In the age of information overload it is becoming increasingly difficult to decide what to pay attention to and what to ignore. Not only that, but it is even more difficult to get your work seen by the right people and have your voice heard. In this article I am going to explore why I think being part of a private online community is a great way to overcome some of these challenges and move your career in the right direction.
1: It’s a great way to find and interact with your target audience
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pintrest are such vast platforms with millions of users, like the internet itself, they grow exponentially on a daily basis with millions of links and content being shared every minute. Because of this, it’s now more important than ever to define your target audience when you are posting content online. If you cast a wide net and try to reach everyone you will end up reaching no one. The key to succeeding in today’s sea of information is to be specific with who you engage, and to make sure the content is relevant and interesting to them. This is one of the main reasons that private groups work so well. They are designed for a specific demographic of people and therefore members know what content to expect, making them more open to new and interesting ideas. If you post content from a Facebook page it will get seen by around 15% of your audience initially, then if more people interact with it, more people will see it. However, the type of people who are seeing it might not necessarily be in your target audience and, even if they are, they may just be browsing and not bother to interact with it fully. In a group however, people usually log on for a specific reason and therefore when they see relevant content they are much more likely to pay attention to it.
2: There is a huge amount of potential to collaborate with other artists
As the saying goes: “You are only as good as the team around you”. As freelancers, we all know how lonely it can be working on your own. Being a one man band really doesn’t have as many advantages as you think, as soon as you start collaborating with other people you will see how powerful it can be for your own work as well as your morale. Private groups are a great way to find other people with complementary skills who are in a similar position to you. As soon as you have a team around you, you can become involved with larger projects and increase the reach of your work tenfold. It also means you have the power to deal with bigger clients who are looking for more than one designer to work on projects. The beauty of this type of work is it gives you flexibility and freedom as well as the security and structure of working in a team.
3: It’s a great way to get feedback on your work
Feedback from your target audience is essential but feedback from people within your industry is also invaluable. Constructive feedback is one of the best ways to make sure you keep your work up to scratch and don’t get lazy or complacent. Don’t take it personally, it’s important to learn how to take constructive criticism on board and learn from it, just make sure it is constructive and ignore people who just criticize.
4: You can share your problems and frustrations with people who have experienced similar situations
One of the things that makes being an independent artist so difficult is that you only have yourself as a sounding board. Having people to bounce ideas off who are already working within your industry is a great feeling and can help you to avoid common pitfalls. It can help you to feel as though you are part of a team of people that care about what you are doing, rather than just getting responses from empathetic friends that don’t really understand what you are dealing with. It can be as simple as sharing stories of nightmare clients or technical issues, having people to talk to who empathise with your problems is really important and can stop you from going insane!
5: Get inspiration from other people’s work
As Picasso once said “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”
If someone has ever copied your work you know how frustrating it can be, you feel a sense of injustice because you came up with an idea and spent ages putting it together for someone to come along and copy it. However, since reading Austin Kleon’s “steal like an artist” I now look at that act as a compliment. I still don’t advocate or condone straight up plagiarism but someone taking inspiration from your work is actually quite a significant achievement. Its much better to have people stealing your ideas and looking at you as a thought leader than to just ignore what your doing. My advice is to pick who and what you copy wisely and always ensure you put your own twist on it. Contrary to a lot of advice, I also encourage people to contact the artist whose work you have taken inspiration from and tell them what it is you liked about it and how it inspired you. Most artists will take this as a compliment and be flattered that you took the time to contact them. Find a group that is open to sharing techniques, ideas and make sure you are engaging with people regularly and sharing your own work.
Private networks are a great way to move your career in the right direction, just make sure you use them in the right way and adhere to the rules which are usually outlined in the description. One thing to consider is whether to join a paid network or just stick with the free ones. Each has its advantages and disadvantages but I have yet to find a paid platform that I think justifies the price.
The main advantage of a paid network is you tend to get a higher percentage of people who take their work seriously and are committed to helping others and adding value. However you do still get these people in unpaid groups so unless you know you are going to have access to industry leaders and influencers I would say it’s not worth it. I have also found some of the forums quite unfriendly from a user experience point of view and if you regularly using platforms such as Facebook and Slack it can be quite frustrating. There are some Slack channels that offer a one off fee to join such as the digital nomad team which I am part of but my advice is to do some digging and find some that are worth joining.
Are you already part of a group? Which ones do you find useful? Let me know in the comments below.