If you and I have chatted about business networking then you already know my frustration over no local Chamber of Commerce in Newman. Have no fear, I’m not going on a rant. I want to share how I’m managing to network without that critical component. There is plenty of information available about the importance of business networking and getting it done. We all know we need to go out an “make it happen”, but how? The idea of business networking invokes images of Cold Calling, Glad Handing, and other traditional “sales” techniques in my mind. I’m not a well-healed salesman and I don’t find it easy to put the schmooze on unless we’ve had a little background together. Sales pitching is not my style and I feel I come off as disingenuous. Next on my emotional spectrum: Awkward. I can do awkward like no one’s business but that still needs to be channeled. I will get to that in a bit. Let’s start with the How of business networking.
How you network will likely not be a cookie cutter experience. At least it isn’t for me and I would imagine it isn’t for most. In my case, I have several avenues of business interaction. Our largest three communities are the Art Community, Downtown/Main St community (business & residential), and our business vendors. A diverse list, each has a different target and interest that relates to our business. Trust your ability to read people and situations, you will find it easier to adapt your conversation if you take the time to pay attention to the atmosphere. Much of my networking is done away from my shop. I have always enjoyed small businesses, but now as a small business owner myself, I have renewed determination to seek them out whenever possible. Near the end of my visit, I take a minute to introduce myself to the owners. Like myself, they are usually found hard at work behind the counter or in the office yet are usually very happy to receive feedback and the opportunity to network, even if that is only the exchange of business cards. After my visit, I like to share my experience on my social media pages and leave online reviews on their website and pages. Such a small gesture can go a very long way to help with their visibility, encourage recommendations, improve SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and ultimately encourage more traffic. Business owners notice this and frequently will reciprocate. That, my friends, is networking.
Attending neighboring city Chambers of Commerce mixers, community organization meetings (Rotary, Arts Council, festival committees and the like), your city council meeting, even Farmers Markets can be a great way to get people familiar with you and what you do. Show up to support your vendors/customers/clients when they are making presentations at different venues and strengthen your business relationship. Your support will be noticed and appreciated. Do these things and KEEP doing them. Don’t always want to make a pitch to everyone. Listen, Learn. Let people see you take an interest in what they are doing. Be present. That will capture THEIR interest and that is when you will notice things picking up in momentum. Momentum is essential to successful networking. Momentum is achieved when networks emerge and information begins to exchange. Information is knowledge and that knowledge can power your momentum.
And if you aren’t a skilled speaker? If you get a horrible case of anxiety or nerves? Do it anyway. How awful could it be? Ha! One of my recent attempts was at a local farmers market. I wanted to talk to a produce vendor about a possible partnership and during our conversation, some information I hadn’t considered previously was brought up. For some reason, my brain went blank and I began to struggle to put together things in what I felt was cohesive dialog. At one point I recall stating, “Wow. I’m feeling a bit awkward. I’m not sure why I’m struggling…” and then began to ramble. It was one of those situations where you know you should shut up but you don’t feel that you’re at the right place in the conversation to do so and you keep trudging along. Even when my business partner starts suggesting that it is time to move on, I continued with my train wreck. I’m sure those people thought I must’ve been unstable. I mean who in the world repeats the same few sentences over and over like a mantra and then proclaims in between that they feel awkward. I left embarrassed, with my tail between my legs. When I shared my episode with a friend, he cheered me on and told me to embrace the awkwardness. I didn’t have much of a choice, I couldn’t undo things and I needed to continue to move forward. Over the next few days I thought about what he said and how I could have changed things up a bit to have a better experience. I reminded myself of how a kid learns to ride a bike. Despite the struggles, the awkwardness, the lack of skill, no one thinks that the child will never learn to ride, no one doubts the end result. Persist until you get it right. What is the worst that can happen other than being the subject of an interesting conversation at the dinner table?
I have had a few more opportunities to network since that day. Some were awesome, some weren’t. I’m persistent and I’m confident in my business so I will continue to dial that in. I would really like to hear how things are working for you. Where have you found your networking opportunities? Your best? Your worst?