A Reluctant Networking Story
This week I taught a class on the Benefits of Networking for the SBA here in Seattle. If you had
said to me 9 years ago that I would be teaching networking to business owners through the SBA, and that I would lead one of the most prominent women’s professional networking groups and become internationally recognized for that work, I would have laughed in your face. Yet, it is all true.
I was always a reluctant networker. In fact up until 2007, I couldn’t even stand the thought of attending a networking event.
In 2007, I knew my business model was going to change and I needed to consider new ways of marketing my company and my services. The internet was not what it is today, pay per click advertising wasn’t a hot topic, and I had been spending into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on direct mail leads that had a good response rate and a high conversion. This was the part of my business model that would change.
At the same time, I hired a business coach who began talking with me about my marketing plan for my business and about networking, and every time he brought up the topic, I nearly threw up. How could I possibly go to an event where there would be a bunch of strangers and get them to buy from me? (Pay attention to this last sentence, you can already see where I was struggling, can’t you)?
Slightly annoyed but determined, I knew I could “will” my way into making this new way of marketing work and marched into a local chamber event. Armed with a fistful of my business cards and an edgy attitude I must have been a site. Less than an hour into the event, I was on my way out and felt like I had been tossed in a salad spinner. I had a handful of business cards from people I didn’t even know in one hand, and still clenched in my fist were all of my cards. Not one person had taken a single one of mine.
Defeated and frustrated I got on my coaching call that day where my coach asked how it went. My reply, “AWFUL, there were all these people I didn’t know, none of them were interested in ME, and they were all really intent on SELLING me something……ugh…” I sighed sarcastically.
After a long pause, he asked, “And why do you think that is?”
“Because, that is what people do at these things and why I DON’T want to go. Nobody is interested in building relationships, learning about one another and how they can support, they just want to sell me their stuff.”
Then this Yodaesque coach asked a question that has forever changed every interaction I have, “Did it ever occur to you, that you are getting only what you are focusing on? You are SO focused on all the salesy people as you call them, that they can’t help but find you. What if you shifted your thoughts, and set the intention on what you desire as opposed to what you don’t. Do you think your experience might be different?”
Setting the correct intention in life whether it is business or personal will have a direct impact on your experience. What we focus on we receive.
It was a great reminder. Every networking event had a common denominator; it was me. Me and my delightful attitude were what needed to change.
Here are 4 things I have learned from attending and participating in literally hundreds of networking events since 2007:
Clean Up Your Attitude: If you think it will be crappy – it will be crappy. Attending an event, and leaving saying, “it wasn’t as bad as I thought” is a ridiculous way to spend time. Remember what Yoda the Coach said, “What you focus on is what you attract.”
Set Your Intention: Who do you want to connect with? Is there a resource that you need? Access to an influencer who influences your ideal client? Someone who has a skill you want to understand more about. Be clear about why you are attending.
Follow, up, follow up, follow up: You will leave every event with at least one card. Even if you don’t think this person has “anything” you need, or isn’t the right fit for your business. You should still follow up. I wrote an entire blog post about this in February. A quick email after the event to say, “Great to meet you, love the work you are doing in the world. Keep it up.” Will go a long way in building credibility capital, and it will make your mom happy that she taught you such good manners.
Make it easy on yourself: Schedule 30 minutes when you return to the office after the event that says, “Follow-Up” – this takes blocking time on your calendar to an entirely new level. This way you will have an appointment and it is more likely to get done. Create an email template that you can use as a starting point for all follow-up thank you notes. Customize as needed.
Networking is an essential part of business development and it’s through networking visibility, you increase your credibility and profitability.
Photo credit to the amazing Maxine Waterman Photography
Debbie Page Whitlock is a business coach and leading authority on cash flow for women entrepreneurs, and writes on all things related to creating sustainable, scalable and potentially salable businesses and other useful bits of business wisdom she’s acquired on her 20 year entrepreneurial odyssey.