One winter when I was a kid the power went out for two days. I grew up in Connecticut and every winter we would have several Ice Storms. On these days, you would wake up to all the tree branches glistening with a coating of ice around everything. It was most fantastic because school was always cancelled. My sisters and I would sit around the kitchen table, ears stuck to the radio waiting to hear our town called out as closed. When there were Ice Storms they always closed school.
You see, as the storm progressed, the roads would develop a half inch or so of solid ice. I remember this particular time putting on ice skates and skating right down the middle of the road. That is until those beautiful tree branches began to break and fall on the equally coated power lines. Then, what was a lot of fun became something else. Downed lines flailing and sparking and a stupid kid in skates trying to run down the street. I did manage to make it home.
After several hours of the power being out and phone calls to friends who still had power and reports from the radio, it became apparent that it would be a few days before we had heat again. So, my parents hatched a plan where after waiting for the roads to be sanded, my mother and sisters would head off to my Grandparents house in the next town to wait it out while my father and I stayed behind to drain the radiators (we had those old steam kind) and keep a fire going in the fireplace so that hopefully the whole plumbing system didn’t freeze up.
It was quite an adventure. We had sleeping bags in the living room, a pile of wood and we took shifts staying up and keeping the fire going. I was only 12, we sat up for a long time talking. He let me have a beer, I didn’t really like beer that much at the time, especially beer that had been sitting in 10 degree weather on the back porch and was more like a half frozen 7/11 beer slushy. But we were two men braving the elements and surviving anything a suburban living room could throw at them.
I remember keeping that fire going strong all night. I mean the house was freezing and I’m not sure the fire warmed the plumbing system that much (though it didn’t freeze) but we made it through the night. The following afternoon as we were preparing for another death defying night on Mt. Rumpus Room, the power unexpectedly came back on.
I think we all have experience sitting around a fire and tending it, keeping it going. There’s something primal and satisfying about making a “roaring” fire and keeping it really big.
So what about your career’s fire? Is it roaring? Is it fading? I’ve seen plenty of careers that at one time were roaring but one day become barely glowing embers. They got that way simply because as they died down, the owner failed to stoke it and put more wood on. There’s a misnomer that once you “make it” your career will just keep going on it’s own momentum. But, it won’t. It’s just like a fire that needs constant tending.
Some say, “that’s why I have an agent” but, as an agent myself I can tell you that isn’t enough. If you rely solely on your agent’s contacts without making and maintaining contacts on your own, the day will come when you will realize that you don’t actually know many people in the business. You’ve worked with a lot of people, you’ve done a good job, but years after the fact, you don’t really know them well enough to suddenly reach out and start a work dialogue. When you finally do reach out long after working together, it seems desperate because let’s face it, as a freelancer, if you wait until you need work to work on getting work, it is desperate.
On the other hand, if you maintain your contacts by regular casual ‘hey what’s up emails, birthday and holiday greetings, or even just using the Facebook ‘Like’ button daily, you are ahead of the game. Through constant contact you may even make some close friends and we all want more of that. You have to see each contact you make as a stick of wood going on to the fire of your career. The more sticks, the higher the fire may grow. If you make contact with people infrequently, don’t expect too big of a fire. If not at all, you will find yourself blowing at the embers just trying to get a small flame started up.
It may be that you think that since people really like you when you’ve worked with them, and that’s enough for them to think of you next time. It’s not. People forget very quickly and need to be reminded that they really like you. And the best way to do that is to keep being likable. When you pay attention to people, it shows you like them. When people feel you like them, you in turn become likable.
It’s never too late to sleep in the living room and get that fire going again. But once you do, make sure you keep an eye on it every day. And more than that, make sure that every day you keep throwing sticks on the fire. More sticks = more fire. More contacts = longer career.
The math isn’t hard, but organizing a plan can be. Try this: make a list of everyone you can ever remember working with. Now go on Facebook and if you’re not Facebook friends already, FRIEND THEM. In almost every person’s Facebook info is their birthday and their email address. Add this info to your contact list. Now the hard part: use the information. Put together a daily list of contacts that can be made and follow through.
This is a simple first step towards building a fire. The casual contacts are sticks, so put them on the fire. When you actually work together, those are logs so make them count. After the job, make sure you keep throwing sticks on the fire until the next job.
And take my advice: don’t try to run in the street in ice skates. It’s very difficult.
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Want to share this idea with your own Twitter network? Here are handy tweetable bits.
More sticks = more fire. More contacts = longer career. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose
What about your career’s fire? Is it roaring? Is it fading? http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose
When you pay attention to people, it shows you like them. When people feel you like them, you in turn become likable. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb
Don’t try to run in the street in ice skates. It’s very difficult. http://bitly.com/lF4tfb @agentonloose