Conversations with an ‘anti-networker’

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My journey from networking 'no way!' to leader of my local MIB networking group! Part five

'You've changed!'

A few short months ago I became a MIB leader for Gran Canaria and over the course of these last months, let’s say around six or so, I have changed! I’m now someone who reaches out to other women to go for a cuppa and have a chat about a new project they’re working on. I’m someone who says ‘oh you should speak with Jane, she’s in a similar line of work and perhaps she has some advice for you’, whereas in the past I might not have connected the dots. And now I’m someone who sings the praises of networking wherever I go! It’s been no secret that before I became a leader I was not overly involved in networking, a lurker you could say.

I was a member of the main MIB facebook group but very much on the outskirts, reading others’ posts and imagining their successes for myself, but doing very little of the work they had done to achieve their success. Occasionally I did take part in an online networking session, but when you only do this once in a blue moon, you don’t get to to know the other participants very well, and as a seasoned networker will know, these relationships need to develop over time in order to strengthen and grow. So when someone says to me ‘no, networking is not for me’, I totally get it! Six months ago, I might have even been saying the same thing!

My conversation with an 'anti-networker'...

Recently I was having a conversation via WhatsApp voice messages with a good friend who happened to mention that ‘networking is not for me.’ Now because those messages are saved in the ever-decreasing memory of my phone (way too many cute photos of my kids stored up!) I was able to listen back and make note of the conversation, and as I’d enjoyed our debate over networking I thought I’d share the conversation and it’s eventual outcome. I think perhaps I might have even said the same things just a few months ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other MIBs who’ve felt like this too.

‘Networking is not for me at all, unless I can see the end product, to me it just seems like a waste of time, but I get that you have to put yourself out there and eventually something might come of it.’

Wow! What a statement, networking seems like a waste of time? But I get it, especially in a world where more and more we’re looking for instant results, and an end product that is clear from the get-go. It’s true, networking is a process, genuine connections take time to develop and the benefits that we hope to receive for our businesses aren’t guaranteed when we walk into our first event. But when we think of all the other things we do for our businesses to be a success; the training, skill development, practice, securing a physical location, perhaps hiring staff, surely putting in the time and effort to network is another way to ensure that our business can grow and succeed beyond our expectations.

‘Networking seems like a bit of a long game that you’re playing...’ve got to invest in the relationship and network for long term gain, that may or may not pay off’.

I have mixed feelings about this one, yes in some respects networking is like playing the long-game. Relationships do take time to cultivate and grow. You can’t expect to turn up to one in-person event and leave with a dozen or more new best friends (although I’m not saying it’s impossible!) However on the flip side there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t start benefiting from attending just one in-person event if you went in with an open mind, took the time to speak with as many other women in the room as possible, made notes, exchanged contact details and followed up on them when you left the event. Who knows what is possible when you go all in!

‘To me there’s an element of risk involved in networking because you have to put time and resources into it and then you might not get anything out of it, so you’re wasting time and resources on it, but I guess if you do want to be more visible then you’d be willing to take that risk.’

Take the risk or lose the chance! Anything important involves an element of risk, a leap of faith that we make with the hope of a successful outcome. If we didn’t take risks in life we’d be stationary, our careers would not progress and our ideas would never see the light of day.

And then finally my friend mentions the ‘v’ word and I think perhaps it’s starting to click! ‘If you want to be more visible’… and that’s truly what it’s all about. We buy from people that we know, that we like and that we trust. We don’t just sign up to work with a coach we’ve never heard of, we ask for recommendations from friends first. We’d rarely wander into a new hair salon if we hadn’t heard good things. It really is as simple as getting yourself out there, meeting more people and sharing what you are doing and what you’re passionate about.  People will remember you, they’ll recommend your services or products, they’ll bring your name up in conversation when someone asks for a coach, a hairdresser, essential oils… and when you look at it like that there’s really no risk at all. So I was starting to feel more confident that my friend was beginning to see the bigger picture, until…

‘I find the idea of networking a bit cringey...

...I feel like if you’re not somebody who naturally thinks you’d enjoy it, it’s not appealing. I don’t know how you’d win me over! It’s awkward and everyone would be trying to sell you something, why are all these people here? I think it’s hard To get past those preconceptions about it, what does networking even mean? What is it? Maybe it’s needs to be in more layman’s terms, if it had a different name I might be more up for it…’

I’ll be honest, this makes perfect sense to me. I am not someone who enjoys goes into an event with people that I don’t know, I’m an introvert, I love my own space and I often feel shy going into a room full of strangers. Growing up I let my lack of confidence hold me back in many ways, but I made a conscious decision to be more brave, make tough decisions and put myself in situations that were outside of my comfort zone in order to move forward in life. As I’ve got older it has got slightly easier, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still enter our networking events with a little trepidation, and I’m the leader of the group!

As for the cringey sales pitches, I honestly don’t think there’s too much of that at a MIB event. Yes, we want you to make more sales, gain new clients and shout from the rooftops about your incredible businesses, but we’ll always encourage you to get to know people first, join in with other posts, share with us who you are and what you enjoy when you’re not working. Interact on others’ posts, share advice and experience, it all helps to get visible and to make those all important connections. 

‘What does networking even mean?’ Well at its core its something that connects people with at least one thing in common, so for MIB events the common connection is that we’re all women, and we’re all at some point on the scale of having our own business, whether that’s an experienced business we’ve been running for some time, or an idea for a business that doesn’t actually exist yet.

My friend and I go on to talk about other groups that run in a similar manner, mums and baby groups for instance, less cringey and no-one trying to sell anything, but when we dig deeper we can see that there’s a huge similarity between these types of groups. Women meeting with a common interest - their babies and their lives as mothers, wanting to attend for similar reasons, to share their concerns and challenges of being a mum, swap advice and stories that may help each another and that they themselves might benefit from. We all want to connect with other mums when we’re home all day with a baby, and a ‘network’ of women around us seems like the perfect way to feel less alone, learn where the best spots to hang out with kids is, which supermarket has the cheapest deals etc.

Suddenly it starts to make sense!

My friend suddenly has the realisation that perhaps they are networking unintentionally and under a different name… she comes up with the idea for a playful reel that we could film together to highlight the misconceptions people have about networking and the similarities with other types of events. Now I’m all for filming a comical reel that highlights how wonderful networking can be, whilst at the same time busting those common misconceptions about what goes on at our events… so, coming to a screen near you very shortly… watch this space!!

I’d love to hear about your experiences of in-person networking events. Had any cringey ones? Been given the big sell? Or were you supported and encouraged in your ideas and left feeling like you’d made some new friends and some great business connections? What do you think of when you hear the word ‘networking’? Please share in the comments, I’d love to know!

Thanks for reading! Rachael x

(Founder and host @ourangelcaves Farmstay in Gran Canaria)

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