Networking – can you learn to love it?
You are doing work you truly believe in, writing books and changing the world. There’s only one catch. You can’t change the world if no one gets to find out about you. Networking is an essential ingredient in your business success, and yet many people struggle to find the joy in it.
You know I run a not for profit networking group, the Sunshine Coast Women Entrepreneurs, which has almost 1000 members, so I’m obviously one of those people who love networking. But not all networking experiences are positive, and a bad one can really put you off if you are just starting out.
For every nightmare story of people shoving business cards in your face, there’s another of laughter, connections, support and camaraderie. So what’s the difference?
Like many business choices, a one size fits all approach rarely gives the best results. Success is found in checking out the options and finding one that suits your needs and your personality.
If you are the type who looks for meaningful one to one conversations with other business owners, thrusting yourself headlong into a room full of black suits, armed with only a handful of business cards, is likely to leave you cold. Likewise, if you have a burning desire to share your expertise and enthusiasm with everyone in the group, an hour or two sitting quietly listening to a speaker may send you home feeling unheard and unloved.
We are extremely lucky to have so many networking events to choose from. They are all as different as we are; the trick is finding where you fit in.
Ask yourself these questions to help you find what you are looking for:
• What time of day are you available? Various events are held over breakfast or lunch, at cocktail hour, midweek or on the weekends. Of course you are too busy running your business to attend everything, so when suits you best? You may well find that people who keep similar hours to you have other things in common with your business.
• What are you looking for in speakers? Do you like learning new business skills, listening to inspirational speakers, delving in to personal development, or hearing about success from those who have achieved it? Do you like hands-on activities or listening to theories and ideas? When you start looking in to the groups available, you’ll find they each offer certain types of speakers. You may find that that what is relevant to you changes at different points in your career. What interests you right now? Who is offering that?
• Who is behind the group? Do you like their style? Is the group part of another business? Is it not for profit? The personality and motivations of the facilitators will direct the personality and motivations of the group, so it’s important to find one aligned with your own philosophies.
• What kind of people would you like to mix with? Do yearn to be supported by others who are on a similar path – people that understand where you are in business and want to learn and grow alongside you? Or are you looking for a room full of potential clients, hungry for the help you can give? Where are these people hanging out?
• What communication style suits you? Does the thought of doing a 30 second pitch leave you with sweaty palms and a dry mouth, or are you the type who needs some ‘stage time’ to feel your message has been shared? Do you like to do structured activities or are you quite comfortable to grab a glass of wine and start chatting to whoever looks friendly? Each event has an agenda; some have lots of free chat time, others are heavily structured. Some put the spotlight on each participant in turn, and others focus their light only on the speaker.
Check in with yourself for the answers to these questions. Then, when you have an idea what you want, go out and sample what’s on offer! Book yourself to one or two meetings of all the groups that seem to fit you. Very soon, you will find where your kind are gathering, and where you fit in.
Remember, enjoy it! Networking can be a lot of fun if you let it. Now my kids are old enough to have a better social life than I do, I’m glad I’ve got networking to keep me out there learning new ideas and meeting new people.
This article first appeared in Business Matters Magazine on the Sunshine Coast. The team at Author Support Services spent two wonderful years editing and proofreading for this magazine, so it was a great experience to step out from the shadows and write an article the public would see, rather than working behind the scenes. See, even book coaches have to get out of their comfort zones sometimes!