There are lots of things that you tell yourself you don’t like. For me, at work, networking is at the top of that list. I’ve always felt like it is a skill that I don’t have whilst everyone else is just out there, meeting new and fresh contacts daily whilst busily following up with everyone they met last week and doing amazing ‘networking’ business I can never hope to access at glamorous networking events.
Now that I’ve decided to go freelance I’ve had to sit myself down and give myself a good talking to. How am I possibly going to grow my client list, business, skill set or future success if I don’t get on with networking? Then what do you need to do, I ask myself? Network! Go out and do the one thing you don’t like doing and get on with it for the good of what you want to achieve. In short: suck it up, Laura.
On the flip side of this I also thought about what I am good at. One of my strengths has always been research; getting out there and finding out what is going on and how this can inform the project that I am working on. Who is saying what? How can companies that I work for be part of that conversation? I’m also good at connecting the dots. Want to work with that person or company over there? Well, great news because they work with this person, who knows them, who is new to that and it turns out they are looking for someone just like you.
By now I think you might see where this short post is going. Turns out that not only do I network all the time I actually know how to do it a lot better than I thought. When I knew that I wanted to work for myself I reached out to friends of mine that I knew well and worked in areas that I was interested in and approached them. It felt like a nice gentle way to start, ask some advice, have a chat, pick someone’s brains over a coffee and a catch up. Everyone had a different perspective and recommended a couple of companies, networks or people for me to look out for. A few even put me forward for work they had come across which was an amazing start.
Now that I’m set up and ready to go I’ve got straight on Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium and am in the process of setting up my own website and blog. I’ve sought out all those friends and the people they put me in touch with. Through them I’ve found new people and organisations and interests and followed those too. I’ve done my research and connected the dots and it has given me a great start and lots of avenues to explore. And it starts to look a lot like networking to me or at least it has started to look like my version of networking: seeking out people I want to connect with and seeing how I can work with them to benefit us both.
I’m unsure if there are different ‘types’ of networking or whether the agressive go-getting idea of networking I had is just wrong but I think it can also be our natural instinct to have our heads turned by the loudest, biggest, brightest thing within our sights. It can seem like whoever is shouting is getting the most attention but new movements like Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution are starting to focus on the benefits of a quieter approach. On a related tangent, Paul Johnston, was musing about how he choses which conferences to attend in his thoughts about innovation: 2 Degrees of Innovation.
My approach has always been to seek out the smaller conferences, where you are guaranteed a level of intimacy with the speakers, and the other attendees. The speakers could often be described as Edgers. The smaller conference fosters more conversation and also often allows for harder questions to be asked in any Q&A. It also generates a community around the ideas.
I think that is more what I’m looking for from networking, the feeling that I’m making more of a connection with others who I’m interested in working with, a better understanding of what they are hoping to achieve and how I might be a part of that now or in the future.
Best of all it has made me get out there and just start talking to people. I’m a lot less worried about the conversations that end badly and a lot more interested in where the great conversations could lead. And it turns out I’m not quite as bad at networking as I thought.