Actress and talent agency MD, Eki Maria reveals, in the first of a regular column, how to network for success in business

When I made what I felt was a divinely-inspired decision to become an actress, I knew in the back of my mind that networking would be a necessary evil.  Who you know is as important as what you can do in the entertainment world – as it is in many industries. However the concept of networking, of making contact with another human being purely on the basis of what they can do to advance you, was an abhorrent and corrupt idea for me. Also – more to the point, I wasn’t brave enough to attempt it: I was barely bold enough to introduce myself to a boy let alone lunge at prospective producers and shamelessly list my attributes and successes.

For the majority of my career as an actress I was careful in only pursuing the appropriate and monitored channels for procuring theatre and film work and I made slower progress than those who confidently worked the room. Now, as managing director of a London based talent agency, my perception of networking has turned a full 180 degrees from where I started out. The right networking opportunity, played well, can be the difference between tortured obscurity and endless fortune. I witnessed firsthand the power of networking when a close friend went from being an aspiring presenter to a celebrated BBC correspondent for a prestigious radio station, covering music festivals internationally – all on the basis of meeting a heavyweight radio producer. We met him together at an organised media networking event, a daytime event with coffee, cucumber sandwiches and cakes. She saw him, marked her territory, made it happen and now she lives the jet-setting dream.

Making it happen

Having spent an inordinate amount of time writing letters to casting directors with no response, I decided to change tack. Perhaps I could follow the blue print of my friend and find a way to meet someone who could catapult my career forward through six levels in one almighty swoop? The Oxford dictionary defines networking as: to interact with others to exchange information and develop contacts. Except in my case it would be less exchange and more plunder as I had no contacts to share – or so I thought.

I identified a very exclusive private members club specialising in media professionals, with bases in Berlin, London and New York, as the place I needed to be in order to access these contacts who would be ripe for plucking. In a move that was breathtakingly extreme, I resurrected my talent agency business, which I had lost confidence in and was planning to dismantle, in order to ensure I qualified for membership of the club.

I did this just so I could tick a particular box on a particular application form. Not the usual motivation for writing a business plan. The fact my talent agency has since become successful is not the point. It was not reasonable behaviour to do what I did. However at the time, I knew – just knew – that if could just get through the doors of this high brow club and meet those hallowed movers and shakers that I could finally eat bar snacks with those who could turn my reasonable career into an Oscar-dripping success.

Old contacts never die

For a successful application I would also need two current members of the club to act as referees. I didn’t know any members. I put an ad in the local paper for members to contact me promising a cash reward. I considered taking a job there as a waitress but, no, that would defeat the purpose as I needed to be seen as a fellow ‘in’ person. Stumped. God, I asked, please let me become a member of this exclusive club. I knew it was a sinful, wasteful prayer but my personality was mutating as I pursued this break. I had to make it happen. The letter writing and polite follow up phone calls just weren’t cutting it.

I called an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in years, who I remembered was a member back then. I remembered going with her to this club one night and almost wetting myself at the sight of two media moguls drinking shiraz by the rooftop swimming pool. I was very embarrassed to contact her. We hadn’t spoken in years and now here I was emailing to ask for a favour. I steeled myself against my shame and I was lucky. She was not only happy to be a referee but would also ask a friend of hers: the friend, in a wonderful turn of events, was a founding member of the club. This would work hugely in my favour. I thanked her and I was so utterly grateful. My mission was coming together.

I’ve learnt, as I put myself out there and become a professional networker that the more you ask, the more you get. The worst anyone can say is no. And no is only a two letter word: it’s pathetic, it can’t bite you. I promised my old friend a thank you dinner at the club if my application was successful. It brought sharply to mind another key issue. I couldn’t afford to buy myself a glass of lemonade at this place let alone buy anyone else a drink and there was the issue of the considerable annual membership fee. Oh well, bridges I’d have to cross once I got there. This wasn’t a time for letting insignificant practicalities stop me. I just needed to get to those cocktail tables where million dollar deals were negotiated and sealed with shots of tequila. So, one bright sunny morning, I kissed the envelope with my application in and posted it in. I pushed it into the post box and forgot about it – I now had a talent agency to run as proof of my credibility.

Disbelieving jubilation most accurately describes what I felt when the membership card arrived out of the blue months later. The weighty, classic looking envelope was handed to me by my curious flatmate as I sat eating porridge in my favourite coffee-stained pyjamas. Wow, I had done it. Just through trying it on a bit. I was at the best networking table for my industry. I didn’t know how this membership adventure would turn out or who I could now meet but I was certain that I had created the opportunity to network with decision makers in my industry and that had to be a good thing.

In the pursuit of getting myself onto the networking playing field I had already developed myself. I had reconstituted my belief in a talent agency I’d been close to letting go. My pursuit of the private membership goal in order to network had created an irreversible change in my business personality. I now recognised and had some respect for the idea that I would have to become an aggressive hunter, perhaps even ruthless, in order to create opportunities. I had seen the power of networking and couldn’t deny it as a vital tool in the arsenal of anyone who truly wants to compete in their industry.

DneinNuqer

Asime Nyide, known as DneinNuqer, is the insightful mind steering the helm at tabj.co.za. With a keen eye for business trends and a commitment to delivering cutting-edge insights, Asime curates a dynamic space where industry enthusiasts and entrepreneurs alike converge. Unveiling the latest market developments, strategic analyses, and thought-provoking perspectives, Asime Nyide fosters a community of forward-thinkers at tabj.co.za, making it a go-to resource for those navigating the ever-evolving landscape of business. E-mail / Instagram