When I worked as a company employee for lo those many years, my view of the professional world was restricted to colleagues, customers, a select group of vendors, and job candidates. I did no networking, and in fact, I usually had to be dragged kicking and screaming to vendor-sponsored lunches, drinks, etc. (I love to work, but when work intersects with social, well, let’s just say something in my DNA renders those situations challenging.)
Now, working independently, I am routinely meeting folks for breakfast, coffee, lunch, in-office introductions, and at various group events. I’m somewhat happier going to a party where it is perfectly acceptable for the first question out of my mouth to be, “What do you do for work?” These meetings, while still not natural to me, are central to my sales process.
Business owners buried under a mountain of work and worrying about the next sale and company financials will ask, where am I going to get the time to experience this wondrous professional world happening steps away from my office? Who else should I be talking to? How do I know where to go to advance my thinking and everyone else’s awareness of my company and me?
Let’s take ‘em one at a time.
How to clear time? Book networking activities in advance, and once booked, commit to it. Each week, at a minimum do two networking-related activities: attend a group or one-on-one meeting, and book another one (different person/group) for four weeks out. To make time for this, delegate one of the things you’ve been doing to someone else.
Who should you be talking to? Anyone who shares your interests as it relates to the work you do. Inspiration, ideas, and customers come from everywhere. I’ve learned my potential clients are the folks presently holed up in their offices. To get to those individuals, I’ve had to think about who does talk with the out-of-sight owners, and then look to build relationships with those first-level advisors.
Where do you go? For those of us in/around Boston, there are, um, abundant choices. Step one: think about whom (by profession) you’d like to talk to – for any reason. Don’t overthink this. Your objectives in attending are to enjoy the conversation, learn stuff, and get to know people whom you can help and who can help you. Step two: ask where those folks go to learn or mingle.
Networking can be an eye-roller, but it’s also a great way to build and maintain more connections out into the world, to open ourselves up to new ideas and opportunities, and to have more human interaction in an increasingly computer-based world. It will be time and money well spent.
So now, when you ultimately find yourself actually standing at an event, uncomfortable, feeling like you have a huge pimple on the end of your nose, just go ask someone, “What do you do for work?”