Break out of your comfort zone…comfortably

Networking can be awkward. I am lucky that I genuinely enjoy it, but I know many women entrepreneurs who hate it. If you are somewhere in the middle or on the “I’d rather enter bills into Quickbooks for five hours than go to a networking event” camp, this blog is for you.

The simple fact is that we need advocates and ambassadors to grow our business. And we need to line them up before we actually need them. When you need help negotiating with a vendor, finding new investors, understanding a term sheet or finding talent to fill a position in your company, that’s not the time to go out and find people who believe in you. They need to already be in your speed dial.

Most good things happen for us in our businesses, as in life, when we step outside of our comfort zone. So let’s see how we can apply that here.

Forget fundraising and try friend-raising instead

It’s easy to feel insincere and insecure when you’re only trying to meet someone because you think they can do something for you. Play a long game where you are seeking to make genuine connections with people. Ask what it is they are passionate about and share your “why”. Ask good questions. Make friends. Be more interested than interesting.

Where to find people you can network with

Now that we’re making friends instead of going to some windowless room to swap business cards, networking becomes a whole lot easier. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Discover and enlist your flying buttresses: These are the people who are invested in your success and will be willing to make a call or introduction at the drop of a hat. You already have this inner circle, even if you’re not aware of it. It’s made up of friends, family, and business associates. As these folks introduce you to others your circle will grow.
  • Start an accountability group: This is a small group that meets every 30 days to help its members achieve their goals. You can form this with friends or other entrepreneurs (I recommend the latter, but any of your flying buttresses will do). Your goals don’t have to be the same, but you will need to agree on a set of guidelines before you begin and keep each other accountable through support, routine check-ins, advice, and mutual effort.
  • Join professional organizations: Spend time with people who already operate in the circles you want to enter. Professional organizations will give you access to people who can give advice, make introductions, or supply other valuable opportunities that help you get through the inevitable challenges you’ll face as you scale your business.
  • Build an advisory council: This is an efficient and effective way to bring high-level talent into your orbit, especially when you’re not at a point in your business where you can form an official board of advisors, build out senior staff, or hire expensive consultants.

The easiest way to network? Become a resource and ask for help

Whatever you have that you can offer to others, start with that. Suggest a new way of doing something more efficiently (Trello anyone? Asana? Slack?). Offer a book recommendation. Make an introduction. Be of value. Offering to help others is a great way to make friends.

And when you need help, ask for it. So often we talk ourselves out of asking for help when the person would actually be delighted to help us.

Intentional Networking 101

Once you get comfortable networking, you’ll start to notice that there are more get-togethers, events, lunches, soirees, and conferences than you could ever hope to attend. And once you are ready to take it to the next level, check out my prior blog to get intentional about how you network. You’ll see huge payoffs, from distribution deals to investors to advocates and ambassadors for your company.

Stay brave,