Even as an introvert, I do my best to get out and meet as many new people as I can on a regular basis. Networking is one of the most powerful things you can do to drive success for yourself and your company. It is about making connections and building enduring, mutually beneficial relationships. So we’ve got to make time to do it, right?
I try to pick events that align with my target market. In my case, my ideal clients are professional women and women entrepreneurs. By aligning my activity with my target market, I can focus my efforts into an effective and strategic approach instead of just shot-gunning it. A few weeks ago I attended two separate networking events in one evening. That is a whole lot of talking – and talking to strangers – for a girl who would rather be at home with her husband and daughter. As I drove to the first event, I psyched myself up with positive talk and worked to devise my strategy. Since this is an event for entrepreneurs and their mentors I will focus on locating the females in the room and learn as much about them, their businesses, their successes, and their struggles as I can. Good game plan, or so I thought. When I arrived at the event, I quickly discovered that I’m the only female in attendance and I don’t know a single person in the room. Now what?
My first instinct was to turn right around and leave. I work with professional women and there wasn’t a one in sight. So, what’s the point of sticking around and talking to a bunch of guys? I was completely out of my comfort zone as an introvert in a room full of strangers and no one that matches the profile of my desired client. But, I needed to make the most of it since I drove 30 minutes to get there. I put on my big girl pants, regrouped, and mentally changed my strategy.
If I can’t speak directly to my target audience, maybe I can leverage my interactions with these men to educate them on what my company provides with the chance that they may know someone I can help. So, I marched right up to the first person I saw standing by themselves and introduced myself. I explained what I do for a living and then launched into a series of questions to learn everything I could about him and his new venture. It didn’t take me long to discover that he was probably not my ticket to new business. So, I politely moved on.
When I looked around the room again, there were no individuals standing alone, so I had to break into a group. Mel Robbins, a relationship expert and TedX speaker, has defined a five second rule. She claims that if you have an impulse but do not marry it with action within 5 seconds your subconscious will pull the emergency brake and it will never happen. So, I knew I had to move fast. If I thought about my next move too long, I likely would make a break for the door. Instead, I moved to the group closest to me, excused the interruption and introduced myself. In this case, I met a gentleman who was in a similar business to one of my prospects. Through our conversation he agreed to be a resource for her when she needed some industry specific guidance. While this didn’t result in a new lead, it did give me relevant and helpful information to share with someone currently in my pipeline which helps me demonstrate value and the fact that she is top of mind.
I moved on to my final group when I met a head hunter. During the course of conversation he mentioned that sometimes the candidates he works with aren’t quite sure really what they are looking for which makes it hard to place them. He mentioned that it would make sense to refer them to someone like me, allow them to clearly define their target, and then come back to him for placement. As a matter of fact, he just met someone who he thinks would make sense to connect to me. I also realized that I can help him identify new candidates through my speaking engagements at colleges and universities – which is his desired client profile.
In all cases, whether my interactions result in a lead or not, I follow up the next day with a note thanking them for their time and willingness to share their stories with me. In the case of the head hunter, he replied that he had just forwarded my information to the woman he mentioned to me. Will it result in a lead? Who knows? But at least more people are aware of my existence because I persevered, stayed the course, and had these conversations.
While my networking effort did not turn out to be the evening of my dreams, I learned a few things to make the experience better:
- When an event turns out much different than anticipated, regroup and modify your strategy to make the most of your time
- Have enough courage to introduce yourself to complete strangers and make the conversation about them instead of about you
- Quickly move on if the conversation does not seem fruitful in developing lasting relationships
- Take advantage of people’s willingness to help and find ways that you can return the favor
- Follow up immediately with everyone you connect with to thank them for their time and their encouragement
So, while the evening felt like a nightmare, I managed to survive. And not only survived, but turned it into something that was worth my time and my effort. Please be sure to comment below on how you have survived your own networking nightmares and the tricks you have learned for turning networking events around when they didn’t go as you planned.