The art of networking
The word "networking" makes my skin crawl. I've been to countless "networking events" and been a part of many different groups and coalitions and they always feel inauthentic, awkward and difficult. And, nothing ever came of them. Maybe I was doing it wrong? I always felt like I had to do those things for my career and for my business. And I always felt really bad at it. However, networking is critically important, and the value transcends industries - for me, from heels to running shoes.
Many years ago, I started taking a different approach that felt more real to me. It is a slower go, but for me, it resulted in a strong posse that I tap into regularly for advice, help, additional connections, and therapy! :) Here is how I approach networking:
No more "networking events"
I stopped wasting my time joining different large groups of people I didn't know in hopes of networking. Even if we were all linked by one common thread - i.e. women, business, women in business, retail, alumni, whatever, I just never could figure it out. I know these things work for some people, but they don't work for me.
People love solving your problems
Ask people for help with a business or career issue, not just to "meet and greet". I figured out three things early in my career. 1) There were a lot of things I didn't know how to do. 2) There are a lot of people that know how to do those things 3) They love a good problem to solve. With those three nuggets, that is how I approached networking. I would figure out how to connect with people who I knew how to help me solve a business problem. When I asked for a 15-30 minute coffee, I always framed it as I'm trying to solve "x", I know you have experience there, can I pick your brain? BINGO! That felt authentic to me, we would always have a super engaging conversation, and I would leave inspired with my brain filled with exciting ideas. And now, that person is invested in helping me. The most important caveat here, is to show up prepared. I always had a one pager prepared as a guide to talk through. (Nerd alert.)
Find people outside of your social, professional, life circle
The best ideas are born from people who bring vastly different perspectives together. I know a lot of really smart people, but most of them look, think, and act a lot like me. When I was starting Fly Feet, I actively sought out people outside of my traditional network to learn from. Leveraging my network, I'd ask for connections to people with specific skillets - someone who has started a fitness concept, someone who has raised capital, someone who has expertise in social, etc. Be deliberate about seeking, and you shall find! Some of our most defining strategies come from people more than 15 years younger than me, with no MBA working in a coffee shop. Creativity knows no bounds!
Nurture your relationships
Your network doesn't have to be vast to be effective. Small but mighty is powerful. If you have good relationships and you need something that's outside the scope of what your people can offer, they'll figure out how to get you to the right people. But that means that you have to develop a strong, two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. It can't always just be about you. Figure out how you can also help them. And also, pay it forward. Your mentors invest in you because their mentors invested in them. Don't break the chain.
Say yes to (almost) every meeting
I can't claim this genius idea, I learned it from one of my wise mentors. But I've deployed it now for the last several years and it's incredibly powerful. I say yes to meet with anyone who asks (who isn't trying to sell me something) especially if it's a recommendation from someone in my network. It's as much as an opportunity to learn from them as it is for them to learn from you. Time is an incredibly valuable currency, so in cases where I don't know them well, or I'm not sure the value, I make it work for me - I ask them to come do a Fly Feet class, and chat after? How about a call on my way to get the kids? I've met the most critical people supporting Fly Feet through networking this way.
Networking can be a full time job if you want it to be. For me it ebbs and flows. I don't think about as a thing I need to do. Rather, I use my network as a means to infuse new ideas, creativity and forward thinking into my work. With that approach, it seems to happen organically for me.
Happy Networking! :)