A simple search for “networking” reveals that, by definition, it is the action or PROCESS for interacting with others to exchange information and DEVELOP contacts. Then, it goes on to explain networking is the linking of computers to allow them to operate interactively.
I’d like to expand on that but also combine them. While humans are not computers, this definition of linking computers is not that far off. To network, we must be linked. Connected. We work together. It is a process of connecting with others to develop mutual relationships for a greater cause to help one another grow your businesses.
Networking was my absolute top fear when we started our first business – an automotive repair shop – in 2002. I was terrified to “put myself out there”. The thought of introducing myself to a stranger for the purpose of a business relationship seemed so incredibly foreign to me. Today, I’m known most for my networking ability. My nickname:
“Queen of Connections”
Honestly, that’s even on my business cards. Someone introduced me one day to another person that way and I laughed. They laughed and we went on. But, that started happening more and more and more. The name grew and I tried to get rid of it. Like a nickname you get as a kid – it just won’t go away.
I finally decided to accept it and go with it.
So, how does one “network”? We’ve already defined it but now let’s talk about what it means to actually do it. To go forward, let’s go backward. Recall the purpose. Networking is when you (a human…a business owner) connect with other businesses owners, develop a relationship and help one another.
It’s really that simple. I want to encourage you to stop and consider the “process” part and the “develop” part. To truly become a great networker you must understand there is a process.
The biggest failure I see is people who give up too early. They are in a rush and think that networking happens by just walking into an event and passing business cards around. It’s disgusting. It’s disrespectful. It is rude.
That is *not* networking.
The word “develop” all on its own means to grow or cause to grow. That is not fast. It’s just like planting a flower, a plant or a tree. It requires preparing the soil, planting, and care.
So to become a master networker, you must care and take your time. Here are some of my most basic, but favorite tips for you:
- Check your local events calendars. Consider the Chamber of Commerce. These can be fantastic — if you use your membership correctly! It’s like a gym membership. If you don’t go it won’t work 🙂 Additionally, BNI is a great networking option as well as professional organizations, women’s or men’s groups, and service organizations such as Kiwanis or Rotary. That’s just to name a few! Find an event or two and put them on your calendar.
- Start slow. If you try to attend too many things you will get burnt out and give up. Try adding just one or two events per month. Go to different types of events to find your fit. Learn which organization you enjoy the most. If you don’t enjoy it you will give up on it and you’ll allow any simple excuse to not go.
- Prepare. If possible, (and it’s not always) try to learn more about the host before you arrive, and the attendees. Do your homework in other words. Go into the event with some knowledge of the venue, the purpose of the event, or background on folks who are attending so you’ve got some conversation starters. Small talk is the most awful. People hate it. Try to have some substance in what you say. Being prepared will help.
- Set a goal before the event. How many *NEW* people do you want to meet? Is there just one specific person you want to meet? Decide who it is. Literally, their name. Being aware of your networking goal will help you achieve it. And, don’t be creepy. Haha! Seriously, people are creepy when it comes to networking but don’t have to be. Just be polite, respectful and enjoyable. If you want to meet Tom Smith and you find yourself in a conversation with someone who mentions him or know him, a simple “Oh, I’ve heard a lot about Tom. I’d love to meet him sometime” may be all you need to do for that introduction to happen.
- Don’t pigeonhole yourself. In other words, don’t go into this thinking ONLY of meeting folks that complement your business. Some of my BEST connections were people that I would have never thought would be good connections for me. Be open to meeting anyone!
- Follow. Through. Ugh! It’s the worst and one of the biggest mistakes I see people make all the time. They meet someone but then never follow up after meeting them. That’s the DEVELOP part. The caring of the seeds you planted. It’s the watering. It’s the work and where the magic happens. Set Up a coffee meeting, a phone call or a dinner. Literally take the business relationship to the next level.
- Help someone. I really want to leave it there. Help someone. No elaboration, explanation or analysis. Do we really need to go any further? Sadly, yes. If the person you meet shares something that you know you can help with, then do it! Maybe it’s offering a simple piece of advice, or introducing them to someone else, or maybe it’s just being a sounding board and encouraging them. LISTEN to the person for what they’re saying not for what your response will be. You’ll become fine tuned to them and their needs.
Networking is not complicated. I know if you know me you’re thinking “that’s easy for you to say Kim Walker: AKA Queen of Connections”. Wait. Let me tell you that I have not always been the Queen of Connections. I was PAINFULLY MORBIDLY shy at one time. I swear. I have only gotten to the point where I am now (I’ll talk to anyone, anywhere about just about anything – just ask my husband) by practicing. I repeat: practicing. Doing it over and over and over. I put myself in uncomfortable situations. I work outside of my comfort zone.
You must do the same.
So, now, do it. Nike says it best… JUST DO IT. Quite whining, complaining, and making excuses. It’s going to be painful the first time. I know because mine was. My first networking experience started awful and ended awful. I was in tears if we’re being honest.
Wanna chat about my networking experience? Email or call me. I’m happy to share and talk to you about how you can use networking to grow your business.
About The Author
In addition to being co-owner of Shop Marketing Pros, Kim is a Master Certified Solution Provider with Constant Contact and a StoryBrand Certified Guide. Kim is a past shop owner and has served as President of ASA North Carolina.