I remember hating networking. I avoided going to events. It made me think of crowded bars, and not being sure if someone wanted to having a conversation or was hitting on me. It was a room full of salespeople, none of which were going to buy anything from me. I mean, gross. Who would WANT to do that?
I avoided it for years. I told people that I was too busy, had too much going on, and that it wasn’t for me. My career was going okay without it. It got worse when I took a job working for companies outside of my city. Then, I was never home and had no business interest in Kansas City.
When I got laid off, it started to dawn on me how important it was to have a network of people. But, within a year, I was recruited by another company with a job on the road and building a network took a backseat again.
When I finally landed in a local job again three years later – I was still network-less, hated networking events, and overwhelmed at where to start.
I committed to building my network in 2018.
I was going to get uncomfortable and start connecting.
When I hit my first Chamber of Commerce event I was so anxious. I was shocked at how much fun I had. It was nothing like the picture I had created in my head of networking. The people were friendly and I even met a few great contacts to continue the conversation with.
I slowly started checking out different events. I really fell in love with networking when I discovered female based networking organizations. It was a total game changer for me. I found that connecting with and learning from other woman filled my cup in so many ways.
I started attending networking events weekly. I schedule networking coffees weekly and have to be mindful of my calendar so as to not go overboard. I’ve building an incredible networking of people (both men and women, believe it or not) and am finally (10 months later) starting to see the dots get connected. One connection has led to another.
I’ve made friends. I’ve made business contacts. I’ve met mentors. I’ve found people that just want what you can give and move on. I’ve found people that are so gracious and giving with their time, it’s amazing.
I tell you all of this to let you know that networking isn’t as scary as you think it is.
Here are my Top 3 Networking Tips
1 – Find something that works for you.
Don’t waste your time or energy attending events that don’t fill your cup or meet your needs. Is it a local Chamber of Commerce? BNI? Women’s organization? Volunteer organization? Find the kind of networking that works for you. It’s a game changer in the people you meet and the value you can bring to one another.
2 – Give. Give. And give some more.
I feel as it my view of networking really changed when I realized it was about what I could give and how I could serve versus what I could get and what I could sell. When you attend a networking event without an agenda and truly seek to meet people and build relationships your network expands quickly.
3 – Get personal.
Attending great big networking events with tens if not hundreds of people are a great place to start. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn from and connect with others. The real “fortune” in networking is about connecting with other people in a one on one environment. When you meet someone that you think you can help – take the conversation offline. Grab coffee or at least a quick phone call to connect.
That’s where the real relationships start to form. One on one conversations let you learn more about one another and find ways to be a resource to each other. It’s a magical thing.
I know that none of this advice is super helpful if the mere thought of going to a networking event makes you want to cry. If you have to, bring a friend or a co-worker. Check out some small networking events in your neighborhood or industry. Often times local Chambers of Commerce have small group settings, so don’t be afraid to ask. Some markets offer “speed-networking” which is as much like speed dating as it sounds, but it’s a simple, organized way to meet a lot of people in a short amount of time.
The more often you go, the more comfortable you will get. You also have to keep in mind that at most events there is somewhere that gets paid to make sure that everyone feels welcome and gets connected. Look for that person – they’re typically on staff with the Chamber or the organization that organizes/coordinates.
Networking is an invaluable resource for you and your business.
Even if you have an online business, getting out into your local community can be incredible. If you’re brand new to business – in person connection opportunities are your fastest path to cash.
You have to remember that most people in the room are often as anxious about being there as you are. I like to think that most of them are there to serve their local business community, connect, and grow. Show up with a smile and your business cards and see where it takes you.
It’s not as scary as you think it is, I promise!