Learn To Love Networking

Learn To Love Networking

You hear it constantly, that the number one thing to grow your business or succeed at work is to build and maintain your network. Yet so many roll their eyes and groan when they hear the word. Why is networking so hated?

I suspect that if you have attended an event where everyone runs around talking about themselves, thrusting business cards into hands and then you never see anyone again, then you have a good reason to dislike it. I’m here to tell you though, that it does not have to be like that! When I changed careers, I realized that while I had been going through burnout that I had secluded myself and got out of the networking habit. As I had not lived in Austin that long, and was changing industries, this meant that I had to walk into many rooms where I knew no one and create an entirely new network.

I was delighted to find though that very quickly I was walking into rooms of familiar faces. A few months later, no matter what networking event I rolled up to, I would see people who I now knew well and we’d yell across the room our excited hellos. If you stick with it, you too will quickly reach the good place in networking where you look forward to it and love going to the events.

Finding Networking Groups

The key to networking is meeting people whom you want to build long relationships with. You should walk into the room and think, I love being here and I look forward to speaking with (mostly) all of the people in the room. It feels like home. I found one of these groups last year and realized that most of the members have been attending every single week for at least 10 years. Some of the members have retired and stayed on they enjoy attending so much. I felt like I was meant to be there the minute I walked in the door and I really do adore each and every one of them. How do you get to be so lucky?

First, look around at upcoming Facebook events and meetup for groups. Read their descriptions and look at their website. It will not always scream, “this is for you!” so don’t judge a book by it’s cover. But do your homework and make sure that you want to meet the people attending. If it is a speaker based club, the subjects should interest you. Something to also pay attention to is that there are often groups geared towards young people and those that skew older. If you are let’s say, over 40, (speaking from experience) you may not want to be in a group of 20-year-olds in their first job. Or you may love it. That’s up to you but understand that there are both options out there. You do not want to be the smartest person in the room. The branding of the groups can be good indicators for some demographics so make sure to look at them online.

Second, ask people where they go that they like. I love helping people find their perfect networking groups and matchmaking them. You should also search for associations for your industry online as they sometimes do not post the events anywhere besides their own site. A simple google search for “Networking Groups [Your City]” is a great way to start.

Remember when searching that you are not looking for a room of potential clients (although if you build relationships, this will happen) but more of people who you will want to give receive referrals from. Don’t worry too much about there being people with the same job as you or if everyone is in different industries. You are joining to have long lasting relationships with each other, so the most important part is to like and trust each other.

Date Networking Groups and then Commit

You are typically able to attend a few meetings without joining to feel it out and this is expected. But don’t just show up, hand out your cards and never be seen again. Have a few conversations, schedule a few 1:1’s with people and ask members what they like about the group. It really is like dating, you’ll know after the first date if you want a second. You should want to get to know everyone you meet for it to be a good fit.

You also want to make sure you are able to attend the meetings. Many groups have a standing weekly or monthly meeting and if you are not a regular, it will not do much good to join. Make sure you don’t have a conflict with the set meet times. If you love the group, but have a conflict, make a note of it or join the Facebook group or meetup group in case your schedule changes and you can join at a later time.

Once you find your people and something that works with your schedule, you need to commit. Pick a few and join. You may want to space out when you join groups. This makes it so your annual dues are not all due at the same time and so you can get involved with your new group and not be overwhelmed. Attend as many of the meetings as you can. The idea is to get to know everyone and become familiar as you build relationships.

Two things to note. One is that there are referral based groups where you are there to refer clients to your group (and expected to weekly), if you need lots of referrals in what you do, look for BNI or something similar.

Second is that most networking is done in business casual attire. I bring this up as I’ve heard a few women mention while trying out groups I’m in that they wished they had dressed up a little bit. It was fine, they looked pulled together, but you can tell it shook their confidence a bit and this is not the time you want to feel like you’re not putting your best foot forward. Again, do a little research on their social media and website to see what everyone is wearing in the photos as a guide.

Join The Conversation

This is less scary if you’re an extrovert and can be daunting if you’re not. If you are an introvert, push through the awkwardness and you’ll soon at least feel comfortable as you get to know everyone. Schedule your 1:1’s like crazy so you can get to know people away from the group. We’re not all introverts though and this is where the outgoing of us shine. Side note: there was a personality expert on the podcast Ologies last week and those of us who call ourselves introverted extroverts; we’re more likely just tired extroverts who do too much.

Even if you’re a tired extrovert or an introvert, walk in the door with a smile on your face, slap on your name tag (I order little plastic magnetic ones on Amazon for $8 and I never have to deal with my hair getting caught in the sticky or lack of space on my torso for it to go again. I have a few, they say just my first and last name) and walk up to people to say “Hi, I’m new”. You will be instantly welcomed and find yourself in conversation. Note: Avoid the pairs of people who look like they are having an intense private conversation. A threesome is perfect. Aim for friendly small talk to start and jump in! Remember that everyone there has had to do it, it’s expected and welcomed.

Most membership groups that are of a decent size have Ambassadors who will work the crowd and rescue anyone new. So if you are stuck in place not knowing who to talk too or what to do, usually someone nice and friendly will be right over to rescue you.

Again, don’t go around handing out cards unless you are asked for them or everyone is told to pass them around the table. Start chatting and find out about the other people there. But most importantly…

Listen

The number one skill you can have in life is to listen. An old adage is that you were created with TWO ears and ONE mouth for a reason. Ask questions, listen to the answers and find out about all of these new people in the room. You are aiming to make connections! I’ll admit that I get really excited and want to know all about certain things when I hear something that I am curious about. I tend to start shooting off the questions and never even say what I do (although as soon as I say Business Coach, they are always like, oh that makes sense!) but that’s ok and it’s better than talking too much about yourself without it being in response to a question. When in doubt of what to say, ask a question.

At Every Event, Schedule 1:1’s

Even if you are in the dating phase with a group, try and schedule at least one 1:1. It’s easiest to whip out your calendars and schedule it right there if you are really clicking, but it’s ok if that doesn’t happen. Make sure to ask the people who you talk to and want to keep talking to for their cards. Follow up that day or by the end of the week with a quick email to plan a coffee. If they don’t reply, no big deal, they could be busy or they may not want to meet with you. This is why you should try and chat with a few people to reach out to.

When you send a follow-up email, it can be as simple as putting the event name as the subject and something like “Hi Sara, It was great meeting you at ________ on __________ morning. It was great chatting with you, I’d love to grab coffee and find out more about you. What is your schedule like next week? Best Wishes, Sam”. I also recommend having your email signature have your name, business, and a photo so they can see your face and get a quick reminder of how friendly/authentic/not sales-y you were.

When you have the 1:1, enjoy the time to get to know them (again like the dating analogy). Make sure to listen! If you like them and what they do, ask them what their ideal client is like, what they are looking for right now, how you can help them or even what the things their clients will say are their pain points so you can know when you should refer them to your new connection. I have made so many wonderful friends this way, it’s an essential part of networking and will be where the real relationship building happens.

Get Involved

You’ve found a few groups that you like and have decided to join, that’s great! Make sure you are in the groups Facebook group if they have one and to follow along on social media. Share the events as the membership driven groups need to have new members and you want them to so you can keep growing your network. A nice way to easily hepl spread the word, is to mark the events you cannot go to as “interested” and the ones you can attend as “going”. This will really hepl their algorythm and is a good tip to be supportive of anyone on Facebook.

Go to as many of the groups’ events as you can so that you are a familiar face and get to know everyone. Join a committee or become an ambassador. After some time in the group, look into being on their board of directors. You want to not only help your group thrive and grow, but it will help you become a familiar face and you be known as reliable, hard working and dedicated.

Join Multiple Groups

You don’t want to over commit or spread yourself too thin, but if you are a service provider or new to business, you’re going to want to join a few groups. I enjoy a good mix of a couple of membership-based groups that have weekly meetings, a few groups who meet once a month and then serve on the board for my favorite non-profit. I bring this up as though technically, volunteering is not a “networking” group, I have served on boards for over a decade now and have found them to be a wonderful place to connect with people and build relationships with fellow professionals.

Each of the groups I am part of has a little bit of a different type, yet there is a lot of overlap. Join the groups that have memebers who you want to see often!

“Touch” Your Contacts Monthly or Quarterly

If you like someone whom you have a 1:1 with, you’ll probably want to see them often. I try and schedule a coffee every month with my core group. This is not always an option though. If they live in a different city or you just can’t manage to schedule face time, make sure you are at the very least sending emails letting them know you are thinking about them. Maybe you saw an article that you think they’ll like or heard a podcast. Pass those along.

Hand written notes are also something I try and send out often. I try to send 1 per day, but many go-getters I know send 100 a month! In the days of social media and email, it’s a special treat to receive a hand-written note in the mail.

At the very least, make sure you are connected with your contacts on LinkedIn. Usually, if I have a card from a new contact, I connect with them on LinkedIn when I am entering them into my contacts. If we have had a 1:1, I have been trying to get into the habit of sending an email after we meet and asking for their mailing addresses, explaining that I am a note sender. It saves a great deal of time in the long run and makes sending notes easier and therefore done more often.

You can use CRM software to manage your contacts, or a spread sheet if that’s more your style. I found a great app called Covve which is for contact management and has contact reminders built into the free version. It’s a nice way to make sure you are reaching out regularly and does not put a dollar amount on your relationships.

Don’t Stop When You Have Enough Clients or Are Busy

It’s harder to start the process of networking once you get out of the habit. It’s best practice to stay involved at the minimum by attending one meeting a week or a couple a month. Don’t think that you only need to join when you are in need of clients or a job. At the more intimate meetings, you are given the chance to offer up your ask. Sure, many of the people who are at the networking events are new in business or need clients constantly. But not everyone! If you are currently not accepting clients, your ask can be to follow your Facebook page or mark an upcoming workshop as interested. Perhaps it can be to subscribe to your podcast or to endorse 6 key skills on LinkedIn. Or maybe to help you solve a problem you’re having at work or with your business. Networking is a valuable tool and asset that goes beyond getting clients or a job and one you should not neglect.

Remember that the connecting you are doing today is for the work you will be doing 6 months from now. You may be busy today, but will you be then?

The Takeaway

  • Join a few core groups.
  • Show up consistently.
  • Get involved.
  • Schedule 1:1’s.
  • Listen.
  • Build and nurture relationships.
  • Stay in touch.

Looking for a resource list filled with things similar to what I mentioned in this article? Sign up for Doers Shakers Makers, a weekly list of 5 ways to stay motivated, productive and inspired.

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