I’m going to post a kind of series on this, starting today. No, I am not a “guru,” nor a “rockstar,” nor any of those silly over-used social media terms. I’m just a solopreneur making his way through the business jungle and sometimes I feel like I have a glimmer of an idea worth sharing.
So, you’re at your local Chamber of Commerce mixer, beer in hand, some hors d’oeuvres in your belly, and a room full of people surround you whom you know diddley about. Yikes. Rule one: they’re all here for the same reason you are, to network. Relax, they’re not going to recoil in horror when a stranger approaches them.
How do you worm your way in to a stranger’s notice without obnoxiously being “that guy?” It’s not really hard. Size up a smallish group that’s chatting, causally work your way into the circle. Nod and listen. C’mon: this isn’t rocket science. Odds are they’re making small talk, you can feel your way into how and when to toss in your two cents (I’m assuming here that you’re not pathologically terrified of small talk; if so, I can’t help you). At some point other people will drift in or out. I’m also assuming there are name tags involved: I’d be very surprised if not. The guy next to you is probably primed with his own elevator speech, so as things calm a little greet him by name and ask him about his business. Guess what? He’s probably in the same boat as you, and gravitated to a safe group. You’ve just handed him the keys to the kingdom! Score one for you.
Listen to him (okay, also her. I’m not going to get silly trying to stick with gender neutral pronouns. Deal), I mean, really pay attention. No matter how boring or mundane or unrelated to your interests his business might turn out to be, I guarantee you he has some “pain,” as in, things that could be better. As he talks, what are his pains, and can you do anything about them? Do you know anyone who might be able to? If not, the worst you’ve done is met someone you can add to your circle. If you hit pay dirt and there’s some pain you can help with, now you have a real in! Take it from there. If you didn’t score to that degree, odds are he’s going to ask you about your business. Now it’s your turn for the elevator pitch, show your demo if you have one, and so on. I say this without being facetious: be assured and interesting. Stammering and stuttering and acting terrified gets you nowhere. Keep reminding yourself: this guy is here because he WANTS to hear from people like you.
Here’s how the network works in the second degree (after you’ve moved on): yesterday someone approached me at a Chamber mixer out of the blue. She’d heard about me from someone she’d just talked to, with whom I’d talked earlier in the evening, and who remembered me and (correctly) realized she and I should talk. He fired her my way, and voila. Make sure you do that for others! Be a facilitator as much as a networker.
And lather, rinse, repeat. You can float from circle to circle for as long as the venue will put up with your event. Don’t be afraid to spend some time working older contacts you’ve already made, either: reinforcement is always a good thing. I’ve been at this for a couple of years now and at this point I try to divide my time equally between reinforcing old contacts and making new ones. This isn’t a science, it’s an art, and you should trust your gut.
I can’t stress this enough: these people WANT to meet you, that’s why they are there! Relax, relax, and relax some more. Have fun! Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time listening to some insurance sales reps talk about how they make cold calling fun. I laughed and laughed, and also got the business cards of every single one of them and have a couple of them potentially interested in how I can jazz up their logo with animation. No one is a waste of your time.
Next time I think I’ll talk about what you do The Morning After.