Networking is possibly the most dreaded word in my business lexicon. It has been included in every marketing book Ive read, the marketing experts Ive heard and every marketing plan.
Virtually every marketing book I’ve read, every marketing expert I’ve heard and every marketing plan I’ve seen includes what is quite possibly the single-most dreaded word in my business lexicon:
I can almost hear all you uber-extraverts out there saying, “Well, of course!”
Hold your horses, there, Bucko. Not so “of course!” for we minding-my-own-business, just-fine-by-myself-over-here-in-the-corner folks. The idea of walking into a roomful of veritable strangers in order to strike up multiple conversations is second only to eating broccoli on my list of un-fun things to do that are “good for me.”
Even when I waited tables, the regulars knew they didn’t sit in my station for the latest gossip. They came to me for gracious, efficient service but not for my chattiness. One manager went so far as to tell me I’d never earn good tips because I didn’t know how to schmooze properly. (Proved him wrong.)
I’ve built most of my marketing methods around a framework that doesn’t require networking. Because, frankly, it’s not currently one of my greatest strengths so why would I rely on it as a way to grow my business simply because someone else tells me I should? No, I’m far too contrarian for that, my friends.
However, I will acknowledge that there are situations when putting in a little Face Time makes good business sense. So, for those of you in the non-schmoozer’s boat with me, here are 3 Life Preservers I’ll toss your way. (You Party Animal-types, watch and learn.)
1. Make your own kind of music. What I mean by that is to throw out how it’s “supposed to be done” and reinvent your own version of networking. In fact, come up with your own word for the activity, as well. I now prefer to say I’m hopping. I get this great mental picture of me hopping around from person to person like this adorable little bunny. Very carefree and relaxed. (Not at all like the picture I get from networking: Me, thrusting my hand in someone’s face, saying through gritted teeth, “Helen Graves- darn glad to meet you!”)
2. Get them to come to you. The chit-chat is much easier when you don’t have to make the first move. If you’ve got a cheerful-looking Labrador Guide Dog handy, that’s obviously the best crowd-puller around. But short of that, give a little thought to how you might turn yourself into a people magnet. Carry around a box of chocolates and hand them out liberally. Wear a big “Kiss Me, I’m Not Contagious” sign. Offer to staff the Welcome table (or better yet, the bar!).
3. Take the pressure off. At the last big event I attended, I set myself the assignment of talking with three new people each day. No business required, just a brief chat. And once I’d met my goal, I didn’t expect any more of myself. Sometimes that took me all day, other days I accomplished it before the first break. But I discovered that having a close-ended goal gave me focus, in addition to relieving my anxiety as soon as I’d achieved it. (Which, paradoxically, allowed me to chat with more people.) It even turned out to be a nice little ice breaker. People were happy to help me accomplish my goal by being one of the three I talked to.
Like Frank Sinatra, I’m a firm believer in doing things my way (or in your case, your way). So if networking will likely never be your first love, stop doing it. Try hopping, or being a magnet, or taking it easy instead.