Being connected and connecting with people is great for business, but they are two entirely different things. Being connected means you know and associate with a specific and oftentimes large group of people. To be well-connected is a networker’s dream. Someone can be well-connected, but not necessarily always able to form a bond with their tribe. That could be problematic down the road. So while going to networking meetings is important, taking an interest in your connections, engaging them in conversation and truly caring about them will allow you to grow as a person, as well as, grow your business. Personally, networking (in the traditional sense), makes me super nervous. I don’t always ‘shine’ in group settings. I get quiet, nervous and sometimes simply act like an introverted fool. I know I am not alone. If this sounds like you – I have some tips for you! These are things I've learned over time.
Think small – If large networking functions scare the heck out of you, start small. Locate small networking groups or functions in your area. Or form a small group of your own. In fact, as the group organizer, you immediately remove the ‘walking into a room full of strangers’ scenario. You’ll be there first and as the organizer, people will know of you before even stepping in the door. Stand at the door to greet them. Being the organizer will give you an extra confidence boost too!
It’s not about you – This is the most important tip I can provide. Focus on the person you are talking to – ask them questions about their business, get to know them. This removes the self-conscious factor. If you are focusing on them, there is less time to focus on your appearance, your nerves or anything else that you may find distracting. Once you learn this trick, the nerves will start to subside.
Engage, build and care – Once you’ve made a few connections with people, don’t ignore them. Build and foster those relationships. That’s the determining factor between being connected and connecting with your audience. If you truly understand and care about your connections, they’ll take notice. In fact, most will return the sentiment.
Here is one example of how and why forming connections with people is important. I stopped working on my business for four years. I recently re-launched it part-time, in February. Truth be told, I felt like I was starting my business from scratch. Worried that I would have to struggle to find clients was nothing less than nerve-wracking. However, a funny thing happened. Because I believe it is so important to foster relationships and connect with your professional friends (to me all of my associates and clients are like professional friends), it wasn’t too hard at all. I am still flabbergasted at this fact: my business is growing and right now, 100% of my business has come from referrals from past clients and friends. All of my connections are important to me on a personal level, so I’ve always remained in touch. It’s good practice, for life, in general.
If the idea of networking still makes you shake in your boots, you can start slowly and online. Visit industry forums and join the conversation. Create a podcast (wink, wink)! Seriously, podcasting and interviewing people in your industry or an industry that interests you is a GREAT way for you to hone your conversational skills.
Bottom line: when it comes right down to it, networking for business is a lot like forming a friendship. You go through the awkward, “we’ve just met” stage at the beginning, followed by learning more about each other and then eventually forming a bond. If you are struggling to find that in your networking events or not interested in forming a professional friendship with the people you meet, then it sounds like you may be meeting the wrong people. Take a step back and define your ideal client and associates, first.