How to Network: Don't Worry, It'll Be Fun
Do you ever get a bit lost and lonely running your own business?
My goodness, sometimes you need to dig deep, don’t you!
The answer to the problem is networking. But so many people I coach (particularly women) shudder at the idea of networking.
They tend to think that networking involves boastfulness, business cards and Bollinger (ok, I was just going for the alliteration there, but you see what I mean. Bollinger would make it a pretty fancy event!). Networking can feel paradigmatically toxic and masculine.
Reframing Networking: Make it About What You Enjoy
Networking needn’t be that way though. Networking can be fun and nourishing. And it can play to traditional gendered strengths: like the ability to make friends, and nurture meaningful relationships*. (*This is a generalisation of course, but what I’m saying, is: women, play to your strengths, and do it your way. Let’s stick two fingers up to norms that hold us back).
So I’m going to suggest a reframe. Instead of “networking” think professional friendships, or mutually beneficial working relationships. It’s much less intimidating to think of networking as becoming pals, or helping someone out, or asking for advice from someone you admire.
If you are stuck in the mindset that networking is about selling yourself, try flipping that. Networking is about spending time with people with whom you have interests and activities in common.
Is it starting to feel better?
Me and Networking
You just have to learn to do it your way. And there are plenty of non-traditional ways to network.
I always thought I was bad at it. Because I hate networking events. I get so self-conscious and just want to hide in the corner. I don’t want to march up to strangers and launch into why my work is great, and why I’m great, and if people do that to me… ugh, even worse. The words “what do you do” (or “what is your research?” in academic circles) used to bring me out in a cold sweat. I used to feel so guilty that I couldn’t do it.
But over time I realised that I was actually really good at networking, in the sense that I could build connections; connect with like-minded people with whom I could talk about work, learn new approaches and keep on top of the professional landscape; and generally be part of a mutually beneficial community.
I only really realised this when I was changing career and winding down my freelance work. I stopped networking and the work started to dry up. No dinners or drinks with my professional network meant that people didn’t know what my work interests were and what I was doing. So they weren’t offering me jobs or recommending me for jobs anymore. It was eye opening that the stuff that I did for fun and connection was also highly productive and useful.
Networking as an online business
Here are some ways that I like to network:
I’m a person that rarely enjoys having a boss, but I always enjoy collaborating and connecting with people at work.
That’s definitely been something that’s missing running my business. I spend a lot of time alone and I miss the opportunity to talk about work. I think it’s so helpful to get different perspectives, bounce creative ideas around and test your thinking out on other people.
Something that has been really nice is starting to build networks online, and I’ve met some lovely people. Professional networks are really important. They have lots of functions. This Forbes article highlights some traditional reasons for networking : advancement, visibility, status, profile (all the things that I feel a bit squirmy about).
I mean, obviously I’ll engage with some of this if I have to. But it’s not what motivates me, and it’s not what drives me. (There, I said it, and if I’m honest I think focussing on this stuff is bollocks that ultimately makes people unhappy or mean).
So here’s how I like to network:
Dinner, drinks, coffee with people I enjoy talking about work with
Joining groups with other people that do similar work (but that usually has some other focus, not the dreaded “networking”)
Keeping in touch
Being interested in people’s stories and being able to talk to them about stuff that isn’t about work
Enjoying helping people in my network out
Asking for advice, help or support when I need it
Through social media
Via courses and events (see yesterday’s post linked at the bottom of this page)
Why you should be networking
There are so many benefits to building a good proefessional network.
Career advancement (what we think traditional networking is for)
Having professional relationships outside your organisation
Feeling emotionally supported
Feeling connected and forging friendships
Finding out about opportunities
Knowing people with varied skills that you can hire
Having people to celebrate or commiserate wit
Being known by more people within your industry or sector
I like this Career Addict article. It highlights the opportunities that networking presents not only in terms of advancement opportunities and profile, but also in terms of the psychosocial benefits.
So, if you are apprehensive about networking, or get the creeps at the mere idea, try flipping it on its head. You can network in the ways that suit you. And it can be fun, useful and rewarding.
I'm Jodie Lamb and I have been running Trevnee Coaching since early 2020. I've been an accredited life coach since 2008. I help you make the most of career and lifestyle change.
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