In the last three posts, I have been talking about networking – where to do it, ways to grow your network, and talking about one of the secrets to networking that few people acknowledge. However, we should at least know why we’re doing all this, right?! At the time of this writing, I have just walked in the door from a networking mixer. The mixer wasn’t one of those super organized things where people pay to be a member and stuff like that, this group is more informal, all organized by one woman who knows a lot of people, and most of the attendees are individuals working for themselves or about to take that leap. Among the many people I met tonight, these four stood out:
- A personal assistant who was happy to talk about how her work was going, some of the challenges she faces, what she loves about it, and I came away feeling like we could be friends.
- A photographer who introduced himself by saying ‘let me tell you why I’m here’ but if your business didn’t have a storefront that he could do a 360° panorama photo of (his latest product), he was out of there, looking for the next person to sell on a 360° image. Nevermind the fact that he also does portraits and I could probably use a new headshot.
- A woman who was starting a bicycle-delivered soup company. Her Pear Parsnip soup sounds delicious and I hope that the two cafes I suggested to her as potential clients work out, and I hope that they start carrying Pear Parsnip so I can go eat it.
- And a financial advisor who spent a very long time chatting with me and answering all sorts of questions about how his business works. I was able to learn why he does this work and what the rewards were. I recognized in him the same passion for financial advising as I have for Landscape Architecture, and that is no small thing.
I came home with five business cards, and I probably handed out seven or eight. I might call one or two someday, and I might not (I’m sure as heck not calling that photographer!). Someone may call me, but not likely because they’re personally in the market for my services as a landscape architect.
So since very few of these people are my clientele, and none of them are prospective employers, why go? Nevermind this event, why network at all when so much of what we do comes from a few narrow sources? Below are a few reasons to network. Reasons to meet new people, see if they’re someone you might want to keep in touch with:
- Looking for a job or a client are obvious reasons to network. ‘nuff said.
- But it is also good to learn something about what others do, like everything I learned from the financial advisor. Who knows, maybe someday I will have a financial advisor as a client, and something I learned tonight might keep me from sounding like a total idiot on the subject. Maybe he will be a client of mine someday, or think of me for a client of his and send a referral.
- Talk about business and finding leads (the financial planner and I shared ideas on finding clients, and I may have helped the soup girl find two cafes). You never know where a good idea might come from, or a good referral.
- Be supportive and get encouragement. This is worth its weight in gold, believe me! I enjoyed sharing stories and ideas, especially from those on the front lines of going out on their own.
- Gain practice explaining what you do and also practicing making small talk with total strangers. It is important to be comfortable explaining Landscape Architecuture to laypeople and finding ways to talk about it that resonate.
What’s the worst that could happen? You meet some new people and spend an evening shaking hands that don’t result in more work. I know I’ve spent my fair share of evenings doing far less productive things than that. Whether you go to mixers or chat with random strangers on the subway, I hope you'll keep the above five items in mind.
Next time I will be talking about networking for people who hate networking (like me!). Got a great networking story? Hate networking, and never want to do it, not ever, no way, never? Let me know in the comments!