Who out of you networks? Not things like liking instagram posts, but going to events, introducing yourself, handing out your business card (you don’t have business cards? We need to talk about that in another post!).
As part of planning Freelance Feels, I made April 'networking month' after someone said to me at an event 'We just network... don't we?' as if it was as regular an occurrence as going to the shops, and I thought 'I don't!'. And I've found the more I've gone to events, the more self-confident I've become and the more I believe in my project. It wasn't quite what I was expecting but it's a brilliant thing. Going to an event can be scary - but WHY?
How can it be that I've found it easier to do stand up comedy than approach a peer at an event? And why do I struggle to see them as peers, not 'those amazing women in the corner who might or might not deign to speak to you'. And why is it important to network? What does it really bring to us? Of course there's the obvious connections and possible work opportunities. But I also think networking can, when we go for it, really boost our confidence, too.
Going to an event alone brings up a lot of 'pre' feelings - what to wear, should you eat beforehand, what if it's boring/not useful? I understand that for some this is simply too much of a challenge. I was wary to make light of something which for many can be utterly debilitating and I don't want to do that here.
For me, the pressure to attend events did result in emotional issues. From worrying about over-eating when I was there (pastry and nibbles plus networking nerves can mean IBS horrors and I think I’ll write about my gut health and being self-employed some time!). But if you are like me, then you might find it useful to know what I’ve learned from ‘over networking’ as I like to call it now.
1) I’ve found it easier as I’ve gone on. Much like exercise, the more you commit and stick to networking, the more of a habit it becomes, the more it’s natural and part of your routine rather than that MASSIVE SCARY THING YOU NEED TO DO.
2) Not everyone will want to be your friend or contact. And that’s ok. Because you won’t want to be everyone’s, either. Remember that networking works both ways so try not to take it personally. I have approached people at events thinking we could be FBFFs (Freelance Best Friends Forever) and never heard from them again. You follow them on social media like you’ve met a hot guy/girl on a night out and want them to notice you, only to be ghosted. Calm down about this. It could be the time’s not right for them. I used to get huffy about this level of rejection, but now I’m learning to bide my time. The right time might come along, so there's no need to alienate anyone.
3) Nobody gives a hoot about what you’re wearing, and you should try not to either. You'll find, generally, they're all too busy being worried about what they're wearing... I used to go to events dressed up to the nines – often only to be greeted by a room full of denim and trainer-clad women with their hair in a scrunchie. Hey, if you like to wear heels and a posh frock to an event, go ahead! But do it for you, not the people you might meet. I have made some hugely strong connections while wearing Stan Smiths and a stripy £14.99 New Look dress. In fact, being comfortable means you’re more comfortable to talk about the things that matter – your projects and work.
4) It’s ok not to eat and drink. Especially drink. Networking can be coupled up with a glass of fizz or similar. Asking for water or a soft drink is fine – and you’ll find others likely follow suit. Don’t eat and drink things that aren’t part of your diet if you don’t want to – I firmly believe this, for reasons including 'needing the loo during that important part of the talk'.
5) Set mini goals. For me, this has become to give out three business cards per networking event. To ANYONE. Just three. You never know where that info will land. You’ll be wondering if you seem pushy, nine times out of ten the other person will say “Oh, I need to get some done! Yours are nice!” or similar. Go for it – the worst that can happen is it goes round their old chewing gum the next day. The best is that you could get new business, a friend or a referral.