Since going out on my own with Spin Event Management, I have spent an incredible amount of time networking. Not that I didn’t do this before working in corporations but when you’re hanging out your own shingle it takes on an entirely new level. Nothing is scarier to walk into a room all by myself where I don’t know a single person and try to strike up a conversation. I put on events that bring people together so why should this be so scary to me???? It’s scary because I feel vulnerable and it’s awkward. It’s junior high all over again, right? So how do I get past that to take advantage of every opportunity I can to connect and build relationships? This got me thinking about how getting past this fear is beneficial to being successful at networking.
Here’s how to think about networking events. These people are at these events for the same reason as you – to grow or start a professional relationship. “The great news is that they are in the same position as everyone else. They are there to meet strangers,” according to Darrah Brustein of Startup Collective. Sometimes it’s easier to think, “I’ll never see these people again. I don’t care.” That’s an okay mentality for when you’re on vacation on a beach somewhere far away, but that’s not the goal of networking and in today’s world of social media, it’s not the right attitude. My advice, keep Brustein’s comment in mind, take a deep breath and it will help calm the nerves and allow you to be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if you’re just out of college, been working in your company for ten years or out on your own, if someone will listen, tell them your story and ask questions. This doesn’t mean a story about how you grew up or the latest on your family drama but more about what you are working on, what you would like to be working on, etc. Ask them questions about their experience, how did they get involved in what they are currently doing, what do they see in the market or industry, etc.? You never know where the connection may be, what you have in common, and you may find that they know someone that they need to introduce you to. It’s a small world after all!
There are so many opportunities to network. Meetups, tradeshows, associations, etc. The good thing is you have so many to choose from, but too much of something isn’t always a good thing. To start, get yourself out there. Then begin to think about where you can get involved and build your brand to the next level. This will help you determine the best way to spend your time. If you’re constantly hopping around, you’re spending a lot of time re-introducing yourself and your brand. Believe me, once you begin to know people and become a regular, these events become a lot more fun and keep you top of mind.
After the event, follow up with the people that you met. Send a text or email to let them know how great it was to meet them and try to set up a coffee, lunch or cocktails to see how you can help each other. The goal is to build relationships and grow your contacts. I’ve learned that the person I’m talking to may not have something for me right now, but they may know someone who does or down the road the relationship will come back to help me. This goes both ways. The other thing I’ve learned is that people I meet also have something to share with me. Whether it’s advice on something business related or growing my personal brand, it’s worth the time spent. In my opinion, networking isn’t about what can this person do for me right now. For me, it’s about expanding my network for the long run.
Simple Ways to Master the Art of Networking, Darrah Burstein, Money Magazine, March 2, 2015.