Bend business networking to your will

When you’re just starting out (and even when you aren’t) you’ll probably hear a lot of generic business advice. One bromide is the suggestion that you should “network with people.”

Here’s the thing: networking can mean a lot of things, many of which aren’t all that productive or may simply not be your strength.

Personally, I don’t like to “network” in the traditional sense of going out to business events, mixers, and – if I’m being entirely forthright – coffees or lunches with strangers.

I’m an introvert. It’s nerve-wracking and exhausting for me. But I do like to connect and to find ways to be helpful and supportive to those I encounter.

I’ve had to find ways that work for me as well as are effective for my business goals and activities.

Fortunately, along the way I’ve also discovered strengths and capacity that I didn’t realize I had in me. This has come from experimenting and pushing myself outside my comfort zone.

Here are some ways that have worked for me to network – that that worked better for my hermit-y preferences – but still served by business and professional goals:

  • Publishing a hardcopy newsletter of interesting resources, commentary, and other thought provoking materials. This has kept me in front of my audience (to maintain a referral and lead inquiry pipeline for my various businesses), not required me to figure out how to convince my network to subscribe to yet another email newsletter, encouraged folks to reach out to me with comments of their own, provided a channel to highlight clients and client work, and sometimes even created some conversation starters for those situations where I can’t simply be a hermit.
  • Recognizing special dates like client anniversaries and fun holidays with greeting cards, unexpected cake deliveries, and the like. I used to get my wife to deliver cakes from a fantastic local bakery, complete with plates and utensils to clients and their teams around the one year mark after our first project together.
  • Drop shipping handpicked books to folks that I think they’ll find interesting based on our past interactions, our work together, something I learned about them in passing, or just my gut. I’ve sent out everything from technical books to investing books to personal development books to lifestyle books. I try to include a personal note / explanation.
  • Finding more than one way to recognize whenever someone sent me a referral. Sure, I shoot them an email or thank them on a phone call (or in person), but sending them over a tasty box of See’s Candy after that initial thank you really makes it clear I appreciate their support of my business

My point is fourfold:

  • Learn from others and consider their input (if it’s informed), but don’t assume following convention is a requisite
  • Be willing to experiment. Also be on the lookout for ways to be a little unconventional (in comparison to the norms of your industry). While none of the above were outlandish, it’s surprising how rare a lot of these things actually are utilized. Also I like to find ways to put a spin on otherwise conventional things if I can – e.g. my first newsletter went out in bright day-glo colored oversized envelopes with quirky stamps that one wouldn’t expect to see in a professional / corporate environment. Also, sometimes I included reviews of my favorite restaurants even though that has nothing to do with my business activities.
  • Ultimately do what fits into your personal strengths and your business needs
  • Don’t overlook things that seem potentially attractive – but currently lie outside your comfort zone – because things change 🙂

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