Back in the days when I was strictly doing graphic design work, I didn’t have a brochure or a business card. I was very fortunate that I was getting great word of mouth about my business and so I wasn’t finding it necessary to get out and stump for business.
But I decided I wanted some more business so then I started going to networking events. What a miserable time that was.
I vividly remember my first networking event. It was a rather large gathering of the local chamber of commerce and I was told that everyone there would have a chance to speak a few words about their business.
I was determined to be prepared so I printed up some business cards and went out and got myself a little book about how to network. I boned up, prepared my little speech, dressed in my sports jacket and tie and went to that meeting.
When it came time for me to make my little speech — what I now know as an elevator speech — I suddenly felt like a fool and a fraud and I barely stammered out that I was a graphic designer. Everyone smiled, blinked, and then the next person spoke up and gave their little speech.
Looking back on it now I realize that just about everyone there did as poor a job as I did in introducing themselves. It was painfully obvious that nobody really cared. We were all there for the same reason: get as many business cards as we could so that the next day we could call all those people and sign them up as clients.
But we didn’t.
Even though I came away with a pocket full of business cards, I didn’t call a soul because I knew they wouldn’t remember me and I just couldn’t face the rejection, and probably fearing the same thing, not one person called me either, even though I had given out more business cards than I had gotten.
But I persisted and I found that no matter what I did, networking was a miserable, unproductive, time-consuming experience that was not working for me. And the food was awful, too.
Traditional networking typically involves going to an event trying to find people who can do something for you — mainly buy whatever you are selling. I just absolutely hate this. I don’t like the pretentiousness you encounter and besides, now I have an excuse. Living on the road makes it impossible for me go to networking events. (Not really, but I like to think it does.)
Networking doesn’t have to be this bad and I know there are ways to make networking events much more enjoyable and useful.
So today I network in a different way. I spend a lot of time connecting with people online in various ways — through my ezine, my blog, and through individual emails I get from people. Everyone who writes to me gets a real response — from me. Sometimes it takes me a while to get to all of them but I take this seriously and do my best to get back to folks in a reasonable amount of time. And now I’m learning about social networking using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
So if you’re going to go to live networking events — and networking is often just having a conversation with the person in the line at the grocery store or bank — or if you’re going to network online like I do, then instead of trying to get people to do something for you — like buy your stuff before they even know who you are — find out what you can do for them.
Ask them, “What are your goals for your business? How can I help you achieve them? What would you like me to tell other people about you?”
These are the same questions you can ask yourself every day when you go to work in your business: How can I help my clients and prospects achieve the goals they desire?
It’s a lot more fun than eating rubbery chicken.
© Copyright 2009 Marty Marsh