Small talk? Shallow chat? Idle questions? The joys of ... NETWORKING.
As a ‘classic introvert’ and reasonably quiet individual I was - in the past - never good at making small talk with people, especially with people I didn't know. It took time, introspection, and practice to reach a place where ‘getting in the room’ was comfortable.
Now? I network actively.
It’s taking the time out to engage with others in conversation and to find connection with other individuals. Taking the lead in your own rebellious little business can be a lonely old thing, so why not make 'networking' an active part of what you do week-to-week?
What’s up with Networking?
I recently asked a question to one of my creative groups: how was networking going for them?
The reaction was polarising. There was a mostly negative perception of networking and (what I’ll call) active conversation, even in 2022 which you could say is the beginning of our post-pandemic era. An era where we are 'on the other side' of being thrust into the virtual world whether we liked it or not.
In many of the conversations I had about the subject it was as if folks were actively trying to live the stereotype of the grumpy, antisocial, people-averse creative living and working alone in their dark cave of mystery and wonder.
This makes me pretty sad and, to those people I say “No thank you very much."
I’ve tried every kind of networking event out there. From local Chamber of Commerce events to Speed Networking(!). Each seemed so pointless and more awful than the last.
I believe we are beyond networking as the awkward, name-badged, burned coffee-drinking gatherings in rooms. That time when - as much as we want to 'be in it' - there's little to no purpose other than gathering up some free croissants before you head into the office for longer than you'd ever want to be there.
There has to be a way to make our events feel less ‘pointless’ and more purposeful…
Anyone and everyone I talked to, I don't remember them and I'm sure they don't remember me.
Holding the perception (or intention?) that you'd not remember someone after leaving an event feels like a pretty big disservice to both the individuals you've met and to yourself as a professional. Would you say as much to someone or would you remain disingenuous? Playing along and giving lip-service to meeting new people and learning about them.
If you're going in with zero intention of making a connection, you're going to come away with zero possibility of your next great client.
So what of it? Why bother talking about this, Tom? After all; you're the 'creative rebel' freelance guy.
This is why. Because success - however you view it - won't just come from you.
When you're running a business (and yes, your magnificent rebellion is a business!) you are not successful on your own. You need clients, peers, and partners to drive it forward and bring money in.
Let's Get To The Good Stuff
Here are some thoughts on making the most of your next networking experience.
"If you're extrovert and like to show off, networking at an event is right for you."
Your conversational style needn't hold you back. If you're a watcher, waiter, or - gasp - an introvert (!) you might not feel like you can network effectively. This just isn't true. It doesn't take much to get a conversation going; even asking one question and staying present with intention to learn is often enough.
Just be 'in it' for a while. Enjoy being in someone else's presence and get to know them. If you're a talker, your time will come! It might flow easily. Or you might find the dynamic of turn-taking and focussing down a single track hard.
Either way, you can find a way to network effectively.
"If people go to a networking event to find answers to their problems, that to me is a sign of “WTF are you doing?” and maybe I won't be able to help anyway."
Networking is not for selling and isn't about the competition.
It isn't! If you go into a conversation and actively push your services into someone's face they're gonna run away. However, bring them on side and give space... you will be remembered.
And so what if you're in a room with your competitors? You're in a prime position to just be yourself and meet people whose frequency resonates with yours. You are not your competitors nor will you ever be. Get in there as yourself and go, go, go!
"No business cards. No salesmanship. No expectations. It was a breath of fresh air. Initial concerns of ‘dealing with the competition’ were soon put to rest as I started to see new and meaningful business come my way. I found new office space, new people to support my work and, most importantly, a community of people I enjoyed spending my free time with."
Conversation is the key to your next great relationship.
Set aside all preconceived notions of capital-N Networking. Tell yourself you're going for the conversation; to meet people. You're not looking to score a client; that kind of thinking will change your approach.
Put the conversation, curiosity, and interest first in line and success will follow.