|Black sheep anyone?? Yep, that's me!|
Making my way now around the back of the room, I can feel my smile tightening, along with my stomach. "Wow, the room is getting hot!", I think, trying to block out my rising panic that I will be without a seat. My scanning becomes searching, and I finally spy a table with empty seats - hallelujah! I walk over, focused, determined, and - sweet jeezus - relieved that this awkward part of the event is seemingly almost over. Again I ask, as sweetly as I can muster at this point, trying to hide the desperation that I am feeling, "Are these seats taken?" The lovely lady with flowing blonde hair is striking - put together like someone on TV. I might have been more arrested by her aura had I not been so desperate to find a spot. They kind of stumble in response to me...I'm having a bit of trouble figuring out what they are trying to tell me. I'm focussed on hearing either yes or no but they are explaining something...something about making sure there is room for Carol Anne (Meehan as it turns out - a local TV personality) and they point me in the general direction of another lady, who seems to be running the show. As I stand there, still without a definitive yes or no, I begin to follow the busy lady as she buzzes from table to table to...podium right behind me. As I become oriented with my current location in the room, I realize I'm front and centre, unknowingly trying to edge my way to a seat at the head table where the guest speakers and leading ladies of this society are seated.
Realizing my amateur and flustered mistake, I quickly retreat, grateful that they were gracious enough to pretend to entertain my request to crash their party. Oh well. Lesson learned. Networking events of this calibre are apparently not to be attended solo.
Quasi deflated, I finally did find the absolute last vacant spot in the room. With face and ears burning, and a sweat glistening on my skin I get the answer I was doubtful I would hear: This seat is not taken.
"YESSSSSSS!!!!" I think...I'm sure my face was awash in relief. These were very nice ladies for sure, and I happily sank into their conversation, drowning out the embarrassment and stress of the preceding 5 agonizing minutes. Gaaaagh. What a shitty start to this supposedly-stellar event but what a great story to tell, right?!
All that to say, it pays to be choosy with the events you attend. Not all networking events are created equal and just because they are pricey and highly-touted (the PM's wife was there for goddsake) doesn't mean a darn thing.
My inaugural experience did taint my outlook on the rest of the event: I felt like an outsider among these accomplished, networked women. This was clearly not my crowd. I felt a bit of resentment and bitterness towards the organizers who spoke of the warm and fuzzy kinship of female business owners, and how important it is to lead but also to pull other up along with you. So far, my own experience didn't really speak to that. "Yeah, right" I thought, "...as long as you have an 'in' and are all part of your clique" I thought should be the addendum to that sentiment. It was a nice thought. Whatever.
As I learned, unless you have a contact who can make the introductions for you, it is INSANELY hard to make any significant progress at an event where you don't know a soul, unless everyone else is in the same boat - which is unlikely.
Then you have events at the other end of the spectrum: meetup lunches or brunches with a small group of ladies, some are owners of their own business, most are direct sales consultants. These groups are a dime a dozen. The idea sounds great on paper but again, it's good to consider who will be in attendance and if they are really the people who you want to connect with. That might sound snobby but it isn't. Time is money. When you are building a business you have to look at it in those terms. Sure it is nice to go out an meet people, and most in attendance at those smaller meetup events are very nice people but they might not be the RIGHT people.
By right people I mean to you and you alone. For example, what do they offer to you? Who do they know? Are they well-connected and therefore can help you meet valuable other people relevant to your business? Are they potential clients? Do they represent a viable target market opportunity? All of those questions are valid and warrant consideration.
Stop networking with the wrong people; people who would never buy your product or who wouldn't respond to your business model. It's not mean; it's strategic.
This leads to my second point: being choosy about your target market. I could go off on this topic for a good, long while. In fact, I plan to. I will be creating a program as part of my 20-Minute Marketer series about target market profiling but I digress...
Just because people are nice, or have a business or are living and breathing and have money to buy things doesn't mean they are right for YOUR business.
It might seem contrary to limit who you are targeting because it means your are targeting fewer people, but in reality it means that you are actually not wasting time or resources targeting the WRONG people. Unless your product has very wide, generic appeal like shampoo or hand soap (and even then, you can be selective!), a broader target market doesn't necessarily equate to more sales.
What does make a difference is making sure you know who your business or product resonates with the most. Tapping into that will pay off.
Likewise with networking, identifying the best opportunities for YOU is what is most important. Think about what you want to accomplish and the type of people you would benefit most from meeting and let that be your guide.
Most of all, BE AUTHENTIC. Don't approach your target market or next networking event like a vulture circling it's next meal. It's give and and take. Give advice, listen, be courteous. What grows out of highly targeted events and markets is a natural fit that will bloom without being forced.
The TAKEAWAY: Businesses, people, ideas, products - they all thrive when built upon natural connections and complementary relationships. Finding that "fit" is the key to success whether we are talking about mentors, networking or defining your target market.