A not-so revolutionary recap of smart things to do when networking.
Wayne Gretzky was a great mathematician.
Everyone loves the word networking these days. As someone who nerdily enjoys sociology and social psychology, I love people watching and am fascinated by networking. In my professional world of coaching, it requires a lot of it. Add being a small business owner and it exponentially increases the need and usefulness of networking. Almost anytime I ask a trusted advisor -- like a magic 8-ball-- for the answers to my businessy questions, they say "Go network". (I know how to coach, but boy has the business acumen been a steep hill to climb.)
So, with that sage wisdom in mind, Go Network. It might seem obvious, but the first step in getting out there is simply getting out there, just like Wayne Gretzky kind of said*. Build your tribe. Your squad. Find your people, and then find their people and make them your people, too. Even if you're an individual contributor, no matter your age- get out there.
Like Grey's Anatomy, everything important happens in an elevator
So like any smart person, I listen to those wiser than I, and I network. I go to various events. I ask people to coffee. I hand out business cards, which honestly still makes me feel like I'm playing dress up in my mom's business pumps and pearls. I really struggled, and still do sometimes, to get myself out there. It felt salesy. It felt weird. It was the - period - worst - period. I was tongue tied anytime someone asked me what I do. Which is why those aforementioned wise people would follow 'go network' with -and sing it with me everyone- 'know your elevator pitch'. Oi.
My elevator pitch was less Wolf of Wall Street chic and more an avalanche of explanation. Sometimes too academic, sometimes too mired in preempting what the average person knows or often misunderstands about my work. I tried going the other way and made it super simple. "I'm a coach", I'd say, proud of myself for not verbally vomiting all over the nice stranger. But then they would either shrug, or say 'what sport?' So my super short method wasn't working either. Knowing how to explain clearly and succinctly what you do is majorly important. Rehearse it. Experiment with it. Gauge reactions, ask your newfound tribe how it lands. The more I said "I'm a coach" or "I own my own coaching practice", the more my confidence, and frankly, my belief, went up. The more I could add (in snippets) what rocks my world about it, the more engaged people became.
Describing your ideal client is not too far off from dating, and has some of the same struggles.
Identifying your target client is like dating in that you need to dream a little when conjuring who you want, and you need to think about what will make you excited to see that person again and again. For me, I've worked with a variety of people, ages, backgrounds, etc. and I decided that one of the groups I really love working with are people in job/life transition. Quite often, those people are 15-20 years older than me. Many of them are executives or higher level leadership types.
Being younger, it can make it seem harder for you to toot your own horn let alone hang your own shingle. Especially if you're like me and love working with executives, but have never been one. Once, at a panel discussion at UST about coaching versus mentoring, a woman in her 50's told me that she would never use me as her coach because I'm too young. I wasn't even a coach yet. We were both audience members and I had just asked a question about age differences and coaching for the panel. From across the room, she wanted to add her point that no, she wouldn't want a younger coach.
That was my first taste of being told no before I had even stepped foot into the arena, purely on speck. There's a case to be made for working with someone who has been an executive before, and been where you are. A valid case, especially if you're looking for a mentor. Though I think some would be surprised at the breadth of my life experiences (book/cover and all that), I honestly don't need to be expert in your industry, your company, or have had the corner office. Even though this can sometimes be an obstacle for some potential clients, it's okay if it's a deal breaker. A year after this woman's comment, I was working with a president of an organization, who was over 20 years older than me, who loved working with me. With the exception of a few, every client I have had has been at least 10 years older than I am. So I know it is possible. Just like dating, they'll either come to understand what I'm offering, or they're simply not for me, and they can continue to look for the right person. Plenty of fish in the sea.
Be a person first
It can absolutely be overwhelming and daunting because each person you handshake can be a potential client. When it's your livelihood, you start seeing people as giant dollar signs, or the difference between ramen, well, not ramen. Frankly, this is still my learning edge as a business owner. So what I have to remind myself before walking into a networking situation is that I need to be a person first. Not steer conversation a certain way. Not employ sales tactics. The desperation oozed out of me when I first started, and it was because I forgot to be a person first. As a coach, I am eternally curious about people- their fascinating stories, their triumphs, their narratives, their dreams. So I bring that curiosity with me to networking. I simply want to help people live the most amazing, juiciest, incredible life and career, and when I tap into that, it comes through. When I start a conversation internally from a place of money worries or whether I am 'doing well' or not as a coach - whatever that means- it also comes through. Be a person first. It's much more fun.
*"You miss 100% of the shots you never take." Look at that! Your odds of successful networking went up tenfold just by showing up.