Like most introverts, I am no good at small talk. So networking events were a trial. Even writers’ conferences, where you’d think, surrounded by like-minded people, I wouldn’t have such a hard time. Problem is, many of them are introverts, too.
But finally, after all these years, I get the networking thing.
My understanding clarified last week at a chamber of commerce meeting. I’ve been a member of the chamber almost two years now, and it seems like I finally hit a tipping point.
Mark Goldstein, the president of the Central Florida Christian Chamber of Commerce, is a master connector. It’s as if he keeps a database in his head of everyone he’s ever met. He always knows who needs to talk to whom. Mark once grabbed my hand and dragged me across the room to someone I needed to meet.
But this week, more people than ever sought me out. At first, I couldn’t figure out how this happened, because I haven’t really “sold” myself.
That’s the point.
Networking isn’t about selling yourself. It’s about building relationships. Mark often likes to point out that many people go to chamber events to sell something, but no one ever goes to a chamber event to buy something. It’s liberating to let go of the idea that you need to “sell yourself,” and embrace instead Mark’s method of making connections between other people who may be able to do business with each other. Then the people you’ve developed relationships with say things like “you need to meet Kristen Stieffel.” Of course, you need to do the same for others. Not strict reciprocity. More like paying it forward.
This also applies to online networking. I learned from a fellow chamber member to reply this way whenever someone sends me a connection request on LinkedIn:
“Hi! Thanks for asking to join my network on LinkedIn. Please let me know how I can help you and what your ideal client or target market is.”
The odds that I am their ideal client are slim. But I might later meet someone who is an ideal client, and then I can make a connection. For example, one contact I made recently expressed a delighted sort of surprise at my message. He’d never been asked this question before. As it turns out, he is a financial planner who works with high-net-worth individuals. Let’s be honest. In this business, I am unlikely to become a high-net-worth individual. But most readers of the newspaper I work for are high-net-worth individuals. There is a lot of overlap between our target market and his. So we might not sell anything to each other (actually, he’s already a subscriber, which is why he sent me a connection request), but we can make referrals for one another. That’s networking.
So I added a new arrow to my writers’ conference quiver of questions to ask other writers:
- How long have you been writing?
- Is this the first time you’ve attended this conference?
- What’s your book about?
- What’s your ideal target market?
That last one will work with editors, too.