Mention networking to any of my students, and you’re likely to get rolled eyes and looks of sheer horror. Truth be told, networking gets a bad rap.
Yet, as entrepreneurs, we know that building relationships is an integral part of our business success.
If you’re like me, you build relationships in a variety of ways: creating content (take this blog post, for instance), holding events, and, yes, networking.
In fact, you could call my own events, like my CLICK Retreat this past February, as networking opportunities, not only between my business and my peeps, but among the attendees themselves.
Because anywhere people gather with a common goal, connections are forged.
It could be a dinner party, a charity event, or your local chamber mixer.
In other words: networking events.
Relationships form. We just can’t help ourselves!
It’s not that we attend every gathering with an eye to get something out of it. (Networking, in fact, is all about giving, NOT getting, but that’s another article entirely).
It’s taking what we naturally do as we interact with people – seek common ground, tell stories, share experiences – and allowing that to support our business.
So then, how do we eliminate the groan-eye-roll factor in networking?
Well, firstly, we have to change how we define networking. And that means really examining the beliefs about networking that trip you up.
Here are the three most common myths about networking that I see trip up my clients. Let these babies go, and you may just find that actually, you LOVE networking!
Myth #1: The measure of networking success is the number of contacts you collect.
This is kind of what we picture, right?
That networking is like speed dating, where the idea is to hustle from one conversation to the next, and perform that ubiquitous networking ritual with as many people as possible: the exchanging of the cards.
Here’s the deal… If the point of networking was to go home with as many business cards as possible, we’d just set up shop with a fishbowl, hold a drawing, give away a tablet or something, and move on with life. Hey, you’ve seen it done, or done it yourself, am I right?
The question you need to ask is: how well did that work? How many of those cards collected – with the emphasis on quantity – actually turned into leads?
Quality trumps quantity, every time.
When there’s a real resonance between you and the person to whom you’re speaking – or one of you lights up because a friend / colleague / family member could really benefit from an introduction – that’s a networking success.
By taking the numbers pressure off, we remove the frantic hustle, and make meaningful, not necessarily many, connections.
Action Step: Challenge yourself to look into the eyes of the person you’re talking with – and to actively listen. Not just distractedly hope they might be your ideal client. One of my dearest friends (and colleagues) tells me that the reason she wanted to be my friend was that I was the only person at the networking conference (where we met) that really listened to her without looking over her shoulder.
Myth 2: Networking events = Sales events
Ah, the instant sale.
That’s the fantasy… That we’ll walk in, give our 30-second elevator speech, and someone will jump up, exclaiming, I need you! and run to press a credit card into your hand.
Does it occasionally happen? That, on first contact, someone is ready to buy? Yes.
Is it the general rule? No.
In fact, if you go into a networking situation with the intention to sell, and are constantly pitching, it will have the opposite effect. You’ll alienate your audience.
When you first meet someone, hurdling from “hello” to the sales conversation is like going from casual flirtation to jumping in bed.
People build a relationship first, grow to like and trust each other, before taking things to “the next level.” (I think most of us have experienced what happens when we skip a step or two… Point made, right?!)
Networking is about nurturing the relationships that lead to a sale, or partnership, or referral. And relationships take time.
Action Step: Go to your next networking event without any expectations at all for sales or conversions or whatever. Go with the intention of connection. And choose one or two people to genuinely follow up with… a hello, a letter in the mail, a phone call. Not a pitch.
Myth 3: That you must be speaking to your ideal audience.
How many times have you told yourself, or heard someone say: Oh, no one in this room is even interested in what I have to offer… Why bother?
This is a huge misconception about networking: that it’s just about talking to your prospective clients.
I’m just going to lay this on the table. There will be many times when you’re NOT talking to a roomful of prospects, especially when you’re just getting started networking and are experimenting with different groups and events.
But networking is NOT just about connecting with your client. It’s also about connecting with potential referral partners, sharing information, and being of service to the people you meet…
Connecting with someone, who may know someone, who… You get the idea.
Every person you encounter IS–or KNOWS someone–who is your ideal client. You never know who you’re going to meet, or who THEY know…
So before you dismiss a group, or talk yourself out of attending a networking event, ask yourself this: Am I buying into one of these three myths? Is what I’m telling myself about networking really true? And get out there and do it anyway. Your business will be the better for it.