You Need to Go to Business Networking Meetings.
There. I said it. Now, I sound like your Dad, huh?
This reality has been gnawing at you in the back of your mind, my startup-ian, entrepreneurial friend. Yes, I mean you, the really small BizOwns out there, this is for you.**
You need to be going to more networking meetings. For some reason, clients are not just lining up to randomly meet you at your home office or discovering you as you sit in the coffee shop for the zillionth time.
Face it, you should be going to more networking meetings in your area. Oh, I get it, you’re an introvert. I’m as I in INFP as you can get. But, we all (that means you) need to connect with people both as business owners and possibly, down the line, as clients.
But you don’t go to these meetings. Because, well, “Reasons.” And “Excuses.” You think your reasons are reasons that only you could possibly have. No one else has Reasons and Excuses like you. Your business is so.very.unique and special, too, that no one there would understand your ethereal work.
I’ll try to be encouraging because I want you to network without fear. I’m sorry to say it, but you’re wrong. Your business is just a business, no matter how many times you chunk out Passion™ in your social media. Your Reasons are flimsy. Let’s shoot down the Excuses, that everyone has, for not going to networking meetings. I am saying this out of love, BizOwns.
“I’m too busy.”
Learn this reality about small business: relationships make businesses grow. That time at your laptop screen isn’t how you build your business. The hours upon hours of website fiddling is your working in, not on, your business. Get out of your caffeine-scented cave and go meet some people with whom you will first build an actual, real, “let’s have coffee” relationship. You’ll then find that some of these people know people that your business should know. Learn to work on the work of your business. Quit fiddling around so much in the solo BizOwn adventure.
“I am too nervous about meeting other people I don’t know.”
Yes, maybe you are. Maybe anxiety is a serious medical issue for you. I’d invite you to remember that most other people have felt this way about new groups, about being a stranger coming into an established group. May I suggest that you start with some of the more casual types of networking meetings? While they can be fantastic groups, perhaps some of the very formal national networking companies might have a structure that doesn’t work for you, yet. Find something easier. Call your local chamber of commerce and ask them what they know about local networking groups. Tell the person who answers the phone at the Chamber what your issues are and let them help you. You won’t make them mad because you called. Most of the local Chambers are filled with helpful people who want business owners to succeed. Be strong; you can do this.
“I don’t know what to say to other business owners.”
When you go to your meeting, you’ll most likely have a chance to stand in the group and give your 30 or 60-second commercial. I’ve written before about what to say here. Essentially, super-newbie, you are going to say, “Interesting fact about your business or typical clients. My name is Whatever McNewby, and my business is ‘Something Cool the World Needs.’ I am so glad to be here today. Let me know if I can help you with [previously mentioned interesting fact].”
If I was a total newbie to networking, my introduction might sound like, “In my line of work, I meet people every day who have had a secret dream they’ve kept deep inside of them. It comes out every now and then, but they don’t know how to make the dream a reality. I’m Sean Buvala and my company is ‘The Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing Group.’ I am so glad to be here today. I’ll bet some of you have the secret dream of being an author. I can help.”
You’ll no doubt have some one-to-one conversations after your meeting. I’ll write more about these later, but for now, I’d tell you to listen more than you talk. If someone gives you a business card, give one of yours to them. Then actually look at and read the business card they gave you. Ask simple questions like, “how long have you been in business?” or “what’s the most interesting thing your company has ever done?” Listen to the answers.
“All those other people at these meetings have perfect businesses and their personal act together. I would feel like a fraud.”
No, they don’t. There has been a lot written about how even successful people have big moments of self-doubt or the feeling of being an imposter. I’d invite you to be constantly looking for ways to be better at whatever it is that your company does. While you are doing that, know that it is okay to not have all the answers, to feel nervous or unsure. You are perfectly capable of being the authentic and genuine you, however. Do that. There are always people at networking meetings who feel to others as if they just popped out of their perfect can, much like a can of fresh tennis balls. Whoosh! And there they are, rolling out of the can with perfect clothes, amazing smiles and what is apparently a complete lack of nervousness. You need to remember that somewhere in their heart-of-hearts, they are now (or once were) as fuzzy and yellow about all this as you might feel.
“I don’t own a tie.”
I do own some ties, but I don’t wear them any longer. The world of business is changing. While you might check out social media for pictures of the networking groups you are thinking of joining, in most cases, you can dress in business-casual at first and you’ll fit in well enough with most groups. The days of judging people by the clothes they wear may be passing us by. Dress as if you are serious about your work. You’ll probably want to skip the shorts and t-shirt look, but the clothes you wear to these meetings should represent what you might wear to meet a client as in clean, comfortable, repaired, smooth. You should be deodoranted, too. In my work in publishing, I tend to stay with that business-casual look. I’ve moved beyond judging people by their clothes and so have most of my business friends. I am much more interested in the character they have. Good networking skills help me learn that quickly with new contacts. Save the flip-flops for the beach and show up dressed in a way that respects others and yourself.
It’s time to get rid of that gnawing feeling in your head. I hope you’ll be able to find your way into more networking meetings. It’s common to feel out of place at first but most established networking groups go out of their way to welcome newcomers. There is nothing wrong with saying to people you meet, “I’m new here.” I’d be surprised if someone doesn’t take you about and introduce you to new people. If not, don’t be hesitant to introduce yourself to others.
Those introductions are the beginning of networking, and it’s why you are at the meetings.
You can do this. Go meet some new people.
**I made up some words in this article.