Expert Advice On Business Networking And Tips On Developing Your Networking Skills

Colleen Wainwright interview – writer- designer-consultant, the communicatrix

Colleen Wainwright is a writerdesigner-consultant who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. After spending almost two decades acquiring ninja skillz in some dubious fields of communication, she now uses her powers for good and not evil by sharing her knowledge wherever she can, including her free, monthly newsletter, “communicatrix | focuses,” which she hopes you’ll consider signing up for!

Josh: How do you define Business Networking and why do you feel it is important?

Colleen Wainwright: Gaaaah! Those words! So scary and off-putting, especially when capitalized!

At some point in the past couple of years, I remember stumbling across the definition of “networking” that finally de-toxified it for me: Networking is meeting people. That’s it.

Given that as a basis, I’d say “business networking” is just “meeting people in a business setting” and/or “meeting people for business purposes.” Neither of which is wrong or bad. But I think the most effective kind of meeting people is just to meet them with a strong sense of who you are and what you have to offer the world, and when you do meet them, to not see them dressed up as big, tasty, potential clients, but as people.

Basically, when you meet people, you are a walking ad or promotion for you. As wine guru/explosive social networking presence Gary Vaynerchuk pointed out recently in a terrific video, there’s no separating the Business You from the Personal You anymore. You can’t be a shark at work, a good guy in meatspace and a sh*t to your dog; the transparency of the Internet has removed places to hide.

As to why networking of any kind is important, no man is an island. We all need each other at some point: for work, for help, for companionship… you name it.

Josh: Can you share an idea or two that someone could put into practice that would help them to improve their business networking skills?

Colleen Wainwright: Numbers 1, 2 & 3 on my list are probably “loosen up.” Nothing turns me off faster than someone getting all car-salesman on me. Yes, it’s good to have a 10-second statement and elevator speech and business cards, etc. But the main thing is to relax, take in and enjoy. Remember, you’re meeting people, not selling to them.

Also, king of all networkers Chris Brogan has great tips on this. (You’ll have to dig around on his site to find them, though, since by his own admission he’s not the best at tagging and organizing his vast store of info.)

Josh: One of the catch 22’s in a typical networking environment is that people don’t want to focus only on themselves and what they do, but at the same time, they do want to communicate what they do to the other person. With that being the case, in your opinion how can someone go about getting across what they do in the most effective manner?

Colleen Wainwright: Well, first off, I’d say “avoid typical networking environments.” 🙂

But if you can’t, here are good things to remember (I’m constantly reminding myself, so I know whereof I speak).

1. Don’t worry about turning the focus on you.

Chris Brogan (my hero) has never talked about himself with anyone I’ve seen him meet. The first time we met in person, we talked for an hour, and while I’m pretty sure he asked me about me, I’m positive he didn’t talk about himself. Instead, he engaged me in lively, wonderful conversation. As a result, I did the legwork of finding out all about him. Now that is some high-level network-fu!

2. You don’t have to meet everyone.

Part of why it gets so nuts is people are racing to collect the biggest stack of business cards possible. Why? So they can spend hours entering them into a database and never call them again?

Focus on one or two (or more, depending on time and your energy/abilities) quality conversations. I’m still doing business with the people I did that with. And it’s fun business!

3. Be your business.

No matter what you’re selling, what you’re really selling is (a), yourself and (b) how you will serve me in whatever it is you do. If you are polite, attentive, interesting, charming, etc., I’m probably going to look for ways to find out what you do, and how to either work with you or help you.

My friend, writer Dave Greten, has a great story about how this attitude basically changed his life and started him out on the career path he’s still on today.

Josh: How do you generally engage a person in conversation upon first meeting them? I realize this is a bit of an open ended question, so let’s assume it’s someone you’ve just met in a semi-professional setting such as at an event, or local Chamber of Commerce type of meeting.

Colleen Wainwright: As you say, there’s no one way. But I try to be in the moment, and work off something that’s actually happening. Sometimes, the person will be wearing a suit or shoes or something that’s really cool I can comment on. Sometimes you can talk about the food (a great thing is meeting people in the food line) or the speaker or even the traffic (lame, but this is L.A. and it’s a legitimate topic here.)

The greatest thing to do is some research before so you’re not meeting them cold. Then you can say, “Oh, are you the so-and-so who…” or “I was checking out your website before the event and…” or whatever. Don’t be creepy or stalker-y, though. If you can’t toss that off naturally, then stick to the basics: “Hi, I’m/and you are?”, etc.

Josh: How important has networking been in your own professional life. Can you share a few examples where it has made a difference?

Colleen Wainwright: Before I started designing full-time, I did it as a hobby for years. When I wanted to make the transition, I knew I’d have to have “real” clients: working for “fonts money” wasn’t going to cut it.

So with the help of my mentor, Ilise Benun, I targeted certain places to begin meeting people (see me avoiding the “networking” word?) and also began practicing ways of introducing myself.

The results were extraordinary almost from the outset. I’m still doing subcontracting work for one presentation specialist I met during my first round of networking, and that first year, I picked up four or five clients just from attending events-clients I’m still either actively working for or in good touch with.

Possibly even more important is how much visibility my meeting people, both online and off, has given me. My web presence has grown astronomically since I went online and started blogging, contributing to the conversation on people’s websites, Twittering, etc. Since my long-term goal is to write and speak for a living, raising my visibility and gathering a critical mass of fans is really, really important.

Sometimes, meeting people is a long game.

Josh: What is your favorite (preferred) business or social networking site? In your opinion what are the key features which are most valuable to you? What makes the resources you use most appealing to you, as opposed to the other online networking resources and sites that are available?

Colleen Wainwright: While I’m on most of the pure business networking sites so people can find me, I find I like the social networking sites the best. I’m over the moon about Twitter. While it takes a while to get used to, it’s a great way to stay in touch, to discover new things and to improve your short game, writing-wise. It was indispensable at SXSW this year, where I was running around from here to there and so was everyone I wanted to meet up with. The “public IM” functionality of Twitter is unparalleled right now, I think.

Of the rest, I’d say I like StumbleUpon, Google Reader (shared items), Clipmarks, FriendFeed and yes, even del.icio.us, although it’s been somewhat less useful since the advent of these other sites.

I am not a huge fan of MySpace, because it’s so hideous and clunky, or Facebook, because it’s a closed system. But I appreciate that many people are on them, and it’s not a huge effort to throw up a page there (emphasis on “throw up”), so I did.

The most important thing to me, at this point, is signal-to-noise ratio: how much valuable info am I getting relative to crap, and how much can I control it. For me, Twitter has the tools, rudimentary as they are, for keeping things manageable. I just hope the spammers and gross self-promoters can be kept at bay, at least until someone comes up with an even better tool!

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