Networking Doesn’t have to be a Bad Word

As small business owners, entrepreneurs, consultants and freelancers, we should be doing some face-to-face networking, but for many, it’s a nasty word.

The definition of networking, according to Merriam-Webster online is, “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”

Notice it doesn’t say, “business to business sales.”

A lot of people confuse sales with networking. Networking may generate sales, but it’s not an opportunity to make a sale. Networking should be about connecting with people and “the cultivation of productive relationships.” It’s not just about finding people who can write you a check in return for your services, but rather, it’s about making true connections, and eventually those relationships will be worth way more than a one-time check.

It’s not about you

In mid-recession, Ryan and I decided to hire a business coach. We had to start thinking outside of the box and figuring out new ways to sell our furniture in the so-called “new economy.”

We learned lots of good stuff from our coach, but the one thing that stuck with me was his tips on being a good networker.

The topic we all loved best is the subject of ourselves, he told us. If you can get someone talking about him or herself – and believe me, this is easy – then you’ve likely made a very good first impression.

So his advice was, when meeting a new person at a networking event, instead of rushing to tell them all about you and your business, you should ask about them. Don’t be the person just waiting until it’s your turn to talk - listen closely and ask questions. End the conversation by asking what you can do for them, and how you can help advance their professional goals.

Switch it up

Do you get tired of seeing the same faces at every networking event? This is a problem in cities big and small. However, with Meetup.com, the number of networking style groups has exploded. If your group is stale, attend another group for a while. Don’t be afraid to visit a networking group in a big city like Denver, once a month.

For 99 percent of us, networking doesn’t come easy, but if you practice, it does get easier.

Just remember, let other people talk about themselves, and don’t forget to switch it up from time to time. Attend a group in Boulder or Denver every month or so. And above all, don’t look at networking a chore, but as an opportunity for growth and even a chance to make new friends.

Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer is a freelance writer, small business owner and found of HeidiTown.com. She has been coworking since 2010.

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