I’ve talked to over 20 small business owners (so far) about how they build their networks, and I’ve noticed 2 startling things:
- Most people say they hate networking – if not the activity, at least the word.
- People who thrive at networking are good at it, not because they do the right things, but because they have a successful mindset about networking.
Talking to these successful business owners has totally shifted the way I think about networking. Be prepared to be surprised.
Mindset shift #1:
BEFORE: I need to know a lot of people
NOW: I need to be strategic about whom to meet and with whom to build relationships.
When I first started networking, I thought that I should just meet as many people as possible, and then I would have a great network. But then I started going to networking events. I met a lot of people who wanted to meet up for coffee afterward. Most of these people were just as clueless as I was about how to build a network. We would meet up, have a nice chat, and then nothing would come of it.
Why? Because I wasn’t being strategic. I didn’t know whom I was trying to meet, so networking was like throwing darts at a wall without a target on it.
Knowing a lot of people is not the same as having a network.
Instead, it’s important to think about whom you want to meet – and that goes for clients, power partners, potential collaborators, and mentors. Now I use a spreadsheet to create an avatar for each type of person I want to meet. Then when I think about which networking events to attend, I can decide whether or not to go based on who else is going to be there. And I have a good jumping off point for who to contact on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
Do you want to know more about my spreadsheet? Email me and I’ll send you a copy.
Mindset shift #2:
BEFORE: Networking is about going out and meeting people who will become my clients.
NOW: Networking is about helping other people and developing all sorts of different relationships.
Networking seems really scary when you think that you have to go out and constantly promote yourself, hoping that other people will become your clients. But when you think of networking as a way to help others, it actually feels exciting to go out and meet people.
When I used to go to networking events with the mindset that I was there to meet a future client, I was wracked with nerves. What if someone else was there that also built websites? How could I impress people more than that other person? And if I didn’t meet someone who wanted a website, I would see the event as a waste of my time.
Now I see Meetups and networking events as opportunities to listen to other people’s stories, and to provide help in some way. I really love getting to know other people, and helping other business owners gives me genuine satisfaction.
If I don’t meet a paying client, I don’t worry, because I know that building a network takes time. As long as the people I meet seem like authentic connections, I don’t feel that I’ve wasted my time.
But wait, you might say, Didn’t you just say that I need to be strategic about whom I meet? Doesn’t this contradict that?
No, because I chose the event beforehand based on the fact that the people who would be there fit one of my avatars, whether as power partners, or future clients or collaborators. And if I was wrong when choosing the event, at least I got out there and practiced my networking skills. (Hey, it’s an art, not a science.)
This also applies to other types of networking – it’s important to reach out to people, whether on LinkedIn, via email, or via a shared connection, with the intention to help them, and not with the intention to sell. Helping other people builds trust, and that can lead to collaboration, referrals, or some other benefit you may not even be aware of yet.
Mindset shift #3:
BEFORE: I have to really impress people whenever I network
NOW: Being vulnerable, listening, and/or asking for help actually creates an opening for authentic connection.
I was recently at a Meetup group in which 2 guys came in, sat down, and immediately launched into a pitch for their MLM company. They didn’t try to find out about me or the other woman there, and they didn’t seem to be open to feedback when I tried to offer it. Instead, they sat down and cued up a 20 minute video without even asking us if we were up for it. We watched with growing discomfort. No matter how slick the presentation was, there was no way we would sign up for it.
This is an extreme example, but it makes a point. So many people think that they need to nail their elevator pitch, look perfect, and really drive home the benefits of their business in order to successfully network. Not the case.In order for a true connection to be forged, there has to be a point of connection – an invitation of some kind. And I’m not talking about an invitation to buy.
Invitations to connect can come in many forms, including:
- Asking someone else for their input on something. People love to help. It makes them feel valuable – which they are.
- Listening to someone else’s story. When you discover why someone is truly awesome, you will find ways to connect with them.
- Asking thoughtful questions. Don’t just ask “What do you do?” Go deeper. Find out why they went into business. What are they struggling with? What are they celebrating?
- You can even directly ask someone how you can help them.
Creating a real connection is way more important – and memorable – than nailing that elevator pitch that will be forgotten by the time the networking event is over.
Mindset shift #4:
BEFORE: Good networkers are people who are comfortable talking to others.
NOW: Good networkers know how to show other people they care by having meaty conversations and following up in a timely and personalized manner.
Let me start by saying that while it is important to be comfortable talking to others, it’s equally important to have real conversations and then follow up.
My conversations so far have been with introverts, ambiverts, and extroverts. You might think that the extroverts are the best networkers. Not necessarily. They can struggle with follow-up, with asking others for help, and with keeping track of all of the many people they meet.
Networking isn’t just about meeting people. It’s about creating a community of people with whom you have mutual trust and respect. And that means being really good at following up.
I read a comment from someone on Quora that suggested not talking to anyone at a networking event for more than 5 minutes. I actually cringed when I read that. Sure you’ll meet lots of people that way, but unless you can show them that you actually care about what they have to say in such a short period of time, and then follow up with a personalized email that indicates that you remember them and genuinely want to learn more, what’s the point of meeting so many people?
I’d rather meet less people, but meet people that I genuinely like and want to know better. Focusing on depth instead of quantity gives me the opportunity to a: Get to know if I want to continue the relationship and b: Create a highly personalized follow up email or call later on.
I’m not saying you should continue a conversation if it’s not going anywhere, but don’t feel pressured to have conversations with everyone in the room. And follow up within 24 hours.
Mindset shift #5:
BEFORE: Networking means going to networking events.
NOW: Networking means meeting people in all different ways.
I originally started this project because I wanted to learn how to run the best networking events in Denver. So I set out to talk to as many people as I could about what they thought of as a “successful” networking event. But what I found was that most people said they hated networking events, but they still had thriving businesses and strong networks.
- Brenda started out by helping friends for free. Now she has over 80 hours of work a week.
- James has changed his business through the connections he’s made on LinkedIn.
- Josh landed his first client by providing a ton of value to his coworkers.
- Grace focuses on connecting with influencers in order to move her business forward.
To sum up:
Meeting more of the right people and moving your business to the next level doesn’t start with finding another Meetup to attend. It starts with shifting your thought process and approaching networking in a new way.
To become a better networker today:
- Be strategic about whom you meet.
- Don’t just focus on selling – focus on building relationships. These can be with potential clients, power partners, collaborators, or mentors.
- Invite connections by asking thoughtful questions, being vulnerable, listening to someone’s story, or asking how you can help.
- Follow up. But don’t just follow up. Make it meaningful and personal.
- Build your network in many ways – via LinkedIn, Facebook, by helping your friends, or reaching out to potential mentors.