Build Friendships, Not Networks

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to “network” and why it gives so many of us anxiety.  When I look back on the years I’ve worked in film, I now see that the most valuable opportunities and rewarding experiences have come from true friendships and not people in my so-called network.

FLOWSTATE Films, co-founders, Leola Calzoai-Stewart and Kiley Kraskouskas in Harlem conducting research for their film, BLACK DIPLOMACY 

FLOWSTATE Films, co-founders, Leola Calzoai-Stewart and Kiley Kraskouskas in Harlem conducting research for their film, BLACK DIPLOMACY 

A few years ago, I joined the board of an arts non-profit.  Many of the fellow board members were in the same business as me, essentially “competitors”.  However, given our similar interests many friendships developed from that experience. And I mean really true friendship, where I can be myself and not just the professionalized version of myself.  These are the people I now turn to for advice, to whom I can admit mistakes and failures; and, with whom I share freely from my own experiences.   Creatively, we share each others draft work-- warts and all-- and celebrate each other's successes both professionally and personally.  

Working in film and video production is a team sport.  As a producer you need editors, directors,  clients, and assistants to all be on the same page in the face of creative differences and varying skill sets.  I learned that developing true rapport and building trust with your collaborators makes the stress of deadline-intensive work a little bit easier.   I’m proud of the fact that many of the people I started my career with are still my friends today.  Not to mention that my two business partners here at FLOWSTATE are two of my closest friends. We met on the job over ten years ago.

Making friends must be genuine. You don’t connect with everyone. When I was younger, I felt the need to have everyone “like” me.  Sometimes this meant spending large chunks of time with people who were energy-takers rather than energy-givers or playing up parts of my personality that didn’t feel authentic just to make another person feel more comfortable.  As I’ve gotten older and my spare time more limited, I’ve decided to lean in to those friendships that feel mutual, that give me inspiration and guidance rather than drag me down or have an undercurrent of jealousy or competition. Likewise, I find myself joyfully supporting their career and life successes back. 

FLOWSTATE Films co-founders Rachell Shapiro and Kiley Kraskouskas right after the birth of Rachell's daughter. 

FLOWSTATE Films co-founders Rachell Shapiro and Kiley Kraskouskas right after the birth of Rachell's daughter. 

From making my first film and starting my company, to client referrals and securing investors and funders in my work, all of these opportunities have come from true friendships. So for those of you who hate the word networking as much as I do, commit to making a few new friends and you will reap the benefits.

Some Free Advice On How To Ask For Free Advice, Five Tips

After I completed my first independent film and started giving talks on filmmaking, I noticed that I started receiving requests for advice from other first-time filmmakers and others looking to work in production more broadly.  While I have always been the type of person to happily give career advice, as I get older, and my time is more compressed by work and family commitments, these requests can feel like a one-way street.  I have compiled a list of few suggestions and etiquette to think about for anyone approaching another person for advice.

#1 Do Your Research First

I’m not the type of person to ask for a lot of free advice, I like to learn the hard way. I’m sure this is generational.  When I need to learn something, I tend to learn it either by figuring it out myself, learning on the job, or paying for the advice/schooling. Before asking another person for advice, think first how you might approach the decision and include that in your ask for advice, “Here’s what I was thinking, what do you think?”  

#2 Be Flexible    

Entrepreneurs work for themselves so whether it’s taking a vacation, a sick day, or an hour to give advice it represents time away from earning money.  In my case, I am also a mom, so I’m juggling multiple hats for my business and family.  This often leads me to waking up very early in the morning to work so I can be finished with my work day when my son comes home from school. Thus, I will often suggest that the person call me at or before 9AM so that my workday isn’t too interrupted. And yet, it’s very rare that someone who wants something for free is able to do that.  I assume most people have to work after 9am, so it surprises me someone can’t manage to make a call at a time that should seemingly be more convenient.  If this time is truly impossible, offer several different suggestions of when you can talk as going back and forth on email to set up a meeting is a huge waste of time.  

Even better don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and cold call the person to set up a time to talk. It’s much easier to schedule a meeting on the phone than email.  Phones still work! And, you might find you've caught them at a moment when they could speak right then and there. 

#3 Meeting in Person Is Optional

When you ask someone to go to lunch or meet for coffee, you are asking them to take a few hours out of their day. A phone call or Skype call can usually suffice. Or, if you really want to meet in person, offer a location convenient for them and certainly offer to pay.

#4 Get Approval Before Making An Introduction

I often get emails from someone I know introducing me to a job seeker or someone looking for industry advice.  I recently heard a great piece of advice on a podcast, that introductions should be approved by both parties in advance.  I love this, as it is respectful of the person’s time and doesn’t create an unsolicited obligation. I’ve found that this gives me the chance to set some boundaries out of the gate such as the reality that I am really slammed at the moment and not readily available, or, that the information that person is seeking from me is proprietary and I can’t share it.  This helps manage expectations for everyone.  

#5 Give Credit Where Credit is Due  

If you take advice and you A. Make money, B. Find success, C. Were saved from from making a huge mistake, please let the person know.  This isn’t just about a thank you note (although that is nice too); it’s about acknowledging how the advice was useful.  Likewise, if you take advice and learn something different that could help the person who gave you advice, please also let them know, as we all like to learn too. Lastly, if you find you are repeatedly asking the same person for advice, consider acknowledging them in a more formal way either as a paid consultant or as an advisor. This allows this advice-giver to be properly recognized for their contributions. 

Kiley Kraskouskas is a producer and writer who does enjoy offering advice and sharing her experiences. She is available for talks as well as consulting through FLOWSTATE FILMS.  

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