I’m not ashamed to admit that my creative partner is a cat.
She just gets me. She never pushes back on my creative decisions. And she tells me when my work is purrfect (at least I think that’s what sitting on the keyboard means…right?)
That’s why, when I hear the words “networking event,” I try my best to catch pneumonia.
There’s nothing I dread more than having to aimlessly wander around a big room, beer in hand, making small talk with strangers. And yet, I feel compelled to attend as many of these events as I can. I’ve heard time and time again that “your network is your net worth,” and that if you want to move your career forward, meet a new creative/collaborative partner, or just make a new friend, you have to put yourself out there.
But every time I leave one of these events, I can’t help but feel as though I’ve wasted my time. I may have collected a few business cards and shaken several hands, but did I actually meet anyone? This feeling is partially the fault of the event, but I am willing to take responsibility for my own actions. It’s just not in my feline nature to walk up to strangers and initiate a conversation.
So this year, when I made a promise to meet more people, I also made a promise to stop getting down on myself for “being bad at networking events.”
Rather than fight myself, I chose to change the game. Rather than become a dog, I discovered four rules to network like a cat.
Rule #1: Change Your Mindset
When you think about “networking,” a few images probably pop into your head: cheap business cards, fake smiles, and Alec Baldwin’s “coffee’s for closers” lecture.
I always feel like these events are full of sharks just trying to make a sale — whether it’s their product or themselves.
But am I really so different?
As much as I like to think I am an artist, above self-promotion and salesmanship, I network for selfish reasons. I want to meet people who will contract me for freelance writing gigs or buy my book.
I finally decided I’d take the advice many had given me before — meet people with the intention of simply making a new friend or (for bonus points) seeing how I can help them.
There’s a chance I’ll get a gig, sure, but I stand a much better chance of making a connection when that’s an added bonus rather than an expected outcome.
Rule #2: No More “Networking Events”
In college, I heard again and again “it’s not about what you know, but who you know. I thought that meant handing out business cards and shaking hands. But every time I did that, I felt like all I had done was make shallow connections.
Maybe that’s my fault, or maybe it’s the environment itself. Doesn’t matter. It wasn’t working for me, so I made a change.
I stopped attended large events and starting networking in ways that accommodated my feline tendencies.
- Meet for coffee. If you’d rather cough up a hairball than attend a big event, ask people to meet you for coffee (or beer) one-on-one. You’ll escape the “networking” mindset and actually get to know someone on a personal level. And if one-on-one’s too scary, bring a friend and meet two-on-two.
- Skype is your friend. Just because someone lives across the globe doesn’t mean you can’t meet. Enjoy a virtual coffee over Skype with the cool people you meet on social.
- Create a mastermind group. There’s no better way to get to know someone than to collaborate with them. Set up a monthly meeting with other like minded creatives (in person or via Skype) to discuss your projects, get feedback, and share sources of inspiration.
- Hold your own event. Whether it’s an intimate dinner for four or a bar crawl with 20 guests, invite a mix of friends and friends of friends out and see who shows up. Not only do you create a low-key environment to meet new people, your friends get to make new friends too!
Rule #3: Set a Hard Time Limit
When I have a coffee meeting scheduled, I get a little nervous. What if we just end up staring awkwardly at each other for an hour?
Rather than stress about running out of things to say, I try to set up my meetings thirty minutes before work.
That way, if the conversation’s no good, I have an excuse to leave after a half hour. If it’s awesome, then we can always schedule a longer meeting in the future.
Rule #4: Ask Your Last Connection for your Next Connection
The easiest way to lose momentum is to sit around saying “I don’t know who to meet next.”
But the person you just shared a coffee with probably knows someone who’d like to meet you as well.
Ask for an email introduction after every meeting, and “I don’t know who to meet” will never be an excuse.
Powerful people rise to the top with help from their powerful friends. And if your goal isn’t to climb the corporate ladder? Well, that’s totally cool, but it doesn’t mean you’re free and clear to sit at home. Each new person you meet has the potential to become a great fan, mentor, friend and/or creative partner. You’re doing yourself a serious disservice when you cut yourself off and don’t try to meet other cool, like minded people. So rather than complain that networking events aren’t your thing, find a new way to network that fits with your feline personality.
If nothing else, your cat would probably appreciate the alone time…