I Was a Crummy Networker…But It Worked For Me
Gerald G. Smith, BS, MBA - SCORE Central Oregon
Another top problem my clients mention time and time again is networking. They need to do it, but just cannot get up the nerve or are not able to accomplish anything when they do. Here is the story and advice I give them.
For years, I was a crummy networker. The whole thing made me very nervous. I tried to find groups of people that I could join and introduce myself. I found that I mostly would just walk up and stand there saying nothing, pretending I was participating. Nine times out of ten, I had nothing to say on the subject being discussed. This was especially true when I knew nobody in the group, as was often the case.
I did not give up. Eventually, I started to see how I could not only survive the angst of attending cocktail receptions, but could actually profit from them and make useful acquaintances. Networking actually became fun. I developed a few rules for myself through hook and crook, making mistakes and correcting myself. Here are my rules. Hopefully, they will help you too.
1. Be a Wallflower First
One of my main mistakes was trying to circulate in a room full of strangers. It did not work out. Nobody was interested enough in me to bring me in to the conversation. If I just found a spot to stand and be alone, some other poor guy would stop by to say hello, because they were having the same problem I had. Now I had a friend. If the new friend moved on, I would just hang in there alone until somebody felt sorry for me and said , “Hi!”. By the end of the party, I met three or four new people. The next time this group met I knew somebody. I would still avoid circulating until I had met enough people as a wallflower to feel comfortable walking up and joining friends who were talking to someone else. The whole idea is to meet people, right?
2. Emphasize Small Talk
Amateur networkers try too hard to talk about their business. Sure, you want those you meet to know what you do, but you are not going to sell them and get an order at a cocktail party. Make small talk. Mention the nice jacket the new acquaintance is wearing. Talk about the weather. Both are good subjects that become good conversations. Of course, avoid politics and religion, but everything else is open. You may discover that you share the same hobby or interests worth getting together again.
3. A Little Business
Eventually, you might ask, “What do you do for a living?” Listen intently and see if you can work in number 4 below. If you can, the business talk could get to be pretty long. Later, you have a right to say, “Well, I pay the rent by…” and give an abbreviated elevator speech. You can chime in with that even if the other person does not ask.(They usually will) You have earned the right. At any rate, it is small talk 75%, business 25% or less. Be sure to get and give business cards.
4. Find a Way You Can Help
This may be the most important tip of all. Go to any networking event with a mindset that you are going to help somebody you meet. As you listen to someone tell you about their business, try to think of how you might help them. Do you know somebody who might need their product or service? …could give them advice? Ask what problems they are having. See if you might be able to help. In each case, do not try to solve their problems or offer advise over the beers you both are holding. Ask for their card and indicate that you might be able to help and will get back to them or you can meet after the event.
After it is over, pull out the business cards you collected and do what you wrote on their backs. You did write that down did you not? Oh, if you did not, you messed up a little. How are you going to remember what you promised or had in mind to cement your friendship? For those where you forgot or just had nothing to write, send them a nice note anyway (I enjoyed meeting you; if I can help you in any way…). A hand written snail mail note is most impressive. Suggest you get together for coffee or a beer.
6. It’s Quantity Not Quality, At Least Early On
Forget about how important each person that you meet is. You just need to meet people. The “Six Degrees of Separation” will take care of the rest. Making friends helps you make more friends and, importantly, makes you more comfortable at events. Soon, instead of dreading networking events, you will look forward being able to…
7. Have Fun
Assuming you are not visiting the bar too often, when you start having fun at events, you are helping your business. It becomes an opportunity to spend time with friends and find ways to help each other while enjoying some food and drink. Relax. Enjoy yourself and network.
To learn more about networking and other matters for your small business, contact SCORE, America’s FREE and confidential source of small business mentoring and coaching. SCORE is a nonprofit association of more than 13,000 successful business experts who volunteer as mentors. SCORE offers free mentoring and low-cost workshops nationwide. Call Gerry Smith at 541-508-1648 or sign up for a free consultation at www.SCORECentralOregon.org SCORE also offers short individual walk-in chats at the Bend Library every Tuesday 5 – 7 pm.