At some point of our career, we find ourselves wandering whether we should continue to develop our skills or channel our efforts into broadening our network to capture potential clients. The answer is more complex than just choosing one or the other. But to be able to compare both concepts I think it’s important to understand them well. They are not really the most ambiguous words, yet some ideas gain different connotations according to the situation in which they are used.
Talent is often understood as an innate ability to perform certain activities. However talent can be better comprehended as a potential easier to develop, which can be properly cultivated to become added value. The later, makes your product – in this case photography – better than others.
In other words, it is possible that someone is born with a higher sensibility or disposition for photography but if they don’t put the necessary efforts into developing that ability, it won’t do any good. So beyond the innate qualities that someone may possess, I think that when someone commonly refers to the talent of a photographer, i.e.. “What a great picture; It must be from a talented photographer,” it is likely they are appealing to the effort and dedication that it takes for a person to achieve a high-level image.
In summary we can say that talent is basically understood as how good you are doing what you do.
Being well connected today is not about how many people you know – or how many friends you have on Facebook – but rather about generating a list of contacts that complement your needs. You have to understand that is not just about gathering contacts of our own, but also being someone else’s contact so they can refer to you and what you do.
With that said, it’s clear that contacts are not just a bunch of numbers you have on your cell phone or even mailing lists in a worksheet. They are a well interlaced network of people who may require your services or lend theirs to achieve a great product. And like any network, the question is how to weave it well to make it sturdy.
Networking is not easy to develop and is the result of a thorough process of research and generating planned coincidences when meeting people. For example, if you want to meet art directors working in major agencies, it's going to be harder to accomplish if you only hang out with musicians or dancers. You should identify and frequent the places and circles where your potential clients are. While hanging out there, you could easily gain some business connections.
Contacts should be earned and once they have been established, you should evaluate how important they are to the workflow you have to thereby determine the frequency of interaction with one person or another.
Which One Is More Important?
In a way, both are. Talent is something that should be constantly cultivated and developed. Without challenges it’s harder to make mistakes, and without mistakes there can be no growth and learning. So if we understand talent as how good we are doing something, it’s clearly important to be really good.
Regarding contacts, it’s not really about going out and meeting people, or adding random people on social networks. It’s about who you know, and how that person can help you reach your goals.
In any case, my perception of the more relevant factor leans lightly on favor of the network of contacts. I’ve seen many colleagues and other creative professionals who excel at what they do, but their network is so limited that they don’t get – or rather they don’t generate – the opportunities to monetize their work. Opposite to that, I’ve met and actually worked with people who are not necessarily the best as far as technical or aesthetic skills go. Still they had some huge accounts, both prestigious and well paid.
Finally, I think that while the contacts are relatively more important, the first thing you should do is develop talent to the point of being good. Once you're there you can build a network of contacts that allows you work with bigger and better teams. At that point you can focus on developing both aspects simultaneously.