Putting The ‘Social’ Back Into Networking

social networkingA short while ago Tom Albrighton wrote a blog post about networking.

His post really resonated with me as I have never been comfortable with face to face networking. To me it all seems very contrived. But before I receive an onslaught of pro-networkers having a go, let me explain.

When I first started out as a freelance copywriter about 3 years ago, I was constantly told I had to get out and meet people if I wanted to succeed. Not that I’m a stubborn old girl or anything but I completely ignored that advice, set up a website, started blogging and have never looked back. I have been fortunate enough to work with some amazing clients (who are still with me) and now enjoy getting referrals. It’s always a thrill to pick up the phone or read an email to be told that I’d been recommended to them.

Anyway enough of that—back to the networking thing.

In my early days I was seduced into attending a couple of ‘formal’ networking events by clients. You know the type of thing—a room full of strangers wearing sticky labels holding their delegate sheet in one hand and a pile of business cards or leaflets in the other. I have never felt so uncomfortable in my life.

As I was there I thought I ought to make an effort, took a deep breath and hovered on the edge of a group of people deep in conversation. Luckily for me one or two of them were reasonably friendly and did welcome me into their conversation. Not something that always happens; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to get involved in a conversation only to be ignored—especially, I hate to say it guys, by men. I often think that to get noticed and spoken to I ought to turn up in a bikini—ugh, on second thoughts perhaps not.

Back to the event—there I was chatting with strangers when another lady came to our group with delegate list in hand. Again we stopped and welcomed her. She smiled, stared at our chests (another pet hate, why do we have to wear sticky labels? When men approach women you can see them glancing but trying not to at the same time for fear of looking pervy) checked her delegate list, realised she didn’t actually want to talk to us and walked away!

Err, hello? Just because you don’t want to do business with us doesn’t mean we are not worth talking to. We might know people who are looking for whatever you do. But you’ve blown that chance now honey—goodbye! And besides, when you do finally track down the person you were looking for who’s to say she wants to speak to you?

That experience summed up formal networking events for me. As soon as you walk into the room you’re not seen as a person, you’re seen as a potential sale. And I really hate that. And yes that is just my opinion and I’m sure many of you will disagree.

You probably think after reading this little rant that I live in a deep dark hole somewhere living the life of an eccentric writing recluse. Well you’d be wrong. I do go out and ‘network’. Admittedly a lot of it is done online through social networking, but you can’t beat a bit of face-to-face social networking too.

The other evening I made the journey to London to attend Andy Maslen’s (@andymaslen) book launch. For those of you who don’t know Andy (shame on you), he is a fellow copywriter and my copywriting hero (are you blushing yet Andy?). His book ‘Write to Sell’ was the first book on copywriting I bought and has been my bible ever since.

You can imagine therefore my shock when I received an email from said copywriting guru earlier this year asking whether he could interview me for his new book ‘Write copy, make money—How to build your own successful freelance copywriting business’.

Of course my answer was YES.

Anyway, I was looking forward to meeting Andy at the book launch but then I saw a tweet he put out inviting people to the launch to…’network’. Argh! Network? No, I was just going for a chat. So for weeks I told myself over and over, this is a gathering of friendly people, you are not networking, you are chatting.

Yes, I can already hear you arguing with me telling me that ‘chatting’ is ‘networking’ and you’re right. But to me that’s how networking should be; it should be informal without elevator pitches or Q&A sessions. They have their place if that’s what you like to do but for me, it’s more fun and rewarding meeting a bunch of people and having a chat over a glass of wine. So far that’s how I’ve met some of the most interesting people I know (and it’s also the way I’ve met most of my biggest clients). Because there is no pressure, people get to know the real me. They find out who I am and that I just happen to write for a living.

Back to the launch party.

Did I work the room? Not exactly because I still can’t do that ‘OK I’ll talk to you for 5-10 minutes before moving on to the next person’ thing. I normally find I really connect with a few people and end up chatting to them for the rest of the evening. Admittedly at the launch party that was three fellow writers – Anthony Hewson (@ahcopywriter), Sarah Turner (@TurnerInk) and Katherine Wildman (@skinnycap)- but we had a great evening chatting about our work, how we got started, our insecurities etc. – it was very therapeutic.

So basically what I’m saying is can we please put the ‘social’ back into networking?

Remember the people there are real people and not just businesses on legs. Don’t be blinkered into thinking you have to speak to everyone and hand out all your business cards. Take time to talk and connect with people—get to know who they really are and not just what they do to pay the bills.

Treat people like real people. Have a laugh and a joke with them—that will be far more memorable than a small piece of card that they’ll probably bin when they get home.  You’ll never know what you might find out about them.

For those who have met me at events, tried to sell, failed and moved on, here’s a few things you would have discovered about me had you taken the time to talk to me:

  • I have two fantastic sons
  • I’m a volunteer wish granter with the Make A Wish Foundation
  • I love going to the gym
  • This year I did a 60 mile and 50 mile charity bike ride
  • A couple of years ago I did the Moonwalk  to raise money for Breast Cancer
  • When ice skating as a child I almost crashed into the back of Christopher Dean
  • I’ve done a bungee jump
  • I’d love to do a wing walk
  • I’ve always wanted to go to Vienna
  • I complete an English BA Hons degree with the Open University in 2007 with a First
  • I’ve had one children’s book published

There you go—yes, I am a freelance copywriter but guess what? I’m a real person too.

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1 comment so far ↓

#1 Zahra Brown on 11.29.10 at 6:10 pm

That was a very refreshing post. It’s nice to see the personal side of writing again instead of the constant focus on…well…writing. Well-rounded people have more to write about because they have done more in life, so they have been exposed to more experiences and people in general.

Congrats on being interviewed by your idol/mentor. I’ll keep waiting for the day when Beyonce interviews me…

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