"I’m terrible at networking.” I hear this at least once a week from a client or someone I meet at a networking event. Been there. But I don’t think it’s that you are bad at networking. I suspect it’s one of two things, either no one showed you how to network, or you are trying to do it in an extrovert’s world.
Your network is one of your most significant assets. You want to surround yourself with many people who can provide connections, resources, and inspiration when times are tough—as there will always be tough times in business.
Working with founders and CEOs for many years showed me the importance of a network. I watched these leaders call for help in a pinch, lean on peers during losses, and activate pathways that led to incredible press coverage, partnerships, and business opportunities.
I don’t come from a world of access or influence. Networking wasn’t a thing. But honestly, the world doesn’t care. If you want something, it's up to you to go do the thing. I knew if I was going to have a stronger business and be able to offer more value to my clients, I needed a robust network of people and information. For me, the biggest challenge was figuring out where to start.
Networking in an extrovert’s world.
The extrovert’s world of networking is the mixer or happy hour event. It makes sense. Throw a bunch of businesspeople in a room and let them talk. But my God, what fresh hell for an introvert or someone who is naturally quiet. When faced with that proposition, we often won’t even make it through the door.
If the mere thought of networking gives you sweaty palms, look for (or request!) structured events like speed networking or rotating speaker events. Networking is more manageable when you have a task. You can also find ways to pitch in before events by offering to help set up the tables or giveaways. I've done this in the past. It's a great way to help the organization and meet people in a structured way before the event starts (so you're not clutching your drink in the corner by yourself).
Make unstructured events work for you by showing up prepared for the task.
Since unstructured networking events are the norm, you will have to learn how to handle them. The best way to set up for success is by creating a list of questions in advance so that you are not fumbling for words. Make them fun. Make them personal! For example:
What are you building?
What events are you attending this year? What brought you to this one?
What do you do for fun in your downtime?
Be ready with your elevator pitch! The traditional approach to an elevator pitch is problem-solution-benefit. But go a step further and think about adding some intrigue to your opening line to stand out in their mind. Get to that emotional level—how do you help your clients sleep better at night?
Also, be generous with what you know and ask how to help the other person. I always remember the people that asked me how they could help. It’s a kind thing to offer and gives you a perfect reason to follow up!
Shared interests are also a great way to grow your network.
If you’re not into or don’t have access to in-person mixers and events, here are some additional actionable ways to grow your network:
Take a class or a workshop
Attend industry meetups, events, and conferences
Get involved with an organization you love
Sign up for Lunch Club!
Ask someone to lunch, coffee, or breakfast
Attend a virtual happy hour or a speed networking event
Expand your existing relationships by asking friends and colleagues for introductions
Join groups related to your hobbies
Record connections in your Captain’s Log.
Ok, great, you have made new connections. Now what? Grow, nurture, maintain! Don’t let those connections grow cold. My very unsexy secret to networking? Spreadsheets. It’s not a very glamorous system, but it is easy (which means I’ll use it). My spreadsheet system does two things, it holds me accountable and reduces the mental clutter of trying to remember to keep up with everybody.
Each week I like to follow up with a few people and learn about the fun things they are working on, share any resources I have, or make connections. I also employ a second method – if you pop up in my mind, I’ll reach out and say hello. These spontaneous moments are sometimes the best because they will spark a conversation over an article or book or lead to an invite to an event or something fun.
Some final thoughts on networking.
Every successful person is surrounded by people who believe in their mission and want to help them succeed. When you have a robust network of people who know and trust you, they will refer business, teach you new things, or provide support in tough times.
Networking has contributed so much to my success. It’s helped me with blind spots and skills. It’s also helped me be of more value to my clients by connecting them with resources and people.
If you find that your network isn’t what you would like, I encourage you to try some of the things I shared and start building those bridges today.
PS exciting announcement!
I couldn’t find a book club with the right mix of reading, learning, and doing—so I made one!
I’ll be kicking off my book club on Feb 3rd! We’ll focus on the three pillars that lead to a stronger business: mindset, market, and message. Expect to find some Adam Grant, Ann Handley, Clayton Christensen, Simon Sinek, and other recommendations from the group. Maybe some guest speakers too??
Message me if you want in. No cost other than the books!