When I decided to open my own practice, I really wasn’t thinking about networking. Like many service providers in independent practice, my focus was on providing my services to help people, not on where those people would come from. I had a dream of hanging my proverbial shingle (i.e. putting up a website) and people finding me because my service was needed. I soon learned that this is not how things work. Yes, people find me online, but I’ve found one of the best ways to help people find me is through networking.
Why network? People are more likely to refer to professionals they know and trust, which usually means ones they’ve met, and new clients are more likely to trust you if they were referred to you rather than randomly picking you off a list. Yet I meet many professionals who do not like to network. The idea of going out and mingling with strangers to sell their services makes them nervous, making it easy to find excuses not to network; it’s normal to want to avoid things we feel nervous about. If this sounds like you, consider the following tips for managing and overcoming some of the most common sources of networking anxiety:
Worry: I don’t even know where to start.
There are many ways to approach networking. First, you need to know who to network with. Keeping in mind that the goal of networking is to meet people who may want to refer to you or to whom you may want to refer, start by making a list of which professions may fall into this category to help focus your networking efforts.
Organized networking events can be a great option because it saves you the anxiety of having to reach out and introduce yourself to someone who may or may not be interested in hearing from you. You can often find organized events online or through professional organizations.
If you prefer a more personal approach, but worry about bothering people who may not want to talk to you, professional networking sites like LinkedIn can also be a valuable resource. People are there because they want to network, but if they ignore your request, it can feel less personal than a rejected invitation by phone. Once you’ve connected online, make sure to send a note introducing yourself and try to arrange an in-person meeting. Consider that connection permission to reach out. Similarly, try reaching out to others who your friends or colleagues recommend and setting up lunch or coffee dates. Let them know you have a mutual connection who referred you.
Worry: I won’t know anyone there.
If you’re going to an organized event, you may worry that the room will be filled with people you don’t know and you won’t know how to approach them. If it helps you feel more comfortable, you may want to see if a friend or colleague in a similar field wants to go with you to ease some of your discomfort. But don’t let lack of a buddy hold you back. Remember, everyone at these events is there for the same reason—to meet new people to work with professionally. There will likely be many people there who don’t know anyone. Even if they do have preexisting connections, part of the goal is to meet new people. Try making a game of it by seeing how many new people you can meet. Follow up with anyone you think may be a good referral source, or good for you to refer to, within the next few days.
Worry: I don’t feel comfortable “selling” myself or my services.
Neither do I. Nor do many people, especially those who see their job as service rather than sales. Try not thinking of it as selling, but as getting to know other professionals and building relationships. If you’re trying too hard to “sell yourself,” you won’t come across as genuine, and people will be less likely to refer to you. Just be yourself and let your passion for your profession and interest in others shine through.
Worry: What if I make a bad impression?
This may happen. There are people I’ve met networking whom I’ve learned I did not want to refer to, and I’m sure there are people who’ve felt that way about me. I’ve also met people who refer to me regularly and built my own referral list. Not everyone is going to be a good connection for referrals, and that’s okay. You don’t need everyone to refer to you, just a select few. Just like with any area of life, there are people you’ll click with and those you won’t. Keep your focus on those you do and don’t dwell on the connections that didn’t work. If someone you meet networking doesn’t particularly like you, chances are slim your professional reputation will be ruined, and chances are good that person wouldn’t have referred to you before meeting you anyway, so you haven’t really lost anything.
With a good plan and some simple shifts in mindset, networking can go from being anxiety inducing to enjoyable, and you may even make some new friends
Until Next Time
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