Networking 101: Anyone can do it. Seriously. Even you.

Networking is an essential part of building a successful business. Yet many, many business people hate networking for one reason or another. But if you explore the reasons/excuses people give for not wanting to go to networking events, I think you will most often find that the real truth is this:  They have never really learned how to network and, as a result, have not been able to overcome their natural fear of making themselves at home in a room full of strangers.

Many people don’t realize that networking is a learnable skill, just like any other business ability. They mistakenly believe that some people are natural-born networkers and others (usually themselves) are not.

Let me share my own story to prove this just isn’t true. I grew up in a tiny village in Pennsylvania. Until I went to college I literally never had to introduce myself to a stranger…ever. This is not an upbringing that prepared me to go out and meet and greet. While not shy around the people I grew up with, I was definitely shy around new folks. And while I didn’t have trouble making friends in college, but I was not comfortable at group events filled with people I didn’t know.

Not being into networking didn’t matter much in my first few jobs, which were with large corporations where my job did not require networking. But flash forward to the time when I joined a Boston public relations firm and networking was definitely on the agenda. And, oh, was I lousy at it!

Of course when I started my own business in 1989, I knew I would have to network, network, network to build up my clientele. I was lucky to meet someone who taught people how to network. One thing she taught me about was facilitated networking. Facilitated networking takes many forms, but basically they all boil down to having an organized process for helping people meet and exchange information at networking events.

In 1991, I was one of six women who founded the South Shore Women’s Business Network, an organization that quickly grew to over 500 members and, I’m proud to say, is still going strong today. Having seen how well facilitated networking worked, I lobbied to have facilitated networking be part of each of our events. And I volunteered to be the facilitator for the first year or two of the organization.

Since we founded the SSWBN in the middle of a recession, many members had just been downsized out of their jobs and were starting their own businesses for the first time. Few of them were “natural” networkers. Most of them needed help. I can tell you story after story of women who joined the SSWBN as shy wallflowers and who soon were networking like pros. This includes me! Seeing these members build confidence in their ability to introduce themselves to someone new, present their elevator message about their business, and walk away with a new, potentially helpful acquaintance was extremely gratifying.

So don’t tell me you don’t know how to network. You can learn. I did!

P.S. My friend Diane Darling has written a very helpful book on networking, called The Networking Survival Guide. It’s well worth the money and will give you lots of useful advice and dozens of helpful tips on how to go from wallflower to effective networker.

2 comments

  1. Hi Jeanne –

    Thank you so much for the nice mention!

    Cheers ~ Diane

  2. Jeanne Yocum says:

    You are very welcome, Diane! I'm always happy to send attention your way.

Leave a Reply

brand building Branding corporate culture customer loyalty digital marketing Facebook hiring Innovation Media relations mentor networking office design publicity reputation management search engine optimization SEO Twitter Web design website design websites

Subscribe to keep up with the latest on how to make your small business a success.