A column from Beth Bridges.
When I was the membership director for a large chamber of commerce, I attended over 2,500 networking events in 10 years.
Why would anyone go to an average of more than one networking event per business day? Why would anyone frequently plan a day that started out with a breakfast meeting, a luncheon, an afternoon coffee meeting and then follow it up with an after hours networking event?
Because it was basically the only tool I had. “When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
When I took that membership marketing job, there was no marketing budget. I didn’t have a sales team. It was just me and a willingness to go out, anywhere, any time to meet almost anyone.
My “why” was so that I could build the organization membership and ultimately be successful in my job. I was all business, all the time.
But it was also fun and friendly because I like just about everyone and I enjoy meeting new people. I connected deeply with a lot of the people I networked and did business with because I’ve always felt that business and personal networking had a lot of overlap.
Loss Showed Me What I Had Gained
I didn’t realize just how much I have intertwined my personal and business networking until I suffered a terrible personal loss.
I didn’t want to lean on my family (mom, dad and brother) because they had lost someone they loved too. Fortunately, my closest friends were there. But so were my business friends.
Whatever I needed, someone was able to help. Set up a complete potluck to feed 100 people at your memorial? Done. Get tables, chairs and linens donated and set up? Of course. Pick up dog food? Sure! And I’ll have another business friend drive it over to your house. Squirrels ate your sprinkler head? I’ve got the exact replacement here in my truck.
I heard from two or three different people day, just checking in on me.
These were people I’ve known for years, but they weren’t “personal” friends. I didn’t have them over for dinner. Their kids didn’t play with mine. We didn’t go to school together.
We did go to the same luncheons. We belonged to the same organizations. We were connected on Facebook and LinkedIn. It was always so friendly when we saw each other and I was always genuinely thrilled for their successes and saddened by their losses.
Somewhere along that businessperson-to-businessperson journey, it became person-to-person. I gained connections … and built friendships.
So I will call these people my friends. Just friends. Not contact. Not connections. Not business friends. Some people might say that you can’t make friends just through business networking.
Not only are they wrong, but they are missing out on a vital component for a happy, long and successful life.
How to Make Networking More Personal
Yes, as business people, our main “WHY” for networking can be for business. We want to get referrals, develop resources, and ultimately increase our sales to build our businesses. Or, if we’re not the business owner, we network to further our careers. We’re in a job search or we’re looking to earn a promotion or we want to do our job well, especially if we’re in sales or marketing.
Beyond business and career reasons, we should also be networking for personal reasons. A great deal of my personal growth has been inspired by my networking. It’s also how many of us to prefer to get our personal service needs fulfilled. We trust our friends to refer us to a reliable plumber, a great hairstylist and the newest best place to eat.
But if you wonder HOW to make friends when everyone else is all about business, here’s how to do it without feeling like the new kid on the playground, looking for new friends.
Don’t focus on getting their business right away.
Do you want to try to sell this person something right now or do you want to have a long-term connection and possible friend? Because the two are possibly mutually exclusive.
No one likes to get a cold-call sales pitch the first time they meet someone. They might judge you to be someone that you don’t want to be involved with.
Be patient and keep your sales prospecting activities a little more separated from your networking.
We often feel constrained to only discuss business when we are business events. Loosen up! Talk about your life, your family and the things you love. Be your authentic self. Before you think this means you can go off about how hard your life is and how bad your business sucks, no. You need to be your best authentic self.
That means being your friendly, happy and open self. Someone who has good things in their life. Someone who is interested in sharing positive things.
When you’ve met a dozen people at an event, who stands out? The person with the most correct elevator pitch? Or the person who excitedly told you about their new puppy?
You want to be real and genuine and talk about things that matter to you. But not too much, of course. You have to balance this with the next strategy.
Think about their needs first.
If you’re not enthusiastic about networking events because you don’t like to go in and push your own product or agenda, you’re already on the right track. It’s also extremely helpful for introverted networkers.
Go into a meeting or event with the goal of finding out how you can help them first. Or maybe exclusively. It works in business networking because filling other people’s needs is how you give value.
Plus, it works in building personal relationships. Everyone is going through something. You might not be able to cure their cancer or dissolve their grief, but you can be a sympathetic listener. You have no idea how appreciated and valuable that is to someone who is going through something terrible and difficult.
… Or maybe you will.
BETH BRIDGES is the author of “Networking on Purpose: A Five-Part Success Plan to Build a Powerful and Profitable Business Network.” She attended over 2,500 networking events in 10 years, secured a new job in 18 hours with one email, and launched a marketing consulting business through networking. She speaks at chambers of commerce, associations, and conferences across North America. Beth, 2018 Western Regional 400m and 800m W45 Champion, is training to compete in the World Masters Athletics Championships in 2020. Learn more at The Networking Motivator.