Professionals in specialized industries like accounting, law, architecture, or insurance enjoy the creative problem solving and intellectual exchange of helping clients reach their goals… from the comfort of their office or perhaps a conference room. Not many professionals entered their field with dreams of spending their evenings at cash-bar events exchanging business cards and pleasantries with 1,000 other people.
Often it is my role to encourage professionals to be outside their comfort zone in order to do networking or other business development activities. For a taste of my own medicine, this week I had three opportunities to be outside my comfort zone and they were quite different.
#1: On Friday I had to weigh my options; stay home or venture out despite living in one of the towns near where the alleged marathon bomber was hiding. I hunkered down for the day until about 4pm when I went for a run with a friend. We had a “Take that terrorists! You can’t ruin my day!” kind of attitude.
#2: On Saturday I took a beginner dance class. The instructor was condescending and sarcastic about my attempts to repeat her movements and unhelpful when I asked for feedback. She did not make me feel comfortable and I was counting the minutes until I could leave.
#3: On Tuesday I went to a networking event that involved creative expression. The goal was to do five drawings in 45 minutes while following guidelines like filling the entire page or following a theme. My inner-critic was judgmental and filled me with self-doubt but the instructor was 100% supportive.
Which of these most closely relates to your experience with networking and business development?
- · #1: It was uncomfortable so I’m glad someone I knew was there.
- · #2: It was a wretched experience that I hope to avoid in the future.
- · #3: It was a bit awkward but since it had structure and defined goals, I could try that again.
The next time you go contemplate whether to venture out to a networking event, try to define your discomfort and determine if there is something you can change to make it better. Perhaps you would do better in a more structured environment like a closed monthly networking group. Perhaps you should invite a colleague to join you so you’re never alone. Perhaps you would feel more comfortable in a group that is demographically like you (women, under 40, focused on an niche). Perhaps you should focus on your current network and use LinkedIn to identify people to meet one-on-one.
There is a networking and business development strategy for everyone. It may take some trial and error, and you’ll likely be out of your comfort zone at least part of the time, but this is an import component of every professional’s career so the sooner you make it work for you the better.
Still not sure what to do? Reach out and we’ll figure it out together.
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