Does the fact that networking is an essential part of building your business make your heart race? Does it cause you to question if you have what it takes to do a startup? Don’t worry. I used to feel this way because I thought networking was all about going to events and schmoozing with strangers in that used-car-salesman-way.
Don’t get me wrong, going to events is part of networking. But it’s not really about schmoozing and trying to pin down everyone you can to tell him (or her) about what you’re doing. That’s a turn-off and perhaps even why you feel uncomfortable at the prospect of networking.
Networking is much more than going to events. It is really about connecting with others and creating opportunities. How can you do this? By talking to people you already know and letting them know what you are doing, by meeting new people through participating in your favorite hobbies, or by chatting with the other regulars at your local coffee shop or bar.
Think you don’t know how to talk to strangers? If you’ve ever traveled and asked a local where you can find a good burger or have talked to the person sitting next to you at the bar about baseball, you know how to network.
You may think I’m making a big leap by saying this because, after all, networking is more than just asking people questions. But, if you can ask people – strangers – a targeted question you can create an opportunity to have an exchange with them. And it’s this exchange that may lead you to form beneficial relationships that help your business.
And if you are so busy working on your startup that you aren’t leaving your office – or house – you need to carve out some time to meet people. Networking online is great, but face-to-face networking is equally important.
If you workout, but aren’t a member of a gym, you might try joining one. Gyms are great places to meet people. Money, may be tight for you, but think of a gym membership as part of an investment in your business. I’ve been going to my local New York Sports Club for years, and my startup has benefited more than once because of people I’ve met there. Bars and coffee shops are also great places to make connections.
Always carry your business card. The goal is not to shove it into every person’s face who you talk to, but to give it out when the timing is right. For instance, I’m a regular at my local coffee shop. If I happen to bump into a person who I haven’t seen in a while and the “What have you been up to?” comes up, I give the person my card, while I say, “This is what I’ve been doing. Check it out.”
Make networking easy on yourself. If you think that a relationship has to come out of every conversation you have, or you are looking to benefit your business from every conversation you have, you’ll get frustrated. Worse, people may even see you as an opportunist.
Remember, networking is not just about going to events and trying to get others to know about what you’re doing – it’s not about seeing people as commodities. Networking is about creating relationships with people; it’s about sharing ideas; it’s about helping people and asking for help.
Suzanne Kaplan is the founder of Job Talk 4 All, which features interviews with people about their jobs and other career-related articles. As an unemployed High School English teacher, she decided that she can’t wait around for the right job, so she has tapped into her entrepreneurial spirit and is starting her own business.