This piece is part of our Small Business Basics content series. Today’s piece by Andrea Hattan gives us her best tips for being authentic while out building our professional networks.
After you read, share with us:
What is your usual process when attending a networking event?
It’s happened to you. To me. To anyone who has ever walked into an event geared toward “networking.”
Someone shoves their business card at you and starts in on their elevator pitch.
Ugh. You do not want to be that person, and maybe that’s why you’ve written off networking. Yet, you know it’s one of the most valuable tools for building your brand. After all, your network is your networth. Isn’t that what they say? So how do you network differently—dare I say, “authentically?”
Remember that feeling when you meet someone magnetic? You feel drawn to spend more time with them.
Networking authentically is all about that feeling, and how you make it happen starts with your intention and energy.
The first step is to set your intention. Remind yourself of your mission and get aligned with how you help people. Whatever product or service you sell, it’s always solving someone’s problem.
Stop thinking, “I need to find new clients and sell people on what I do.” That’s coming from a scarcity mindset. It also comes off a bit desperate, and people can feel it.
Instead, think, “I’m here to meet people. Every connection is valuable.” You never know where a new connection might lead.
This approach comes with a different energy. Because you’re just trying to help people, it’s easier to become genuinely interested in meeting and learning about new people, even if it doesn’t lead to a sale.
My mindset coach, Sarah Yost, always says, “I just know that when I have coffee meetings with people, I make money. It’s not always from the people I had coffee with, but the money always comes.” I love that mindset because it’s not necessarily tying it to the person you’re meeting. You just know that if you continue to do this activity, you’re going to be successful. It helps you set realistic expectations.
Once you have a clear goal and vibe, it’s time to work on the space you create around you. Be the kind of person that make others feel safe and included.
We’ve all experienced walking into a meeting or event where you don’t know anybody. It feels awful when no one takes the time to introduce themselves or welcome you into a circle. On the other hand, it feels amazing when someone does include you. Be that person. For example, invite bystanders into a conversation you’re having with someone else. You could say, “Hey there, I’m ____. Have you met _____? Tell us a bit about your story!” Be the includer and help people feel safe to have a conversation with you.
Try attending events alone.
Sounds terrifying, especially for introverts. But consider the alternative. If you’re attending an event with a friend or a group of friends, you’re probably going to stick with the people you know, and that will keep you from your goal: meeting new people. It’s ok to attend an event with a friend, as long as you both are clear about your intention—to divide and conquer. Network around the room independently, then come back to safety, have a little breather, and introduce your friend to the people you just met! Your friend can do the same for you.
What if it’s not all sunshine and rainbows? Let’s say you’ve mustered all of your bravery to approach someone and they’re cold and standoffish. Remember the purpose of your presence there—to meet new people and make authentic relationships. Just brush it off and move on. That’s not the person you’re looking for!
So how do you find the people you are looking for? I recently read Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards and she cautions against approaching people right as they arrive, since they’re flustered and haven’t gotten settled yet. Near the bathroom is also a no zone, since no one wants to have a conversation on their way to or from the loo. Instead, Edwards recommends positioning yourself near the bar or the drink stand. After all, it’s the first thing people do once they’re settled—go get a drink. Then after they tip the bartender, they turn around ready to meet and mingle. That’s the moment to catch them—when you can save them from that awkward moment of not knowing what to do next.
If the event is more “sit and get,” and there’s an opportunity for questions, always take the chance to raise your hand, introduce yourself, then ask your question. By doing this, everyone in the audience now knows your name, and that increases the odds that someone might approach you afterward to dig deeper into the question you asked or the point you shared.
If there’s a speaker, always make sure to jot down some questions or key points you love, so when you approach them afterward, you’re prepared. These are always people you want to know, so don’t let yourself off the hook with this one. Always meet the speaker.
Before you go to an event, I recommend setting up a calendar link (like Acuity or Calendly) for meetings. One hack I’ve used is to create a subdirectory link on my website, something like
yourwebsite.com/meetwithme. You can redirect from that URL to your calendar link. If this sounds complicated, see if a tech-savvy friend can help you, or hire a freelancer to set it up.
The next step is to open this link in a web browser on your phone before you enter an event. Then, when you meet someone you want to connect with further, you can say, “I’d love to learn more about you and what you do. Let’s go get coffee sometime!” Most of the time in business circles, the networking goes both ways, so they’re interested in meeting with you too.
This approach is unique because you’re able to book a meeting immediately. Most people will be hesitant since they won’t have their calendar in front of them, but you can say, “Go ahead and pick a time a week or two out and then you’ll get an email confirmation. Just click the ‘reschedule’ link when you’re in front of your calendar to pick a better time.” Often, people will say, “How clever! I need to set up something like this!” In four years of doing this, I’ve never been completely turned down when I’ve asked someone to coffee.
This is such a time saver for both of you. You’re not doing the outdated exchange of business cards. We all know what happens in that situation: you both get home and those business cards go in a pile. You have the best of intentions to type up emails and connect with everyone, but often it never happens. Eventually, it’s been so long that you don’t even remember where you met that person, which makes it much harder to reach out. Instead, make the meeting in the moment. Bonus points if you jot down a few notes about the person in the calendar event. This will jog your memory when you do meet.
You should also put your phone on do not disturb. Most anything can wait and this will keep you present in the moment. You don’t want to be in the middle of a conversation with someone and have your phone ring. Of course, there are emergencies. I’m a mom, so I can’t ever turn my phone off. Instead, I adjust the settings to ring only if someone in my favorites calls twice, back to back.
It’s tempting to pull your phone out to stay busy and not look awkward—but remember, if you’re texting on your phone during an event, you’re not very approachable. Put it in your back pocket or purse. Even seemingly innocent things— like setting your phone on the table in front of you—can have a negative outcome. Studies show that those who kept their phones out during social interactions reported being more distracted and bored than participants who kept their phones out of sight. As a group, they also reported being less satisfied with the overall experience.
There is another phone trick that will actually keep you more present. If there’s a presentation, I recommend just taking a picture of the slide instead of jotting notes down, because then you can focus on really listening and reference your photo notes later. You can also do a short audio or video recording (if it’s allowed) of key parts you really want to remember. But just put your phone out of sight in between uses!
The thing about about networking is that you are going to go into spaces where there are a lot of people who are not your target market. But if you get into the mindset of “these are not my people,”
it’s not going to work. Instead, shift into the energy and mindset of attracting the person that is your ideal client or customer.
For example, if I want to attract someone who is driven, passionate, collaborative, and open-minded, I need to feel those same things so I’m pulling those people to me. If I walk around the room feeling driven, open-minded, passionate, and collaborative, the right people are going to feel that energy and be attracted to it like a magnet.
As you practice, you’ll get better at identifying who your people are and not wasting your time on people that aren’t the right fit for what you’re selling. I used to set meetings with any woman in business, but over time, I’ve gotten more selective. If the conversation with someone isn’t vibing, I’m not going to bother setting the meeting. If we’re having a conversation and I’m thinking, “I want to talk to this person for another hour!” then I set the meeting. I have a higher close rate this way, because they’re already a warm prospect at this point.
The biggest takeaway is that you can be your authentic self, go into unfamiliar spaces, and still get business. It’s all about setting a realistic intention, getting into a good energy, putting yourself out of your comfort zone, and using technology as an asset, not a distraction.
You’ve got this!
Andrea Hattan @andrea
Andrea Hattan founded The Hive Wichita, a workspace and community holding space for women to grow their businesses.
Learn from Andrea and other instructors in the Hive Certified Business program!