While most of us can count on a circle of work associates and friends to consistently help us through the drama that this fact creates in our lives, we cannot count on that help being enough to move us forward professionally. This is particularly true when the rest of the professional community is aspiring to the bigger, busier, and more dynamic world in order to make ends meet.
How are they doing that? Well, you already know the answer.
They are networking, on both a personal and professional level, at epic levels. They are not doing it the old-fashioned way, by exchanging business cards at meetings and conferences. No way! They are also engaging in all means of social networking applications on both computers and phones and virtual communications of all kinds…at all times.
If you don’t keep up, dare I say compete a little, you will lose out. Not at a personal level. But the ramifications on a professional level of not at least keeping up these trends could be devastating in terms of lost visibility, which leads to lost opportunity, which leads to lost revenue.
As an independent contractor, this fact is my reality. I have to sell myself like salesmen sell products or services. It’s great when I have a contract. But what happens when that contract comes to an end? I have to constantly be out there seeking out the next contract, the next opportunity to keep the revenue flowing.
This can be done only one way: I have to keep my network active and engaged. I have to grow it.
To grow and strengthen my professional network, I have begun attending networking events around Austin. I belong to Door64 and LinkedIn Austin, among other web-based groups. Both of these groups have monthly networking social events at local establishments. These events are unstructured meet-and-greets, comprised of 20 to 50 other professionals, employed and unemployed, headhunters, and others seeking to grow their networks.
Basically, each event has been with a group of people that I don’t know.
This type of social situation is death for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I am quite social and gregarious. The key to that outgoing nature is being comfortable in the situation and knowing the people I am with.
Without that key, I have a tendency to be that wallflower that all of the articles about social networking warn you NOT to be. I get my drink, I find a table or a wall, and I sit and watch people.
Not a great approach for networking.
But, it is my approach. So far, it has worked. I don’t question why. I just continue to do it.
The most recent event was no different in terms of what fears I had to face before entering the room and how I coached myself before I even got out of my car:
- I ran through the faces and names of people I have met at past events so that if I see them I will remember at least their face, and hopefully their name.
- I ran through a few possible scenarios of introducing myself to people I don’t know, just in case the room is devoid of anyone I do know.
- I reviewed things that I would say about myself and my job when people ask, because they always do.
- I reviewed my resume in my head.
- I tried to envision myself approaching a group of people and successfully joining the group without standing out, appearing awkward.
- I set a goal for how many business contacts I should make.
I do all of these things every time I participate in a networking event.
There was one thing that I did at this last event that I have never done before: I changed my perspective on why I was there and what I hoped to gain.
Instead of looking at it as a potential spot to meet another headhunter or a recruiter of some other kind, which always makes me nervous and feeling like I have to perform a certain way, I viewed my time there as just another method to meet people and grow my network. No purpose to that growth….for the moment.
And, do you know what? As I maintained that perspective during the evening, I was more relaxed, more natural.
I conquered my fear and can move past it to the next big things that God has in store. As big and complicated as the world gets, as rapidly as we have to shift gears to keep up with, we can still learn from and move through the difficulties that are presented by those complications to form a new perspective from which to work from and approach tomorrow.
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