Whether you’re a part-time creative, freelancer, self-employed, or an entrepreneur, I believe networking is vital to your success.
But when I talk about networking, a lot of people balk and even try to weasel their way out of having to connect with anyone.
If we get honest with ourselves, it’s clear that many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of networking. And, if we were to take that a level deeper, we would see that practically everyone around us is just as awkward and scared as we are! So, in essence, there’s no reason to be afraid.
But I’m not even going to pretend to remove your fears here and now. That’s too daunting a task for the best of life coaches, mentors or psychologists. What I hope to accomplish here is to get you thinking a little differently about networking. That alone can be a step in the right direction.
It’s Not “Networking”
A lot of people are turned off by the term, “networking”.
Calling it “meeting people” or “making friends” can soften the blow a little. You may have sensed an internal shift when I used those terms instead of “networking”.
Truly, that’s all networking is. It’s meeting people and making friends. And, there isn’t anyone on this planet that doesn’t know how to make a friend.
You may be shy, self-conscious, anti-social… it doesn’t matter. You can still smile, introduce yourself, and shake a hand.
Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess. Maybe nowhere. But at least you tried, right?
Just Start Talking
I’m not the best conversationalist in the world. But when I’m out and about, I’m always talking to servers, clerks, drivers, salespeople and so on. And, usually I end up making their day, because virtually no one talks to them like they’re human beings all day long. That’s sad.
Rarely if ever have I made meaningful connections this way. But it feels good to make someone else’s day, and at times to be entertained by them (some people will engage in the conversation in a fun way).
So, what’s the point in talking to anyone if they don’t turn into friends?
Well, first off, they might. And, you just don’t know when you’ll be meeting your future spouse, investor, business partner and so on.
Second, to me, networking is about adding value to others. I don’t care if it’s returned. It makes me feel like I’ve made a difference when I’ve made someone else’s day.
Third, you need to work on your communication skills. Get your head out of your smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop and/or TV screen. Look up and engage with the world. Say “hello” and introduce yourself to those around you. Listen with genuine interest and ask questions that pertain to something the other person said.
Fourth, never judge a book by its cover. You don’t know who you’re talking to or what sort of influence they might wield. You could be walking by a titan in your industry and not even know. You could be passing up an opportunity to meet an influencer who could introduce you to your hero. So, stay open minded.
Finally, you never know how meeting someone today might impact your future. Talking to them today may yield nothing. But months or years down the line, the timing could be ripe for a purposeful collaboration.
You Don’t Need to go to Networking Events
“Okay, so where do I meet people?”
I think one of the reasons people are turned off by networking is because of networking events, and I can see why.
There’s almost always a group of people who know each other, and instead of conquering and dividing, they mingle among themselves, hoping that someone might approach them and give them the time of day. They’re not even aware how intimidating it can be to approach an entire group (let me give you a hint — how polite would you feel breaking up a conversation among friends?).
Then, there’s always the people who immediately finds one person they can talk to and corners them until the event is over.
Then we have the sweaty palms, the awkward handshakes, the crooked smiles… you know what I’m talking about.
You need to meet people where you’re comfortable meeting people. And, I can tell you right now that I haven’t met anyone of any consequence at networking events. That may not be the case for you, and if you love networking events, more power to you.
But I’ve met some of my most significant contacts:
- At home (roommate).
- At church.
- At business seminars.
- At industry workshops.
- At concerts.
- At BBQs.
- Through classified ads (non-dating related).
- Through email and social media.
- And so on.
Think of the Possibilities
I feel grateful to have so many amazing people in my life.
And, I can’t say it’s all been thanks to my efforts. I admit that I’m not the best at staying in touch with people, and if it weren’t for the efforts others have put into connecting with me, I would be in a much different position.
Thanks to those people:
- I rarely if ever book my own gigs as a musician. Others book gigs for me.
- I’m able to engage in numerous passion projects, including recording projects, writing books, building communities and more.
- I can make my own schedule and work entirely from home.
- I don’t have to work a standard 9–5 job.
- I get to collaborate on projects with massive upside potential.
- I get to live a happy, purposeful, fulfilling life.
- And more.
Connecting with people in uncomfortable environments while wearing uncomfortable clothing is entirely unnecessary.
As I mentioned earlier, some of my best contacts came through email and social media. I connected with them because I wanted to feature them on my blog or podcast. I wanted to ask a few questions and learn about their approach, their thought process, their mindset. Or, I just wanted to comment on something they said.
Networking doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.
So, consider the possibilities. Where are you comfortable connecting with people? What could you be doing to expand your network? Most of all, how can you add value to others? If you are authentic and genuine in your communication, it’s only a matter of time before you make more friends. They may not all add value to your life in the immediate. But you never know where things might lead down the line.