What I learned in my first month of networking…

My New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to step out of my comfort zone.  Professionally-speaking, this meant getting out from behind the computer and meeting others in my community.  As an introvert with social anxiety, I was terrified by the idea of going into a room full of strangers, pitching my business for 30 seconds to two full minutes, and then having to stick around for small talk.  The night before and the day of the meetings, I would be a wreck.  I was constantly rehearsing my pitch.  I was fretting about my outfits and making sure they were appropriate but not boring. Did I have my business cards?  What was it going to be like?  Would I know anyone there? What if no one wanted to talk to me?  What if I said the wrong thing?  The worries were endless.  One month later, I can honestly say that networking is a great way to get to know your community.

How to find a networking group

I found my first couple networking groups on Facebook. By being able to see photos from past events, I could see the general atmosphere and attire.  I could also go through the invite list to see what kinds of professionals were regulars in these groups.  This kind of recon helped ease my anxiety a little because I knew what I was getting into.

You can also do an online search for BNI, Chamber of Commerce, or {your town} Business Association.  Meetup.com has been recommended to me but I haven’t found groups that are close enough.

Once you visit a networking group, you’ll be invited to more.  I’ve now gone to nine meetings (5 different groups) and each time someone will inform me of another group I should visit.  Sometimes they want the bonus points of bring a guest to their next function but usually they genuinely want you to succeed and get to know more people.

Don’t visit every networking group (yet)

It might sound tempting to visit every networking group and get your business cards in as many hands as possible but take your time. If you’re introverted like me, you’ll be burnt out and overwhelmed very quickly.  Decide how much time you want to devote to networking per month.  Choose a handful and go regularly for about six months.  After building relationships and getting to know everyone, you’ll be able to scale back how often you go without people forgetting who you are.  If you decide one group isn’t for you, find another group but don’t go to so many that you can’t make time for one-on-ones. The coffee dates and mastermind sessions is where the real magic happens.

Be choosey about who you give your business card to

I used to joke that I wanted to turn my business cards into ninja stars so I could just throw them at people and they’d stick. Obviously, that’s a horrible idea but so is just handing out cards all will-nilly.  It’s a waste of paper since it goes into someone’s stack or trash if they don’t currently have a need for what you offer.  Make a connection and if they seem genuinely interested in your work, give them a card.

Make sure your card is unique! Cheap paper says “I’m not invested in my business.” My cards are thick, glossy, and the back is one of my favorite portraits. With all the options out there -spot gloss, foil, textured, metal- don’t get the most basic card with a basic design because once there’s a stack of twenty cards, yours will just blend right in.

Do you research and respect the rules

If the group is “non-exclusive”, that means there could be multiple people with the same profession.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing! We should be making connections, not competitions. You can find ways to partner with them. You can refer clients that may be a better fit for them. Don’t feel territorial if someone else joins the group after you do.

If a group is exclusive, don’t be tool and try to sneak in by visiting after you already know they have someone in your profession.

Listen and take notes!

You know that saying about how we have two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we speak? I find this especially true for networking groups. After giving a 60 second pitch, I was given the great feedback to bring a sample and the next week, my pitch went so much easier because I didn’t have to say “I’m photographer specializing in family portraits where kids have fun and moms look great.”  Instead I passed around my portfolio book and the portraits did the talking for me. I let myself be taken under the wing of people that are more connected than I am and people with more experience than I do so that I can learn what works for them and how to apply it to my work.  Now I won’t follow all the advice because they don’t know the brand I’m crafting or how my business finances work but I’ll still take everything under consideration with a smile and a thank you.

Share your knowledge

If you know a way you could help someone, share what you know.  Do you run a blog that can highlight other business owners? Do you have a favorite company for mailing lists, business cards, etc…  If you know two people that should meet, ask one of them if you can pass their information along!  (Don’t pass out someone else’s cell phone number without asking, that’s rude!) Always be on the lookout for how you can help someone else. And I’ll admit, the social anxiety makes it a struggle for me because I don’t want to tell someone how to run their business but if it helps someone, it always good to speak up.

RECAP

If you’re an introvert looking for a networking group, find one through Facebook so you can look through pictures and the guest list to see what it might be like.  Visit that one and you’ll be invited to many, many more you’ve never heard of.  Take your time with the network groups so you can build relationships.  You won’t leave your first networking group with a sale and that’s perfectly normal.  Networking is a slow burn.

Have an interesting business card but don’t put one in every hand.  Make connections, listen twice as much as you speak, and share your knowledge.

 

 

 



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