Entrepreneurial Networking can be fun. No really.
You love what you do. You’re good at it. But that doesn’t mean you love talking to people about it. I know artists, writers, even public speakers who can’t stand entrepreneurial networking. They find it unnecessary, forced, and frankly, they know they kinda crappy at it.
Okay, wait…back up.
Earlier in that sentence was the word “forced.” Why does it have to be forced?
After all, entrepreneurial networking, at its heart, is just having a conversation with people who are interested in the same thing as you, and then finding a way to help each other.
When you look at it that, way…that you don’t have to prove anything, sell your widgets, or self promote, things get a little easier.
Here are three quick tips to grease the wheels and make the process more fun, so you actually go do it…and like it.
Networking Tip #1: We’re All in This Together
Entrepreneurial networking is a big scary term until you break it down and say, “This isn’t about me finding people to do business with — this is about me finding friends who do the same thing.” Find people who are in at least a similar or complementary industry to you.
When I go to a networking group or conference with small business owners, I often have a nagging fear camped out on my shoulder that’s jabbing me, saying stuff like:
“I’m not on the same level as these people.”
“I won’t know what to talk about.”
“I bet my teeth won’t be as white as theirs…”
…blah de blah blah.
Those are all ill-placed self-defense mechanisms that are kicking in. But they aren’t really going to protect you. They are based on fears…usually unrealistic fears, that come from some part of your history or some other area of your life.
If you’re interested in what you’re doing, neither your experience nor the whiteness of your teeth should matter. Why? Because these people you’re talking to are interested in the same thing.
When you approach a conversation with those people, realize that they’re probably in the same boat as you; they have some of the same fears, challenges, interests, and even passions as you. That means you have plenty to talk about, and frankly, they’re probably just as worried about how they’re coming off as you are.
Networking Tip #2: Never Lead With “What Do You Do”
I picked a great tip from my friend Patty Farmer, the Networking CEO about this particular phrase.
When you ask somebody what they do, a particular sequence gets triggered in their brains. They are no longer in “I’m talking to a person” networking mode; they switch over to “I’m talking to a potential customer” selling mode.
Instead, ask somebody about them. Find out about their kids, their hobbies, what inspires them, how they got involved in this particular group/function/etc.
Obviously, you’ll eventually want to lead into the “what do you do” piece, but starting out, get to know the person and NOT the business person.
Networking Tip #3: Be An Active Listener
Business networking is a funny animal. Especially entrepreneurial networking. Most business owners are pretty alpha and like to talk about themselves. Not all of us, and certainly not all the time. But 9 out of 10* of us admit that we are often waiting for the break in conversation so we can talk about how flippin’ cool it is to be us.
But if you take a real, active interest in your conversation partners, the better the conversation and relationships are going to be. Be anactive listener — one who listens and asks good follow-up questions that are open-ended (meaning those questions don’t just get a one-word answer).
And one key piece to the whole puzzle is having empathy for other independent professionals and small business owners — trying to truly understand who the other person is and what they’re going through…good or bad.
Building your entrepreneurial network isn’t the unslayable dragon that we make it up to be in our minds. It’s a great way to not only grow your business, but make friends who are often on the same path as you.
So, try hitting up a entrepreneurial networking group or Meetup.com event, and, y’know…try to have some fun while you’re at it.
*A completely unfounded, made-up, and can’t-back-that-upable statistic.