You probably know this feeling: you enter a room full of strangers. You take a deep breath and smile awkwardly hoping to appear comfortable. A few steps away stands someone who looks just as uncomfortable as you feel. You make eye contact, exchange polite smiles. They engage the conversation.
Within a few seconds, your neighbor, emboldened by the new connection, proceeds to drown you under a deluge of words describing how fantastic their company is. You suffer stoically through the ordeal for some time. Eventually there’s an opening and you manage to exit the conversation although not quite escaping the final assault: they shove the customary business card in your palm.
This is going to be painful.
That’s how most of us think of networking: unfamiliar faces, boring conversations and a stack of business cards which normally get buried somewhere never to see the light of day again.
Yes, traditional networking is a pain. And as an introvert there’s nothing quite like the thought of being confronted with a room full of strangers to awaken in me the violent urge to spend the evening re-organizing the folders of my computer.
However it’s not a secret that ‘your network is your net worth’. As much as we’d like to skip the networking, it is a non-negotiable aspect of running a business.
So what do you do?
First, let’s give credit where credit’s due. I wasn’t born with the networking gene, but my inner librarian is alive and kicking so I’ve spent time researching networking experts. From Michael Port to Jon Levy to Lewis Howes, the consensus seemed to be: ‘create a community’ and ‘always have something to invite people to’.
Creating a community is genius.
You select the people you want to connect with by defining who your events cater to.
By organizing regular events you always have something to invite people to. It’s a great way to provide value to people you want to build a connection with.
As the organizer, you’re always at the center of the action. People reach out to you and you receive opportunities.
Lastly, you can choose the format you’re prefer. You can host workshops, get together for drinks or meet for small intimate mastermind groups if that’s more your thing.
Having relocated to a country where I didn’t know a soul, this advice is a life saver. With the help of Meetup, a powerful tool to grow local communities, I am building a rapidly growing local network that already counts hundreds of other women entrepreneur. And I am doing it on my terms without the awkward conversations!
Obviously it takes more work than just showing up for an event. As far as I am concerned though, the pay off is worth the effort: less random business cards, more solid business connections (and even friendships). It’s working!
How about you: what’s your favorite networking tip?