one another but also viable careers.$ Created in
1991, The Actors” network has a simple goal: to educate actors and debunk common myths and misperceptions about the industry. They provide a large variety of resources, including events with industry guest speakers, topical discussions, a library brimming with 3,000 titles, a demo-reel editing bay, power groups, and auditions held at the organization’s studio space. Network members possess a seriousness and dedication toward their craft, and 265 of them have been with the organization for three years or more.
For more information, please visit
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