Design Dilemma: Why Won’t People Share Their Contacts?

As working professionals, we owe it to our industry to mentor those just entering the field so they can become great… and not screw it up for the rest of us by lowering rates and giving creatives a bad name. But, there’s a point of helping that’s too far, when it could impact long relationships and trust built over one’s entire career.

There’s little to no give-and-take when it comes to introductions or allowing someone to use your name for their own advancement, when you don’t really know them. Unfortunately, those who ask for these favors rarely understand why you can’t take them by the hand and shove them on top of a long-time, trusted client or friend.

So join us as we delve into another sometimes-too-weird-for-words Design Dilemma, helping to answer your questions, queries and concerns about the murky world of design.

It Is Who You Know

Because of my career and the people I’ve met over that career, only pissing off a few of those who didn’t matter, or could just never be pleased, I get asked for introductions and referrals quite often. Due to a lot of negative experiences, I am very, very careful about whom I introduce to my friends and peers. In fact, I hid my LinkedIn connections so I wouldn’t get trolls asking for introductions to industry movers and shakers who are my friends.

“Katrina” wrote to me after meeting me at a design event. She was introduced to me because she was trying to break into the illustration industry and the person who brought us together knew I had big connections both in publishing and in artist representatives.

“You are so stuck on yourself, I guess you’re too good to bother with me. One day I will be in a position to help you but you can bet I won’t lift a finger!”

“Katrina” was quite excited to meet me and started asking if I knew certain people she was trying to reach and could I introduce her to them. I did know most of those she mentioned but as I didn’t know her, I had to tell her I would get back to her about introducing her to some people once I checked out her work and client list. I suggested she should contact me within a few days. She emailed me the next day.

Dear Speider:

I was excited to meet you last night because I heard you were a member of the design group. That’s one of the reasons I joined. I just graduated art school and don’t know where to turn. I figured someone like you would be happy to give back to the industry by helping out a talented, young artist but you were like, “no!”

I only asked for a few names and you are so stuck on yourself, I guess you’re too good to bother with me. One day I will be in a position to help you but you can bet I won’t lift a finger!

Then she wrote some insults and suggestions of things I should do to myself and my family. I think I may be in love!

The first thing I did was to check out her website. It was… beginner work that might have promise once she is more polished and confident. Certainly more practiced., although she picked an illustration niche that was already flooded and not as commercial as one would like.

There was no LinkedIn profile, no Twitter account (that I could find) and her Facebook was private, so there was little else I could go on to decide if she would be a good match with my old friends and coworkers. Her temper and outlook was certainly enough to scare me away but sometimes you have to look at talent and take a business approach over the silly stuff. I know that’s rare. I’m weird that way.

Personally, I would love an email recall function and I’ve learned to wait a day before answering a troublesome email that isn’t time sensitive but I had to wonder just how desperate and/or crazy this young lady was.

I decided to take the high road and calmly reply.

Dear “Katrina”:

I’m sorry you got the wrong idea about what I said last night. I told you I would have to think about introductions until I had checked out your work and other available information. This was so I could know who you were and where your talents lay. Otherwise, how could I know whom you would be best suited to be paired with?

There is, however, another consideration—are you the kind of person I would introduce to my long time connections? It has nothing to do with giving back or helping. It has to do with a professional understanding that my connections demand the same professional demeanor that anyone would require to take someone under special consideration. I never said I wouldn’t hook you up—I just said I would need to check out your work and background.

While most people would write you off immediately after receiving such an email with crude and insulting language, I’ve made the same mistake in my career and I understand you’re young and frightened of what should you do to seek a successful career path. Apparently your art school didn’t think of arming you with the information you need to actually become a professional creative. Few art schools actually do.

I think the best solution is for you to read some of my past articles on finding clients, self promotion, portfolios and résumés. Look around and pick a couple. Read them over, make some notes and feel free to contact me with any questions. I will be happy to answer them.

It’s been over a month since I sent that reply and haven’t heard anything back. “Katrina” may be embarrassed or still believes I somehow owed her the favor and I’m a bastard for not doing it. She also just be lazy and wants someone else to do the hard work for her (her anxiety about finding an artist’s agent may prove that is unfortunately true).

It’s Just Good Business

Firstly, if you can’t figure it out for yourself, someone’s client list and connections are their lifeblood. Handing names out freely not only reflects upon you by your connections but you can… and will be undercut by newbies. At least they will set a lower fee your client might try to use against you. In no world, except the world of returning favors, is it a good idea to share contacts.

Yes, there are people with who I do share contacts because I believe they can be of service TO my contacts. There are easy ways to find these same people on your own. If your talented enough, they will take note. That’s how I met most of my contacts.

“It takes years to build contacts (and seconds to lose them) and a reputation for treating them in a courteous, helpful, professional manner. Remember that you build a career and don’t inherit one. Favors are also things you must eventually return.”

I always suggest that creatives draw up a wishlist of the top 100 people/firms with whom they want to work. Go on LinkedIn and use Google search to find the right person and you can probably find their email on the web (or break the super secret code many corporations use like “[email protected]” or “[email protected]”). From there, figure out a campaign of self promotion that will have them knowing your name without hating it.

Connect with these people wherever you can. Use LinkedIn (and join the same groups to which they belong), follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and reply, comment and compliment their posts so they get to learn YOUR name as well. The slightest recognition is the spark that will light a fire. You just can’t say “I love you” on a first date, so be patient.

At the same time, localize your SEO for your website so you can draw any business. Most of all, keep at it and try to make your own opportunities as people will then come to you.

The thing is, it takes years to build contacts (and seconds to lose them) and a reputation for treating them in a courteous, helpful, professional manner. Remember that you build a career and don’t inherit one. Favors are also things you must eventually return, but that’s a dilemma for another article.

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Stock Photos Courtesy of Creative Market