Networking is an integral part of a content creator’s life. That’s especially the case when an artist is working on commission or seeking individual projects. But is there a point at which a content creator should be compensated for linking up? Arguably, there’s a continuum between networking and consulting. Consulting has become a major source of income for many content creators.
The issue came up last week in an interesting column in the New York Post. A number of the people interviewed felt that it was only fair that freelance creatives be compensated for their time. The case is made that time is a valuable commodity in the freelance world in which we increasingly live. The logic is that if you have expertise and a limited amount of working time, then those who want access to the expertise should be expected to pay for it. It’s an interesting argument, but one that I don’t buy.
At the outset, let’s draw a distinction between compensation for expertise, networking, mentoring, or whatever you’d like to call it, and compensation for content. We’ve been tireless advocates for compensation for content and against piracy in any form. Networking, as we’ll call it, is a different animal. First and foremost, you’re being asked to make the call. It’s entirely up to you whether you’d like to get involved. It’s a matter of choice. In piracy there’s no choice. You’re free to give you’re content away, but as in networking it too should be a matter of choice.
I believe that networking is the right thing to do, both ethically and as a matter of business practice. This was made abundantly clear by business professor Adam Grant’s phenomenal book, “Give and Take.” Grant’s perspective is that “giving,” which we’ll call networking or advice giving in this case, is not only the right thing to do, but can also yield results down the road in unexpected ways.
Grant’s research has led him to believe that there are givers, takers and exchangers. Each is pretty much defined as what it sounds like. Exchangers are those who expect a quid pro quo, that networking should be transactional. You give and you should get in equal measure. Givers give. Takers take. Givers give even in cases where an immediate reward is not discernible, but Grant’s research shows that there’s a payoff down the road, and that’s it’s often material as well as karmic. Grant’s findings are rigorously obtained and statistically defensible. It’s not just anecdotal.
I have found giving to be invaluable over the course of my career as a news producer and more recently as the founder of Gotham Media, a content marketing and PR agency. Sitting down with someone has often yielded interesting insights and ideas which have led to new initiatives. Frequently, conversations have also led to new business, sometimes directly from the person with whom I’m speaking, sometimes from a contact. The new business has come as a welcome surprise, and quite often it’s happened weeks, months or longer after the initial meeting.
There are occasions when networking doesn’t work for me. Usually, it involves “takers.” I’m usually happy to meet with anybody once. Sometimes follow ups lead to a one way flow of specific information from me to them. In those cases, I politely raise the possibility of consulting for the other party. In other cases, someone wants very specific information of time consuming help with a specific project. Those cases also call for consulting. Interestingly, I’ve never had anyone take me up on the consulting offer. In some cases, I found out that the person was interested in starting a competing venture.
I could probably make some additional money in the short term if I billed for everything. My sense is that those would be short term gains. I think that the real pay off is in the long term relationships, financial and otherwise. If on occasion I get taken for a bit of a ride, well, that’s just the cost of doing business.