I have talked before in another blog post about following the butterflies and putting yourself out there, describing how it was not an easy feat for me at first. Today I am going to touch more on the networking and social side of the industry rather than the visual marketing side. There is a big difference between getting your face out there in the marketing sense and getting your actual self out there at events and activities in the community.
Networking has never been my strong suit; but for the past two years, I have made it my mission to go out to as many events, lunches, seminars, golf games, and volunteer opportunities as I can sanely fit in my schedule. Networking with other people in your career field is often considered one of the most important aspects of growing your business and sharing your ideas. Unfortunately, some people just don’t like doing it, like myself. I have lived and learned, and although I still have a long way to go, I was able to make a couple changes in my approach which made the experience not just more beneficial but more enjoyable.
The main reason I didn’t like it at first was that it did not feel organic. I would say that I am a social person, and I do love socializing, but it tends to be in the comfort of my own circle. Get me out of that zone, and I am a fish out of water. I do love meeting new people, I just am not the greatest at walking up to someone, passing them my card, and bombarding them with the typical questions; are you from around here? What do you do for a living? Even typing it out bores me. What I found I was looking for, was a more meaningful connection and stimulating conversation. I learned that taking a more organic approach is what worked best for me. I am not a “pushy salesperson,” and sometimes that can be a shortcoming in certain situations. Unless you come up and ask me what I do for a living, I probably will not tell you that I am a realtor.
Some of the more obvious benefits of networking include increased leads, industry connections, new insights and perspectives, career opportunities, brand recognition, and personal exposure; all great things and are all integral components of running a successful business no matter what career field you are in.
What I have learned is to not go into a networking opportunity with the mindset of the above objectives being my priority. Personally, I found it takes all the humanity out of the process and inhibits me from truly being myself because I am doing one thing with the expectation of another… if that makes any sense. Instead, I use these tips which help me feel more comfortable and prepared.
1) Depending on the event, prepare some complex questions ahead of time related to the topic. If there is no topic or theme, think of some deeper more personal questions which might invoke deeper conversations and help you feel more connected with people.
2) Reach out to new people on social media before an event. Create a post and tag the event prior to attending, I have found that people are more likely to introduce themselves to “familiar strangers” they have encountered before rather than complete strangers
3) Hang out around the bar… sounds bad but it tends to be where people congregate, and it doesn’t hurt that they tend to be chattier as well.
4) Don’t forget to smile. This sounds corny, but I catch myself all the time; I am either people watching in my own world, or looking at my phone with a look of concern or what some might call “resting bitch face” without even realizing.
5) It helps if you have someone introduce you or endorse you. Most business comes from word of mouth recommendations as they are the most trustworthy form of advertising. This point is key to my approach. If you make one organic connection a month, strengthen that connection, even better make a friend; not only does that person enrich your life, but they can preach your name. It is a chain reaction which doesn’t involve handing out 100’s of business cards that get thrown in the garbage at the end of the day; at least that’s I do with most of mine. If I can’t remember who gave it to me, why would I keep it?
6) In terms of keeping the conversation going, I have to make a point of actively listening. This may sound obvious, but in my typical anxious state, I tend to be thinking about what I will say next rather than what they are actually saying. Inquire about their lives, this part is easier if you have some less generic questions lined up. Throw a curveball and get into the more in-depth topics, everyone loves to talk about themselves, and no one likes to talk about the weather…. Its awkward.
7) Most importantly follow up with whoever you felt the most connected with after the event.
These might not work for everyone, but they worked for me, or should I say are working for me as I still get awkward from time to time. However, I know that putting myself out there and meeting other knowledgeable people in my field will only help me grow as a person and in my business. I have found success and built confidence over the past two years, not to mention made some fantastic friends and excellent connections. There are too many benefits in networking to ignore the practice altogether, so take some time to plan it out and make it work for you.