Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ask the storyteller: Getting gigs and the assumption of abundance

This week on #askthestoryteller I'm tackling the hardest question I've received. Really, I'm going to ask us all to tackle it together.

Many of you wrote in to ask how I find paid gigs. There were many variants of this question but it all boils down to how I find work. This is a really hard one and, frankly, not one I think I have a good answer for. So I thought I would tell you the things I do regularly with some success and then leave it open to you. How do you find storytelling work? Perhaps if we pool ideas we can come up with some new things we can try.

I'd like to note that it's pretty easy to find unpaid work, volunteer gigs, and there are good reasons to do this from time to time. You may have a new piece you're working on, you may not yet be established, you may just want to do something nice. I approve. This post, however, is about trying to find work that helps us make a living. If you're interested I'll wrote about the uses of volunteer performance in another post. Let me know.

Most working artists spend at least as much time looking for work as we do creating. It's hard, it can be frustrating and disheartening, but we need to do it. We can't assume our mere luminosity will draw the big bucks; we need to make sure the world knows about us.

Here are the top six most successful tactics I have tried. Your mileage may vary and I have to tell you that this is not my area of expertise.

  1. Word of mouth. I strive to do my best at every gig, so someone will see me, recommend me and I'll get another job. I strive to be exemplary.
  2. Postcards/mailing lists. I develop lists of people and organizations who may want to hire me. A few times a year I send out postcards to school, universities, etc. They can't hire me if they don't know I exist. Don't expect everyone who receives a card to hire you. Don't expect many of them to even look at your site. But keep trying, because once they have heard your name enough times you become that storyteller whom they may eventually hire. You will need to do follow up with this one, contacting them to ask if they have any questions.
  3. Newsletters. I am not consistent with this one and I should be; I'm working on it. When I send out regular newsletters to a mailing list of people who want to hear from I get work. I do not add people to my list without their permission. Who likes junk mail?
  4. Networking events. I go to a lot of networking events so people know there is a storyteller and organizational storyteller in town. This can lead to nice word of mouth, too. I do my best to be personable and always send thank you email.
  5. Social media. I tweet. I have presence on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. I keep these feeds active without overwhelming people. They can't hire me if they don't know me.
  6. Great customer service. When I do a gig I strive to not only give a great performance but be easy to work with (this has been harder since Kevin died, I'm more forgetful). I provide information well in advance, I smile, I say thank you and I send a thank you note. No one will hire be back if I'm a pain.
Now I'd love to hear about what works for you. What do you think of the methods I described? What has been your experience? What else works and what doesn't? Please send me an email or leave a comment so we all can benefit from our collective wisdom. If there are enough responses I will gather and publish them in a new post.

The most important thing, the thing that underlies all of my looking-for-work, is gratitude and an assumption of abundance. I know many of us are afraid that if we help others get work we lose work. I have not found that to be the case. I'd rather refer one of you for a gig that is outside my area of expertise than accept it and do it badly. By referring you I not only help non-storytellers have a positive view of the art, you may very well refer me sometime too. I have found when I work on the assumption that there is, of course, work enough for all, I am more likely to find work and be hired. If I am anxious and greedy I have found the work dries up.

Be generous. Be grateful. Give credit where it's due. There is enough for all of us if we help one another.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Laura,
    I cannot agree more with your tactics. Like you, I constantly struggle with finding paid work as a storyteller. One of the most difficult thing for many of us to do is to clearly define and seek one focus - the desired direction/customer/target/niche - for our energy. As a storyteller, my work is in constant change, and I often discover a new audience or direction I'd like to develop. Clarity is hard when you love different audiences, but clarity is vital when seeking customers willing to pay for our work.

  2. Thanks. We did a bit with more of the philosophy of the "next step" working artist. Just adding more tinder to the fire...

  3. This is such a valid question. I need to make a living wage as a storyteller which means I need paid work 5 times a week. I concentrate on customer service and word of mouth. I attend -3 networking events a week (community, school, nonprofit, business). I talk to 10-20 people a week. I send out 20-50 emails a week (introductory, follow up, answering a question, follow up to follow up, I saw an article on you/your business, etc). Storytelling is a communication art. I urge storytellers to use this communication talent to keep in constant contact with whomever they think might hire them this week or next year.


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