Humans are social creatures by nature, but yet many of us hate "networking."
Why is that? To anyone who has been on the receiving end of an obviously self-interested, sharky introduction, or who has had their inherently introverted nerves shredded by a day of conference small talk, well, the answer is obvious.
Connecting with interesting people can be fun, but combining that activity with an awareness of your business interests is, for many, a recipe for self-consciousness and awkwardness. But if you value authenticity and haven't been born with the gift of gab, fear not. There are plenty of suggestions on how you can get to know more fascinating people involved in entrepreneurship without enduring too many cringe-worthy encounters.
For ideas on how to rethink networking, look no further than the Young Entrepreneur Council and career columnist Alexandra Levit, both of whom have offered refreshing, out-of-the-box networking advice recently.
"Go au naturale (so to speak)."
The YEC recently tackled the nerve-wracking experience of attending a professional event where you don't know anyone, offering this simple but powerful advice: "Stumped for something to say? You’re likely not the only one. Walk up and introduce yourself, and then tell people it’s your first time there and you don’t know anyone. People connect with authenticity."
It's good advice for any networking encounter--authenticity is a great foundation.
Invest in your network, literally.
"Create an 'intriguing people' fund," suggests Levit in a post that culls networking ideas from the book Start-Up of You. What does she mean? "Funnel a certain percentage of your paycheck into a bucket that pays for coffees, lunches, and the occasional plane ticket to meet new people and shore up existing relationships," she advises.
With a little money set aside for enjoyable activities like travel or a happy hour catch up, you're more likely to invite someone to meet up and more likely to frame the encounter as pleasant rather than fraught.
Don't network, catalyze.
Another thoughtful YEC post on networking suggests those who are jittery about making connections should re-conceive of their role not as networking but as catalyzing, shifting the focus from yourself and your needs to the needs and interests of others.
"In business and beyond, I’ve found myself to be a 'catalyst' at creating collisions of smart people and bright ideas. I help co-create unique platforms to connect the select individuals who can help each other," writes Yanik Silver in the post, suggesting otherer entrepreneurs try fulfilling a similar role and offering ideas on how to put the idea into practice.
Spur yourself with 'the layoff test.'
This is another bit of advice via Levit. Having a hard time talking yourself into reaching out to people? She suggests you ask yourself this question: "If you got laid off from your job today, who are the 10 people you’d e-mail for advice on what to do next? Reach out to them now, when you don't need anything specifically."
As an entrepreneur, you might not have a traditional gig to get laid off from, but the basic idea still holds. Who would you call if you were in a bind or your company was in crisis? Why not pick up the phone or bang out an email to them now?
Do you consciously think about networking or take a more organic approach to expanding your circle of connections?