A New View of Networking

Networking is necessary but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare

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Trying to network turns me into a nervous idiot. It’s not something I’m naturally good at, and I’m not sure any amount of practice will ever make me completely comfortable with it.

One reason is that it seems pretty self-serving. Sometimes it sounds like a bunch of people on the hunt for others who can give them a leg up in some way.

I did some reading on the subject and it turns out I’m not the only one with this view. The consensus seems to be that networking makes a lot of people who aren’t total extroverts feel uncomfortable and a little bit inauthentic — but also that networking is necessary.

Despite the awkwardness, I’m making it a goal of mine to get better at it. So I’ve been doing a little research on how to network successfully. Part of this is making sure your interactions with your new contacts are a two-way street.

One tip I repeatedly see while reading up on ways to improve is to approach a networking opportunity looking to make connections, not just looking for help. You need to think about what you bring to the table. Don’t just ask for the advice or help you’re looking for — what can you offer others? This view definitely puts networking in a better, less aggressive light.

It’s also smart to avoid starting off with “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?” Instead, make more personal connections with people. This is where I hit a snag: I am not great at small talk. I have a healthy terror of public speaking, and even in a much smaller group, I sometimes clam up and don’t know what to say.

Once I know someone, it’s another story, but that initial small talk is hard to get past sometimes. One thing I’ve learned that can help get a conversation going is asking other people questions instead of just talking about yourself. It shows that you’re interested, not just trying to be interesting. People won’t remember everything you said, but they will remember if you were friendly, helpful and engaging. And being a good listener is so important.

The give-and-take of a real relationship is ultimately what you’re after when you’re networking, so make sure you take the time to follow up with someone you connected with.

Don’t rush things and try to set up multiple meetings right away. It takes time to make a genuine connection and form a relationship. It also takes time to develop trust, which is really important if you’re making connections with people who on some level are your competitors.

I’m slowly starting to reframe my view of networking. Thinking of it as a necessary evil and something I just needed to work on wasn’t lessening my dread of it. But looking at networking as a way to make real connections with others in the industry and to look for ways to offer up my own skills helps me make the mental shift from small-talk nightmare to learning opportunity.

Cleaner gives you a chance to learn about some of your industry peers every month, but making an effort to meet fellow contractors and business owners in person can give you a whole new perspective. It can help you grow, and that’s good for business.

I hope you enjoy this month’s issue.


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