My first “big girl” job was in the technology industry, and my clients were located anywhere from Minneapolis to Spain to Israel to Germany. Needless to say, my job did not really immerse me into the local business realm, and there wasn’t a strong need for me to get out and network with other local businesses.
However, when I found myself looking for a job in the fall of 2013, I realized that I should have spent more time developing my local connections.
When I was hired at HatlingFlint in January, 2014, I asked my boss if I could attend an event called Chamber Connection. This weekly meeting of 120+ local business professionals is a chance to get together to network & learn about each other’s companies for two hours every Friday morning.
My first meeting was… terrifying. Admittedly shy, I found myself secluded in a corner on my phone, unsure of how to start conversations or even who to start one with.
A year later, I can walk into these meetings and know about 85% of the attendees names & companies.
How, you ask, did I overcome my fear and learn to network? Follow the simple rules below, and you too can Fake it ’til you make it *cheesy point-and-wink maneuver*
Find somewhere to network! Kinda obvious. Check out your local Chamber of Commerce for events, or look into joining a local BNI or Biz to Biz chapter. Another great way to get out there: volunteer! Often done in groups, volunteering exposes you to many other professionals while you make a difference. Other ideas include local Rotary chapters, city committees (or some committee with a cause you care about), Community Ed. classes for professional development, local business conferences, or even joining sports teams. Take every group activity you do as a chance to network.
Leave your phone in your car. If that’s what it takes for you to not look at the thing, then do it. Not only will it prevent you from secluding yourself into a corner, staring at a screen, it will force you to find something else to do other than look like a weirdo standing alone talking to nobody. Don’t be that weirdo. I have. It’s not fun.
Start with what you know. Don’t doubt the power of small-talk. It gets a conversation going – even if it’s often meaningless. Is there free food at the event? Comment on its quality to someone! Is the weather unusually cold? Always a good conversation starter. Do you love someone’s cardigan? Tell them! Getting an easy back-and-forth going opens a door for more important questions, and starts to develop a relationship.
Don’t sell. People don’t come to networking events to be sold to. They come to develop relationships. Would YOU want someone trying to sell you their service at a networking event – especially if you have no particular interest in it at the time? It’s definitely okay to talk about where you work, what you do there, etc. but avoid putting people into awkward selling situations when they didn’t ask for it. If you do, chances are they’ll avoid talking to you in the future for fear of being reeled in again.
Listen & remember. When talking to people about their business, interests, family etc. do more listening than talking. Understandably, everyone wants to get their story out there. But the people you’re talking to will be even more impressed when you approach them next time you see them to ask how their daughter Molly did at her soccer game last Tuesday. People love to talk about themselves – and love people who listen. ALSO – Remember peoples’ names. Not only is it polite, but it just plain feels good to be remembered!
Exchange business cards. Always, ALWAYS have enough business cards on you. You never know when you’ll meet your next potential client, and nothing will progress if you don’t swap information first. Of course, don’t just go up to people handing them business cards – establish a bit of a relationship first. But don’t forget to ask them for a card at the end of your conversation. They’ll likely be happy you asked, as they might forget to themselves.
Get active. Volunteer for leadership positions, committee roles, or speaking opportunities. For example, in my Chamber Connection meeting, we have people who greet everyone on Friday mornings as they come in. Members can volunteer to be a greeter for a month. I did so, and that gave me a chance to say hello to every person who entered the meeting – and them to me. Do something to stand out & to get noticed. It might be scary at first, but remember that everyone had a “first time” at something, so you’re not alone.
Recognize others. Did you receive outstanding service at Kathy’s boutique? Or did you eat the BEST sandwich you’ve ever had at John’s deli? Talk about it! Spread the word! Something as simple as saying “Say, have you eaten at Subs R Us yet? I have, and it was fantastic!” during a conversation with someone else can go a long way. When you spread good word about others, others’ will likely spread good word about you.
And, with all of this combined, you can Fake it ’til you make it. Networking is not first-nature for 99% of us. It’s awkward. It’s scary. It forces us out of our comfort zones. You are not alone. Everyone started somewhere. But in the end, remember that networking is all about relationship–building. Most “expert” network-ers I know are successful because they look at networking as a chance to make friends – and then possibly business connections. Keep it light, fun, and thoughtful, and you’ll do fine.
Please remember, these musings are from my own experience. They’ve worked for me – but do what is most comfortable for you! And as always, thanks for checking out what #EmilyFayeSays!