100% Jodi: The Secret to Make Networking Easy
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I am riding high from an interview I did on Friday with Joe De Sena, the CEO and Founder of Spartan Race, Inc. I can’t even explain how amazing that experience was for me.
I shared with all of you that a month ago I was in Boston for the Spartan Workout Tour. This is a free two-hour workout put on by Spartan Race, Inc. all over the country. Unannounced, Joe De Sena showed up halfway through the workout to cheer us on and he led the last 20 minutes. He even hung around to meet the participants and take photos.
And if you’re getting my newsletter you know a couple weeks ago I shared a tip on how to move past fear and get into action. I alluded to some amazing experiences as a result of my using the strategy I outlined and this was one of them.
When I saw Joe hanging around after the workout and a crowd gathering around him to say hello and take pictures I was frozen. I hadn’t expected him to be in Boston so I had not mentally prepared myself for the opportunity that was now right there.
As I stood and watched, torn between staying safe from rejection and doing something really bold, I got a picture of myself in the car heading back to my sister and brother-in-law’s house filled with regret for not taking the opportunity when it was right before me.
That image was more painful to me than the thought of being told, “No.” And so I turned to my sister and brother-in-law and said, “I’m going to ask Joe to be on my podcast,” and off I went.
Joe was incredibly gracious. He said he recognized me which blew my mind and he said “Yes” to the interview. “Anytime,” he said and he gave me his email address.
His episode is going to drop on Monday, June 19, two days after I run my first Spartan Race.
Amazing things happen when you act upon a small burst of courage.
Now, in the last episode I went over 8 common myths about networking that may be limiting your opportunities. If you haven’t listened to it yet be sure to add it to your playlist so you can see if there’s anything that been holding you back.
Now that we’ve dispelled some of the myths let’s start looking at what networking actually is and some ways that you can begin to strengthen your networking muscle. My goal is to help you begin a process that will make networking easy for you.
Networking is Like Cultivating a Garden
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of networking is: the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
Let’s underscore the cultivation of relationships.
Networking is a lot like having a vegetable garden. When you plant seeds you plant a lot of seeds because you know a small number of those seeds are actually going to reach full maturity. However, the ones that do make it make the investment in the failed seeds worth it. You can’t tell initially which seeds are going to make it and which are not so you buy way more seeds than you need to increase the odds of a good yield.
Even before you plant the seeds you make sure the placement of the garden is an optimal environment for the seeds to sprout and grow. Think of this as your ability to listen deeply, to articulate who you are, your skills and what opportunities you are looking for; and your motivation and commitment to help others. This also includes choosing to network in places that will increase your odds of making productive connections.
Then, as the seed begins to sprout you have to make sure it is nurtured so it has the best chance to reach maturity. You can’t have one or two great conversations and expect the relationship to be on auto-pilot. Also, when the vegetable garden is harvested you are also collecting seeds to plant once again in the next cycle.
Here’s the secret: if you want to reap the full benefits of networking you need the mindset that it is something you are always doing and looking to improve upon, to the point that it just becomes a part of your personality.
When it is part of your personality it won’t take extra effort to do it.
Having networking become a part of who you naturally are takes practice so I’m going to go over all of the different places and events you can network so you can choose a couple that work for you. And in the next episode I’m going to get the most important networking event of them all.
Group Networking Events
There are always opportunities to network, not matter what environment you find yourself in. In some situations it will be clear that the intention of gathering is to network while in other settings networking happens as a by-product of coming into contact with others.
Networking socials usually occur in a space with an open floor plan. It is primarily mingling with a few announcements and door prize winner selections. There are some refreshments provided and typically a cash bar.
Most newbie networkers, and many experienced networkers find these events to be the most intimidating because you need to put yourself out there, walk into conversations that are already happening and introduce yourself to complete strangers.
If it makes you more comfortable go with a friend or colleague. However, limit the time spent with them to making introductions for each other. If you’re new to networking try going to the event with someone who has more connections and ask them to introduce you to people they believe would make great connections for you.
The mistake many people make is they go to monthly socials and end up talking to same people time and again. When you go to an event like this set a goal to make connections with 2-3 new people you would like to meet up for coffee with over the next month. Having a goal like this will help you to be a little daring and strike up conversation when you feel an urge to go hang out in the lobby or the bathroom.
For my clients who tell me they are reluctantly going to these events I remind them they don’t have to stay the whole time. If their goal is to meet 3 people with potential for a business relationship and they accomplish that in an hour, they can go. Networking socials are unstructured so you can come and go freely.
Structured Networking Organizations
These organizations’ primary reason for existing is to create a structured environment for business professionals to come together for the purpose of making money through word of mouth marketing.
These organizations, or I should say chapters of these organizations, can be very effective because you have the structure to consistently maintain a business relationship with other sales professionals and business owners.
If you’re an introvert who needs to be networking regularly this may be the way to go for you because the structure of the meeting takes the pressure off of having to make casual conversation and there is a focus on meeting with members one-to-one outside of the group meeting. The One-to-one meeting is where introverts tend to shine.
However, no two referral organizations are the same. There is a culture in each organization that is reflected in how it is structured, the support it provides and the commitment it requires of the members.
I can speak most fluently about Business Networking International (BNI). With over 211,000 members in over 7,800 chapters worldwide, BNI is the world’s leading referral organization. What sets BNI apart from other referrals organizations is both the level of training and support that is provided to the members, as well as the level of commitment that is required from the members. This combination of training, support and commitment is why BNI has been so successful and why it continues to grow year after year.
If you are going to join BNI you should know that no two chapters of BNI are the same. While BNI has a clear culture globally – you can go to a BNI meeting in over 70 countries worldwide and every meeting runs the same agenda and format – each chapter has a subculture that is influenced by the dynamic of the members within that chapter.
If you are serious about wanting to get results from your BNI membership, or your membership to any referral organization, do your due diligence and make sure the chapter you are joining is positive and professional, and that the chapter is serious about holding the members accountable to their commitment. In my experience as a Director Consultant for BNI in Maine the chapters that are the most successful are those that hold their members accountable to a standard of professionalism, positivity and committed activity.
Also, know that results don’t come just by paying for membership. When you join a BNI chapter or other referral organization you are paying for the opportunity to grow your business, and it’s a great opportunity, but it’s up to you to make something of it. You have to work your network.
You can also become a member of a service organization. Joining organizations like the Junior League, Kiwanis and Rotary are a great way to contribute and help your community. These organizations also provide great opportunities for training and working together with others in the community who want to make a difference and network with other go-getters at the same time.
Networking with a purpose events
These events are usually events coordinated by a local charity or community organization. While there is a lot of mingling going on at these events there is a little more structure than a social networking event because there is usually some activity provided, such as auctions, raffles, gambling tables, games, etc.
The focus of these events is to raise money but they usually attract business owners and other connectors who want to support a cause or their community. Since the focus is not on business networking, but rather support and giving, these events have a more casual energy. In this environment you have a great opportunity to meet new people while having fun and feeling good about giving back.
Volunteering is a great way to meet new people without the pressure of actively seeking to form a business relationship. Usually the business relationship develops naturally after the team relationship has formed.
Find an organization that you believe in and contribute your time and support to help that cause. If you have the time, connections and financial ability you can volunteer for a board position. If you are not there yet, no worries! You can start by volunteering to be on committees or even be a “day of” volunteer for the events that they hold. Being a volunteer at events also gives a reason to get into conversations with the attendees, taking the pressure off of trying to figure out what to say.
Just make sure you keep top of mind that part of the reason you are volunteering is to get to know more people. Strike up conversations and when you feel a connection being made invite the other person to get coffee sometime.
If you’re an introvert with a capital I then seminars, conferences, association meetings, lunch and learns, etc., are the way to go for you.
These types of events take the pressure off of you having to do a lot of mingling. There is usually an opportunity to introduce yourself to a small group of people but that tends to happen where you are sitting and does not require you to inject yourself into a conversation already in progress.
Also, if you are selective about your events then you know the people attending the event are interested in the same field or subject as you. You walk into the room already knowing you have common ground with the other people there. You can skip the superficial chit-chat if you like and dive right into a discussion that will interest you both and likely go off into tangents that allow each other to identify other shared interests.
Also, because this is an educational event you’ll likely walk away having learned something that will benefit you. If you hate having your time wasted this is the type of networking you’ll probably appreciate most.
Like educational events, pick an area of interest, find a group that is actively meeting and getting good attendance and get to it. Before you can have a fruitful business relationship you have to get to know each other as people and appreciate each other as such.
What better way than to find others who enjoy what you enjoy?
You can look through a directory of meetup groups at meetup.com
The Grocery Store
I’m using the grocery store as the catch-all for this last category. The better you get at networking the more you realize that we always have an opportunity to network. Anytime you are seeking to help others and cultivate a relationship you are networking. Like my garden analogy, you are creating the environment for opportunities to develop and for you to pick the good ones.
So the next time you leave your home, put on your figurative networking hat and look for opportunities to help more people.
To sum it up
There are many, many ways to expand your network and build the relationships that will grow your business and advance your career. You can focus on one or all of these but start with the one that not only seems the most appealing to you but will also help you to achieve the goals you have for yourself.
I hope this was helpful to you and here’s to your success!
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