Have you ever noticed that as soon as you start thinking about something, that thing starts popping up all around you? Almost as if your thinking about it sprang it into existence.
Examples: You fall in love, and suddenly the radio is filled with love songs. Or you break up, and suddenly the radio is playing only break-up songs.
Of course it happens with all kinds of stuff, not just love. Serendipity is like that.
Just a couple of weeks ago it happened for me with, of all things, networking.
I’d made this cool realization that networking doesn’t have to be as icky and painful as I’d always thought of it (more on that in a minute), and then an Itty Biz newsletter landed in my box with a guest post by Amy Crook, which started off with a description of her experiences in BNI, a networking group.
Everyone in the group had to give a 30-second “infomercial” or “elevator speech” about their business every week.
“The first dozen times,” Crook writes, “it was really painful. And then, one day, it got easier.”
Yeah, what she said.
As a born introvert (Myers-Briggs INFJ, in case you’re interested), walking up to a stranger and engaging them in conversation, especially if it involves “selling” myself, has always been varying degrees of painful for me. Parties where I don’t know a soul are simply not worth the effort, and “networking events” are about as fun as a migraine in my book.
Which is why my recent discovery that networking doesn’t have to be that kind of networking was such a revelation.
Here’s what happened:
I’ve got a client, Juliette, a top business coach, who was putting together a partner program and a book of offers to be unveiled at an invitation-only business coaching event on May 25th, the Business is Booming tour with “the world’s #1 business coach,” Brad Sugars. My job was to do all the graphic design and some copywriting for the invitations to the event, as well as for the book of offers.
Since Juliette invited me to be one of her partners, I was also on the hook to distribute a stack of invitations and personally invite any and every business owner I knew.
This is the kind of thing I have historically kind of sucked at, to put it bluntly, and I had to rack my brain to think of people to give these invitations to!
Then a funny thing happened. I had an appointment with my insurance agent, one of those every-couple-of-years meetings to go over my coverage and make sure I’m not over- or under-insured. And during the meeting we chatted about this and that – what I do (the various and sundry things I do and offer) and what he does (turns out he owns a couple of other businesses) – and suddenly it occurred to me that (doh!) this guy is a business owner. Perhaps he might be interested in the BIB seminar.
So as we were chatting I pulled out an invitation from my bag, and I told him about the event. And it turned out he was really interested.
I basically just had a conversation with this really interesting person, and shared some info I thought might be of use to him. And told him about my business, and learned about his. It was actually fun, and guess what: it was networking!
Inspired by this surprising turn of events, when I stopped in at a salon down the street to ask some questions, I realized here was another business owner who might be interested in the BIB event.
So I pulled out another invitation, and in our conversation I mentioned that I design and install websites for technophobes, and it turned out not only was she really interested in the coaching seminar, but she was also really interested in having me redo her website for her.
Once again, I had a conversation with a really interesting person, and not only did I give away one more invitation, but I had a potential client!
It was right about then that I realized that this is what networking is really about: getting to know someone, finding out who they are and what they do, and sharing who you are and what you do.
The problem with most networking events I’ve been at is that nobody’s really interested in who you are, they’re just interested in what they can sell you or what they can get out of you.
Blech. No wonder I avoid those events like the plague and the rare ones I’ve attended always make me feel like I want to take a shower afterwards.
What I was doing with my insurance agent and the salon owner, on the other hand, was not this at all. It didn’t feel like networking; it felt like anti-networking.
It felt like a real, human interaction. A real conversation, looking for ways I might be of service, not for ways that I might squeeze something out of somebody. I wasn’t trying to push something on anybody, I was interested in offering them something I thought they might find value in.
At its best, this is what networking, what selling, is all about! Trying to push something on someone when they don’t really need it or want it feels sleazy, let’s face it. Blech blech and triple blech.
But sharing something useful, something that a person could really benefit from, that feels good.
Talk about a paradigm shift. Suddenly I was excited to meet people at the BIB seminar. I didn’t have to try and “sell” them, I just had to have conversations with people! And I like meeting new people!
Suddenly every interaction is an opportunity to make a connection, to share, to possibly be of service. How cool is that?
Anti-networking is the new black. Try it on yourself, and let me know what you think.