How to build a creative network of supportive fans

I have been able to gather a rather large group of creators who want to work with me, talk about my projects, and generally have positive things to say about me.

People ask me how I have been able to build a large network in a relatively short time, so now I will tell you exactly how I built a kickass network full of amazing creators who support each other.

Why building a network is critically important for your success

It’s hard to go it alone. Really hard. Like desperately hard to sit alone trying to create something and then sell it to other people. Having a network of like-minded people helps for a bunch of reasons.

First, they offer you support and encouragement when you find it hard to keep going. Second, they are great sounding boards when you have new ideas. Third, they are a second pair of eyes when you aren’t sure if something is good or not.

Fourth, they can introduce you to other people in their network which might be able to move your career forward. Fifth, they can introduce you to their audience, and help you make more sales. Sixth, you can promote your products together.

And there are hundreds of other reasons why finding a network is both awesome and critical for your success. Mostly, like the old wizard in Zelda said. “It’s dangerous to go alone”. So, how did I build my network? Here are all the things that helped me along the way.

Make great products if you want to build your network

That’s the first step. Honestly, you have to make something amazing. Not mediocre. Not good. Something that makes people stand up and take notice. This doesn’t happen at once, but if you keep working at it you will be able to make something awesome.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t start meeting creators before you create awesome work. In fact, I was building my network while I was still creating Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, my first truly great work.

However, while the people I met were part of my network, they didn’t start vouching for me until way later. Before then, we were just friends, which is how all relationships should start, as friendships, and they can evolve from there.

Pay your collaborators ON TIME in the AGREED UPON amount if you want to build your network

So, this sounds stupid, I know, but you have no idea how often I am complimented by collaborators that I actually pay people when I say I’m going to pay them, and I don’t play games. It should go without saying, but there are a lot of jerks out there, and just doing the right thing goes a long way.

Seriously, it pains me to say that paying people will set you apart, but it is true. It doesn’t matter if you have to open a new credit card. If you told somebody you would pay them, and they deliver the work…pay them!

Paying people on time and in the correct amount is simple to do and so often ignored, but your karma is what you do over and over again. If you always pay on time, you become the creator who pays on time, and people WANT to work with people who pay on time.

If you create a good work environment, people want to work with you because you’re pleasant. Paying people is a sign of respect that you value their work, and respect is important to building a robust network full of amazing creators.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Treat other creators BETTER than you would treat yourself if you want to build your network

Seriously, for years I was kind of terrible to myself; for most of my life actually, but I was always incredibly enthusiastic about other creators and their work, including my own collaborators. In fact, one reason I started to love my work was because I saw it through the eyes of Renzo, and Juan, and Nic and all my other amazing collaborators.

Seeing their work on my books made me love my own work.

I have never been less than over the moon enthusiastic about other people’s stuff. When somebody works with me I praise their stuff constantly. Yes, I also have notes for them, but if I did it right, I hired the right person, and they are delivering amazing work. They should know they are doing a great job.

If they aren’t, maybe you should think about rehiring somebody else.

Just make sure to pay them for the pages they already turned in, because that stuff matters.

Tell people you love their stuff with reckless abandon if you want to build your network

I am always telling people how much I love their work, and I do it sincerely because I really love their work. Like, I LOOOOVE their work. I am the biggest geek for my friend’s work. Interestingly, people like being around people that like what they are making.

If you keep talking about how much you love somebody’s work, they will notice and start to like you more. However, the trick is you actually have to like their work. You can’t just SAY you like their work, because eventually, people find out.

That’s also not to say you have to love somebody’s work to be friends with them, but if you do like their work you should tell them.

Buy other creator’s work if you want to build your network

I spend so much money on my friend’s work that you don’t even want to see my balance sheet. I am constantly spending too much on a creator’s work. I do it because I love their work, though. I love it so much.

I know we don’t all have a lot of money, but usually, creators have something for $1, or a Patreon you can subscribe to which shows your support. Even though you might not think it’s a lot, the amount of people who never buy anything from a creator is massive, so we tend to remember people, even if they only spend $1.

Find creators new work and new fans if you want to build your network

I would always connect people with my friend’s work if I thought they would like it. I am always tagging Facebook posts with introductions to other creators and building their network and fanbase. If you help other people build their network, you get tangentially credit for that.

It’s not all about you, it’s about creating a thriving network. I am always trying to get friends more work and connecting people together. I don’t really care if it helps me. I just want to see cool things get made, but people notice if you are always raving about their work.

If somebody’s looking for an artist, I will almost always offer up somebody that I think would fit, and sometimes it works out. Always, people are appreciative.

Find creators more work if you want to build a network.

Photo by Aaron Mello on Unsplash.

Help people as often as possible if you want to build your network

Help people as often as possible. If you see them in trouble, offer to help. Do everything to can to be a sail and try to cut away anchors. If you have good experience share them, but also share the bad ones.

People often think that because something failed there’s nothing to learn from it, but often people learn more from failures than successes. Saying “don’t do it this way” is as valuable as saying “do it this way”.

Don’t take advantage of people if you want to build your network

It’s easy to take advantage of people in this business, but if you do that people WILL find out. You should always be the last person fed. If you have a project, you pay everybody else before you pay you. You get your fans their books even if it kills you.

That is what people a leader is about, and why nobody wants to do it. It’s about taking responsibility and living ethically with all that you do.

That is how you build a network of loyal people who say good things about you. There are many companies that people hold up their nose to work at b/c they pay horribly, or they never pay on time, but people do it because they don’t have much other choice.

Don’t be one of those people. Be the kind of person people enthusiastically recommend.

Do the thing you say you will do, and do it better than anyone else

Nobody expects you to be a genius at everything, but when you say you will do something, put everything into it. Make it 10x better than anybody thought possible. Be judicious with the projects you select, and make sure you can do them to the best of your ability.

At the beginning, that ability won’t be very high, but over time you will learn how to make something incredible, and when you can, taking on the right projects becomes even more critical. You build up a cache over time, and people begin to trust you because your taste is good and your projects are great.

However, if that starts to slip and your quality suffers, people will no longer give you the benefit of the doubt.

Do what you say if you want to build a network.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Keep going if you want to build your network

The biggest thing that builds your network is to keep going no matter what. There is adversity everywhere and almost everybody will give up. There are plenty of times when I’ve looked at a creator after an incredible loss and said “oof. There’s no way they are coming back from that”.

Usually, I’m right because I’ve seen it so many times before, but sometimes I’m wrong, and that is where respect is earned.

Similarly, after an incredibly successful project I often look at creators and say “sure, he did one awesome project. Let’s see his next project though”. Often, there is no next project, or the next project is awful. However, rarely there’s a creator who comes back with a second amazing project, and then a third, and a fourth.

Again, that is where respect is earned. People pay attention, and they talk.

Be out there in the world if you want to build your network

You are your biggest advocate. You have to be part of the world meeting people and learning from them. Most importantly, people start to like you once you show up several times. I have made so many friends by just showing up again and again. When you occupy the same space as somebody, they think better of you, so you need to do that as often as possible.

Most people NEVER show up or show up sporadically. If you can show up repeatedly, you will start making connections.

I did 100+ shows between 2015-2018. Along the way, I made sure to meet as many people as possible and shared my work with them. More than once I have been told that the only way people noticed me was because I kept shoving books in their faces until they finally read one.

Be authentic if you want to build your network

If you aren’t authentic, people notice and, again, people talk. Nobody is perfect, and people don’t like to be around others who try to be perfect. There’s plenty of that on the internet. People want to know real humans, and real humans have flaws.

They have interests. They are interesting. You are more interesting than you know. If you are just passionate about the things you love, people will notice. One thing I am passionate about is giving business advice to people. That is NOT a very common thing in creative fields.

However, because I’m so passionate about it, I have a way of getting other people passionate about it.

One of the best compliments I ever received is when somebody meets me in person after knowing me online for a long time and says “You’re exactly like you are online.”

Be authentic if you want to build a network.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

When creators give you advice, take it if you want to build your network

Don’t just take it, but take it to heart, and implement it. It might not always work, but at least try it. Then, go back and tell them what you learned from them. Value their advice, because it is valuable. These are people who have a myriad of life experiences that can help you.

They’ve been where you are, and they’ve overcome it to become successful. If you want to be where they are, learn from them. I used to have a podcast called The Business of Art, which showed creators how to build businesses. However, my true motivation was to interview successful creators and ask them all the questions that I wanted to know.

After our interviews, I would go back and implement all their advice. It didn’t all work, but it helped pull me along really fast.

Say yes as often as possible if you want to build a network

There will be a time you can’t say yes to every opportunity, but in the beginning, always say yes, and figure it out later. Don’t just figure it out, but nail every opportunity. This is true when you try to break into new fields as well.

Even though I’m a relatively well-known indie comic creator, nobody knew me in the world of books for a long time.

So, I took every opportunity that came across. I met everybody I could. I became a person people wanted to know, and from that, I started to build a network. Every new venture you try will be a bit like starting from the bottom, but you can use this same advice every time. Once you learn it, you can repeat it as often as you would like.

And that is how you build a network.

Trust isn’t built overnight

It doesn’t happen often, but every once and a while I get emails from people who have used my marketing services to build their mailing list and they tell me “their list doesn’t work.”

Little do they know that I join every mailing list I ever build, so I can easily go back and check to see exactly how many emails they have sent since they got their list.

Without fail, this is what happens.

They send one email when they first get the list, and don’t send for a long while. Then, they send ONE email when they launch a new product, and nothing else.

Sometimes, there are MONTHS between those emails, and without fail they will email me a couple of weeks later to tell me it didn’t work.

I get very frustrated with this because their expectation was that getting an email list was magic.

They didn’t want to do the work to build a fandom. They didn’t want to connect with the participants.

They just wanted to magically make money without any of the hard work it takes to get there.

As a person who has spent years and thousands of hours reaching out to fans and building my own brand, there is very little as frustrating as watching somebody expect something for nothing.

Scaling a list can be a magical thing, but only if you’re willing to put in the work to get those people to trust you.

It takes months, sometimes years, for people to trust you, and if you only reach out when you have something to sell it will NEVER happen.

Now, there are some people who have built a large fanbase and only send emails when they launch something.

That’s fine for them because they ALREADY have trust, but when you do it, you DON’T have trust. You’re trying to build trust.

When you’re trying to build trust, you have to keep showing up for a long time because you’re trying to wedge your way into somebody’s existing network.

They already have people they like, and certain things they already buy. If you want people to buy from you, they have to trust you as much as the brands they already like, and that doesn’t happen overnight.

And the simplest way to lose trust is to abandon people. The only thing worse is to abandon them until you have something to sell, and then reaching out.

That’s a sure-fire way to waste whatever growth you’re trying to build.

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