Some folks might view last night’s forays into the world of networking as simply an easy way to score gourmet nosh and free wine. Which it is. 😀 But it’s also something far more than that.
Networking is something you’re going to have to get used to doing if you ever plan on owning your own business, getting a job, moving up in the job that you currently work at or moving away from a job that is no longer working for you or that will be ending soon *cough-Americorps-cough* and into something better or different or just next on the list of stuff to do.
Of course, there are tons of other things networking can help you do – make friends, find a mate, have fun, discover cool projects or causes to join, meet new people – but those mentioned in the last paragraph are the one’s I’ll be talking about here.
Now, when I go to these events I don’t go as “Soni Americorps” for the simple reason that I plan on helping myself to a glass of wine or two and that’s a no-no when you’re officially representin’ with your gear and all (although I’m not shy about what I do if I’m asked, I’m never there in my “official capacity” as an Americorps member). OTOH, I’m constantly on the lookout for folks who can either help the program or help me with my program, some of the projects I’m working on, etc. And, of course, I’m always eyes-wide-open for new strategic partnerships and business for my own bill-paying work.
To put it bluntly, I’m a firm believer that financial capital follows social capital. Because in many cases, the old truism is, well, true: it ain’t what you know, it’s who you know.
This month, I hit paydirt in terms of folks who can help me with my long-term vision of creating some sort of micro-enterprise training center in the housing developments to help residents build self-sufficiency and financial stability. I discovered a local internet service company who is working on blanketing the Asheville area with broadband over powerline service, which is perfect for the prospect of wiring the entire develpment for broadband. (I shared a copy of a similar article with the housing development director last week, and she was extremely interested and excited, but unsure of how to proceed. BINGO!) I also got to talk to the local SCORE folks, who would make a great partner for this venture, as well as some local educational organizations who do small business classes and a women’s business group who offers scholarships, among others.
Long story short, by spending the night enjoying some great food and drink while opening myself up to meeting new people and listening to what they have to offer, I’ve got a good start on creating a foundation of contacts who can help me turn this vision into reality. (I also met a few potential partnerships and clients for my business, to boot, which is always nice.)
Of course, sometimes the events pan out and other times they don’t. The overwhelming success of this one had a lot to do with the fact that this wasn’t the Chamber of Commerce’s ordinary networking event – this month, it was sort of hybrid networking/merchant showcase/business awards thingy, so there were a lot of local businesses with tables out to promote their stuff (mmmmm…free post-its). But still, you never know where opportunity will strike. I’ve found clients, partnerships, friends and the like in the dullest of groups.
The thing is, you just gotta get out there. Most jobs go to people whom those in the hiring seat already know (or who have been referred to them), so it’s in your best interest to build those relationships before you need them. (As the saying goes, dig your well before you get thirsty.) On the other end of the action, a business can’t function without a steady stream of new clients, partnerships and collaborations, and whether you own it or are just another working stiff holding down his or her section of the cube farm, you’re responsible for finding those people and bringing them into the fold.
Once you become an adult, unless your goal is to climb up onto a mountainside and retire into the life of a naked, unwashed hermit living on dew and wind-borne edibles, networking is a skill you’ll need to master sooner rather than later. And, as I’ve mentioned before, being an Americorps member grants you access to some lofty places and important people that you would almost certainly never have had on your own. Take advantage of that now, while you’ve still got it, because once you’ve formed those relationships (assuming you take the time to nurture and maintain them) they’re yours for life.