How do you feel about networking? Does the word make you cringe a little bit? Maybe it makes you think of a room filled with people chattering enthusiastically, while you’re alone in the corner, sipping your room-temperature white wine. Or in the Zoom era, muting and unmuting your microphone, trying to find a perfect moment to join the discussion but not finding it.
Building your network can also make you think about fervently practicing your business pitch and hoping to find someone who is interested in listening. And getting stuck with a lot of others who just want to shove their pitch down your throat, whether you’re interested or not.
Neither option sounds very relaxed or authentic, do they? Let’s talk about an alternative, more authentic way to build networks that help you make your dreams come true. A Driven Woman kind of way.
Every ambitious woman needs networks
When I first launched my own company, I detested networking. Not a very promising start, you might think, and you’re absolutely right. Building a network of colleagues, clients and supporters is crucial in business, but also in life. Networks help you spread ideas, they support you in areas that aren’t your own strengths and give you fresh perspectives.
Whether you’re trying to figure out how to take the next step in your career or looking for volunteers for your local parents’ association, strong networks will help you reach that goal. They help you stick to your goal of running a 10K, launching a blog or starting a regular yoga practice.
And there is a way to get there that doesn’t feel (very) scary or frustrating. I’ll share with you the steps that got me from network-detester to comfortable and intentional network-builder.
Get clear about your message
One of the reasons I hated networking in the beginning was because I thought about it as selling. I had experience being in the receiving end of pushy sales pitches and I didn’t want to make anyone else feel that way.
Everything changed when I changed my perspective: building networks and presenting myself isn’t about selling my business or my idea. It’s about an authentic exchange. Sharing the value I can add and my vision of a better world. Listening to the other person’s value and vision as well.
So if you’re struggling with building your networks, take a step back and reflect on the value you’re bringing to the world. You’ll be surprised to see how quickly it changes what you say and how it’s received.
Find a platform that feels right for you
Networks can be built in countless ways. Joining professional events and lurking around Zoom breakout rooms are only two ways. When you are clear about your unique value to the world, choose a platform that allows you to share that message.
Join social media groups where like-minded people hang out, participate in discussions and connect with people who seem to be on the same agenda. You can connect with the right people in the locker room of your local yoga school, in the park or at your kid’s school. The place doesn’t matter – who you connect with matters more.
Prepare and be intentional
Okay, does that sound like something you could actually do? Great!
Let’s not cheat ourselves however: just getting your yoga pants on and chatting about the weather is not intentional network building. If you just keep going with your day-to-day and call every discussion networking, it’s not likely to move your dreams forward.
If you just hang out with whoever comes your way, the chances are you end up advancing their vision, not your own.
Pay some attention to thinking who could help you on your journey. Where do these people hang out? How could you get in touch with them, and when you do, what do you say? Preparing a list of topics, discussions starters and questions will help you start the conversations on the right foot and ensure you’ll get your message across in an authentic way.
The first three steps were about theory; now it’s time to put your dreams into action.
This is the scary part – and there is a risk that despite all the preparation, you fall back to your old patterns and withdraw to a (virtual or physical) corner. That is why you need to practice before taking action.
An accountability buddy or a sparring partner can help you with preparing! Practice different openings, how to present yourself even difficult situations with someone you can trust and who understands your goals.
Then you’re ready! Step out, give yourself a chance to shine – and for the world a chance to see your vision! What could be your next step to build your network and towards your bigger life?
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