This article came from the topic of a Facebook live that I was asked to do by the lovely ladies at Girl Crew, to go out to their worldwide community of members.
The discussion was about how to grow your social currency, or your network. Time for a slight tangent. I like ‘social currency’ better than ‘network’. Network contains the word work and so sounds like a great effort, and also the word net, which may conjure up images of trapping people, netting them with our salesy pitch. Neither of which are an accurate representation of what networking actually is, or how to go about it. Whereas social currency sounds like fun, it sounds friendly, and it sounds worthwhile; all of which networking is.
I moved to Dublin, 5 years ago now, coming from a teaching background and not knowing a soul in the city, and yet determined to set up a successful business. I realised very early on that the most important activity I could focus my energy on was networking, and accumulating a large chunk of social currency in my net-worth account.
I’d like to share what I have learned about Networking, and the best ways to increase your own social currency.
So many of us dread networking, but see it as a necessary evil, that I’m going to start with our preconceptions of what networking is, and see if we can debunk at least a few of them. For I believe that networking should be enjoyed. It is, after all, essentially about connecting with people. But I’ll get to that.
Preconceptions that networking is :
- salesy and pushy
- fake and insincere
- about shameless self promotion
- only extroverts are good at it
Sure no wonder we’d rather sit at home and watch grass dry out the window! Very few people are naturally pushy, fake and self-promoting. Thankfully, that’s not what networking is really about.
Extroverts actually make really bad networkers. I know this. I am one. When I was going to networking events at first, I would go, chat to people all evening, have a great time, leave, and piously pat myself on the back for going and for getting the hang of this business owner stuff. Very quickly the shine of that dulled. As a self-employed person, your greatest resource is your own time and energy. And I was draining mine dry by going to every event on, (especially the free ones that had wine, let’s be honest!) and coming away with nothing to help my business forward. Introverts are better networkers because they are more focused. They are more focused because they don’t want to be there in the first place, and so they go with specific targets in mind; be that to connect with a particular person, or gain knowledge. Once they have achieved those targets, they leave, relieved to be gone.
What networking is really about ...
… is making connections. It is about seeking out those people at an event who share similar values to you, and making the effort to build relationships with those people that will be mutually beneficial over time. Doesn’t that sound quite lovely??
… adding value before you extract it. Go and chat with people with a ‘What can I do for you?’ Vs a ‘What’s in it for me?’ mentality, and you will discover the benefits of networking very quickly.
… gaining knowledge. Knowledge is the real currency in today’s ever – changing and evolving world. Nothing is permanent, and so we should always be in a state of learning, with a thirst and a curiousity for knowledge. Knowledge will increase your social currency, as it will make you someone worth knowing. Knowledge will increase your access to opportunity, as you will be aware of changing landscapes and incoming trends. Knowledge will make you an interesting conversationalist.
How to network in a nutshell
So how do you network, regardless of whether you am an introvert or an extrovert? Here come my top tips:
- Go alone. I know this can be a scary prospect, but if you go with a friend or work colleague, you will most likely stay chatting with them in your safe and familiar cocoon and not meet new people. You may as well just go to the pub.
- Don’t pull out your phone and stand by a wall if someone hasn’t spoken to you in the first 3 minutes. No one will speak to you if you do that. You may as well go home. Networking isn’t like asking someone on a date. It’s perfectly ok, and in fact I encourage you, to make the first move. Go say hello to a friendly face.
- Be yourself. We are most at ease when we are ourselves. And fake people are really obvious, and no one likes them. And yourself is probably awesome.
- Be friendly and don’t sweat the hellos. People underestimate the power of a simple ‘hello, how are you’ delivered with a smile. It doesn’t need to be profound, just friendly and genuine.
- Be interested, and curious. People are fun and surprising. Take an interest in them.
- Listen. Actively. I struggle with this. Mainly because I generally have a lot to say and think I am entertaining! But most people at networking events struggle with this too because they are more focused on what they are going to say next than what the person they are talking to is saying. But it’s important to listen. It shows the other person that you value them and are interested in what they are saying.
- Do your research before the event. Is there a list of attendees that you can look at to identify people you would like to engage with? Do you know who is hosting the event and what they do?
- Have an objective for each networking event that you attend. This is your time you are giving up after all. You should seek to get value for it. Maybe you will come away with 2 coffee meetings set up, or you will have learned something relevant and of interest.
Finally, what networking will do for you
- social currency – be building your savings of it before you need it. And I don’t mean that in a clinical way. Build a network of meaningful connections, with people you like and respect, who share your values, and will add to your life, not detract from it.
- knowledge – the real currency to be traded and leveraged
- support – being an entrepreneur is a lonely place sometimes, and it is important to find people like you who can offer an ear, some advice, a sounding board for any wacky ideas and innovations
- confidence – being brave enough to walk into a room full of strangers, and strike up conversations, will do great things for your self-confidence. We are more capable than we give ourselves credit for. This confidence will serve you well when the opportunity to speak up at meetings arises, or when you want to ask for promotion.
- Finally, opportunity. It doesn’t actually come knocking. You have to go out there and put yourself in the way of it.
Above all, remember that networking is about meeting people, having pleasant conversations and making connections. Don’t dread it. Enjoy it.