Stilted conversation. Sweaty handshakes. Shiny name tags.
Like a lot of people, this had been my experience of networking, and unsurprisingly, I loathed it. But when I started my own company, I had to reconsider not only the worth of networking, but also my approach. I had to turn it from a routine I dreaded into a habit I enjoyed. My business depended on it!
So how did this turnaround happen? Thinking about it, there were five things that really helped. And their helpfulness multiplies when expressed as ’90s songs. So here’s my advice to turn your own networking nightmares into the Greatest Love of All (thanks, Whitney).
1. What's My Name? (Snoop)
Networking. The word doesn't exactly inspire enthusiasm. But when you think about it, it really should. Interesting, engaged, and talented people milling around over (mostly) free drinks—it’s hardly a bleak prospect!
So let's start by banishing the “networking” word. I like to think of networking as an “Open Exchange”—one with no pressure, and plenty of opportunity. At an “Open Exchange,” you’re free to share ideas, contacts, information, and resources. The prospects that inspires are boundless; and it doesn't cost much more than a conversation. It seems like a fair deal and one surely worthy of a better title. So can we agree? No more networking!
2. Something in Common (Bobby Brown)
When it comes down to it, business is fundamentally a human endeavor. It’s about the people (not the politics); and people on the whole are pretty fascinating.
So look for a common spark when you converse, and don't worry if it doesn't involve your business. In fact, it’s often more meaningful if it doesn’t. It goes without saying that people are more likely to want to help and get involved if they feel a personal affiliation with you. I have an exciting content partnership in play right now that came from bantering about overloaded menus and the food FOMO they induce.
3. You Are Not Alone (Michael Jackson)
Three words: Bring a wingman. As a sole founder, I often found myself alone at events. It got exhausting, as every conversation required starting afresh with a new burst of energy. A month or so in, I started bringing fellow entrepreneurs along with me. The difference was noticeable and the benefits threefold. First, it gave me a “home base” where I could rest, relax, and get a pep talk before heading back out there. Next, it made it easier to settle into more genuine conversations from the onset. And finally, it doubled my reach, as my wingman and I would contact-swap throughout the evening.
4. Something Good (Utah Saints)
A wise man in the form of an ex-boss once told me, “Don’t worry about how to use what you learn, just trust that it will fall into place one day.” I think the same holds true of networking. If you expect every conversation to magically morph into an amazing outcome, you’re bound to be disappointed. So strive for open conversations, and know that at least some of them will resurface and come to fruition one day. In the words of Utah Saints, "know that something good is going to happen.”
It's also worth noting that the people who you consider most relevant to your needs are not necessarily the most helpful. Sometimes the greatest benefits come from the people you never imagined, from worlds entirely unrelated to your own. For example, a seemingly random conversation I once had with a museum curator slowly and freely evolved into a TV offer.
5. What Have You Done for Me Lately? (Janet Jackson)
Entrepreneurs are a motivated bunch, eager to help each other out—and this impressive attitude makes the whole experience better and more productive for everyone. Last year, I helped a fellow tech startup founder with his copy and branding strategy without even thinking about it. Months later, when I’d launched and was in the painful stage of ironing out the kinks in my beta phase, he came to the rescue (armed with his tech genius) without even being asked. Keep your eyes open for ways to help, partner, and collaborate with other entrepreneurs. It will come back around one day, guaranteed.
So, there you have it: Five musical steps to better networking Open Exchanges. It’s important to remember that entrepreneurship is more than a job; it’s a choice to live a certain way. It’s more than the product you’re peddling, the site you coded, or the community you built—it’s about the habit of continually seeing the world through a lens of opportunity for yourself and others. If you approach the community with genuine interest and intentions, you’re bound to thrive.
And if that doesn't work, there’s a ’90s jam you can turn to that dishes up some very practical advice: Blame it on the Rain.
Photo of people talking courtesy of Shutterstock.
Annabel Acton founded the website Never Liked It Anyway in January 2012, after working for 7 years as an innovation and branding consultant in Sydney, London and New York. Naturally entrepreneurial and inspired by ideas, Annabel soaks up the energy of the startup world and enjoys meeting, developing and partnering with other entrepreneurs.More from this Author