You’ve opened your own business. You have hopes and dreams of hitting the big time or maybe you just have a vision, values and a commitment to a product that you want to share with the world. The problem is – you’re just not that comfortable sharing. You believe in your product and that YOU are the subject matter expert but talking to others makes you tremble in your boots. How do you overcome this challenge and get out there to meet, greet and network?
It all boils down to this: GET REAL and BE R.E.A.L.! (Be Realistic & Reasonable, Manage your Expectations, Develop a positive Attitude & Love what you do!) Too many of us spend far too long trying to be something that we’re not. If networking isn’t a strength, that’s fine. Some of us are experts at writing words and some are great at speaking them. Either way, OWN who you are and be proud of it. This one act alone will help boost your confidence. Getting R.E.A.L. is about acknowledging who you are and what strengths you have, then setting targets that are reasonable and realistic. When it comes to networking these first two elements are key: Be Reasonable and Realistic about your Expectations. If you’re a wallflower, don’t schedule a conference with over 200+ attendees as your first venture into networking. Rather, find something local, check in with your Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Enterprise Centre and connect with like-minded local entrepreneurs where there may only be 12-15 people in the room. Log in to “MeetUp” and search for groups that are within your specific market and consider attending one of these meetings just to observe how others in your field interact. If you work up the courage to engage even one person in conversation, distribute a business card or two, consider that the first step in your successful networking career! There are also many organizations that cater exclusively to networking for women and while cutting off 50% of your potential clientele is not a good long-term strategy, it is an excellent place to start and feel comfortable – in a nurturing all female environment. Before heading out the door on your first attempt, practice on family members, heck speak to the family dog or sit hubby or your best friend down on the couch and practice your pitch on them until it sounds right. Writing something down vs. saying it “in your out loud voice” are often two entirely different things so don’t just write a great intro for yourself, practice saying it out loud to see how it sounds.
Along with Reasonable and Realistic, make your first few networking experiences memorable by adopting a positive Attitude. This might sound simplistic but if you’re nervous going in it will show. Attitude isn’t just about the words you choose it’s how you carry yourself and the face you show to the world. Stand tall, put a smile on your face, project a positive attitude out into the room and you will receive it in return. Put your cell phone away and don’t rely on it as a crutch. I once watched a women at a networking event as she arrived, “reading” email messages, checked in, found a seat and cell phone still in hand, never looked up once. As others joined her table she would glance up briefly and smile but no words were exchanged. I purposefully approached to chat with her and it was obvious she was very nervous. I understand but never looking up and attempting to make eye contact or engage with others won’t help improve your networking skills. No doubt her overall impression of that networking event wasn’t positive but she did nothing to help herself. A positive “I can do this” attitude while you are at an event will help carry you through the event.
For women networking here are some other practical tips:
- Ditch the purse or invest in a crossbody bag that keeps you hands free.
- Find a small, easily opened case to hold your business cards and in which to store those you receive.
- Put your cell phone away – unless it’s your kid calling from school or jail chances are you don’t need to take that call. Cell phones are a distraction and make it too easy for you to appear busy and not focused on the reason for attending in the first place.
- Likewise – stash your coat, your nerves will keep you warm enough!
- Networking isn’t about the coffee – make your goal to meet people first then suggest to someone you’ve just met “let’s grab a coffee and find a table.” It’s a great way to extend a conversation rather than fumbling to balance that coffee and extend your hand for a handshake when you are first introduced.
- If you are more comfortable attending your first couple of events with another person that’s fine but agree to split up when you arrive. Maintain eye contact for mutual support and you can always join up later to sit together. You’ll have the confidence of knowing someone is there with you but the opportunity to meet other people too. You might even double your odds if you both meet others and mutually share the contacts and introductions you’ve just made!
- Recently, someone suggested to me that you make a specific goal for yourself like “Meet three people” or “Exchange 4 business cards” and then you can leave. Having an objective before you head into the event will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment when you achieve it.
Finally, you hear a great deal about passion these days. That is – hopefully, if you are a small business entrepreneur trying to grow your business, you LOVE what you do. If you love what you do your passion will shine through and that’s going to help you in terms of your positive mental attitude and your confidence level when walking into a room for networking purposes. Here is the most important tip – if you LOVE what you do, fine-tune your introduction so your love, commitment and passion shines through. We’ve talked in this space before about your “pitch” or “elevator speech” or introduction. Whatever you call it, it will only work for you if it truly resonates and you are comfortable both saying it and believing it. In my Communications Course I talk a lot about the rule of 10 and this can be applied to your introduction as well as any other areas of your business. Take the time to identify the top ten words that best describe your business and what it is you want to convey to potential clients. Once those words are on paper, play around with them to create one short sentence that acts as a great introduction of yourself and your business. Most importantly – it should be a sentence that invites and encourages conversation through questions. I learned a similar technique several years ago while attending an event hosted by The Leadership Forum in Caledon. Conversation engages and encourages and is so much better then throwing a business card at someone hoping it sticks. Engaging in a great conversation is what just might lead to future business.
In the end, being R.E.A.L. about who you are will allow your integrity to show. Trust and integrity are an enormous part of why someone chooses to do business with you. If you are not great at walking into a room – that’s fine – practice some of these tips and be passionate about what you do and that will help significantly. Maybe even admit your fears when you’re having a chat – chances are, the person you’re speaking with might be feeling the exact same way!
As Owner and Principal partner of “Writing Right For You” Sheralyn is a Communications Strategist – working together with entrepreneurs to maximize profit through effective use of the written word. Looking for web content that works, blog articles that engage or communications strategies that help you get noticed? Contact Sheralyn today. Sheralyn is also the mother of two children now entering the “terrible and terrific teens” and spends her free time volunteering for several non-profit organizations.
Sheralyn Roman B.A., B.Ed.
Writing Right For You
Communications Strategies that help you GET TO THE POINT!
LinkedIn / Facebook / www.writingrightforyou.weebly.com