Two days ago I attended The Santa Barbara Business Expo, my first networking event. Almost all the business blogs and books I’ve read give importance to networking and nothing convinced me more than when I met with my friend Jackie, a real estate agent. I asked her how business was since she had only become a licensed for a few months earlier, and from what I know about real estate, it takes years to get clients. But she told me that she’s busy and business keeps coming. What? How? I asked her what she did for marketing, and how she sought clients.
“Well, it was really easy. I found some real estate agent networking events to go to, and this guy I met told me he was leaving for Shanghai and gave me all his clients”.
My eyes widened. Of course there was some luck to this, and I couldn’t help myself from being jealous. I had spent the past few months, thinking of a business identity and value proposition, targeting my niche, sending out cold emails, meeting with potential middlemen …and Jackie just goes to a networking event and gets handed business.
At that point I had my heart set network.
Saturday came, the day of The Santa Barbara Business Expo, and I arrived not fully prepared. There were two things I wanted to do but forgot.
1. I was supposed to review the networking script found in “The Sales Bible”.
2. I didn’t bring my business cards except one (yeah…I know)
So we arrive and I’m feeling jittery and slightly uncomfortable with wearing a suit. While waiting in line a lady opened us and asked about our business, telling us that she was an artist. I felt good after talking with her and thought I would soon be in a gregarious state, but that didn’t happen.
The next half an hour was spent walking around and looking at the booths doing nothing. They announced that speakers would come up and talk so we sat and listened. By the time the third speaker came, I was just miserable. I woke up early just to come to an event to hear a speaker tell me the 5 biggest mistakes of networking. I had enough and got up to use the restroom. I’m glad I got up because after using the restroom, I came back and decided I could not patiently sit down and listen to “How to manage stress while running a business”.
I went to booths and asked about their business for the rest of the day. It was great. Tony, my business partner, brought his business cards so we handed them out and met a few people who were interested in our business.
There were a few good interactions I remember:
An SEO company wanted to trade their services for our services.
A real estate agent overheard about our services and chased us down to find out more about us.
A consultant gave me a signed book.
One of the main things I learned was that small businesses are not about using business lingo and testing each other. Small businesses are mainly trying to make friends with other small businesses.
Another thing I learned that really eased my mind halfway through the day is that most people are good at networking. When I first came to this realization I was intimidated by it. It made me nervous that nearly everyone was warm, open and better talkers than me. But as I talked to more people I saw how wonderful this actually is. Everyone is good at networking! Everyone knows to be a value giver than a value taker! After asking about their business, I don’t have to transition to talk about mine, they ask. They look for ways to be benefited by my business. They want to take my card and at the very least they pretend to want to.
This is probably the biggest insight I’ve drawn on networking and makes networking even more important. My frame is no longer “Oh I have to somehow subtly show that my business is good”, but instead, “If I walk into a room people will be trying to hand me opportunities”.
I left that day with a goodie bag, dozens of business cards and a smile on my face. It was a great experience.
A few changes I would make for future networking events:
1. Bring my business cards
2. Rehearse my elevator pitch
3. Buy a booth, a small booth. Throughout my day I wished there was some way to talk to other people that weren’t holding booths. A booth only costs 10-20 dollars more but allows everyone to come talk to you.
4. Have a consistent answer for the common questions. Throughout the day when asked what my business was, I would say, “video production business”, “I am a creative director”, “we provide photo and video services”. The fact that I had to hesitate and think about this answer made me uncomfortable. Next time I’m asked it will be “We do video production”. No variation.
I haven’t been too optimistic after getting no replies from my first networking event.
And yesterday’s networking event left me even more cynical. It was a free event hosted by the Young Professionals Association here in town. It began well, I met a very friendly lady who was interested in hearing about our business while waiting in line to get into the event. Then from there, my nerves just continued to get rattled. It wasn’t similar to the first networking meeting, where the people talked to you with courteous interest. The young professionals seemed distant as if they didn’t even want to network. Half of them were only there for the free booze. Halfway trying to make conversation with girls, this cynical fury took over. I decided to get things done rather than being intentional (or seeming intentional) to meet people. I decided to ask about their business, tell them about my business, ask if they knew anyone who needed my video production services, then get their card and move on.
At the end of the day I could still call it a success. We handed out all of our cards and had a few interested people.
The morning after, I attended another networking event, but this time the crowd was much different. The people were much older, and warmer. I felt compelled listen to them more and even if they didn’t benefit me, I felt compelled to befriend them.
It’s interesting to compare the two: the older group that I’ve enjoyed more networking with, and had more quality conversations with, and the younger group that I’ve made more connections with in quantity.
It was a painfully long drive up to the asylum, and it didn't take long to feel the familiar gripping sensation in my chest. It has been months since I last tried to enter the grounds, and it hadn't gotten any easier. The building is visible long before you arrive, and though we were a long way off I had to ask my doctor to pull over, as I had begun to panic. After a few minutes, I was able to calm myself further, but as we finally arrived, I could not help but feel fear as we went through the wrought iron gates and headed towards the main entrance.
By the time we parked and exited the car I could already feel myself beginning to become upset. I took some medicine, and that seemed to take the edge off. We went in and picked up our passes for the facility. Unlike a standard visitor, we were allowed a bit more freedom in terms of where we could go. My therapist said to me that there was no way of knowing what would trigger my memory, so having less restrictions was necessary. We began to look around, heading down various passages and corridors, and entering the numerous rooms.
I could feel a sense of familiarity, but nothing for certain. We eventually made it to the common room, the time of day making it so it was largely filled with patients. As we wandered through, several of them recognized my therapist, far more than I had anticipated. While he addressed them, I walked around the room, trying to take in as much as I could. I got near one of the windows, and noticed two patients sitting at a small table. As I approached, I realized that I knew who they were. One I recognized by his face. The other I recognized through his hands.
The man on the left was the same one I interviewed back in May, his eyes bloodshot and his hands trembling. He averted my gaze, and it was clear that he still didn't want to talk to me. I don't blame him. When I met him he had recently lost his children. Things hadn't seemed to have improved since then. As he sat I could notice him nodding his head, as if doing so in time to some music. According to a orderly he hadn't slept in three days.
The one on the right I had never had a chance to talk to. I only knew them by the stories people shared, when he became the churches new organist. His fingers were misshapen and gnarled, and he struggled to pick up the cards in front of him. He seemed to be trying to make a house of cards, but in between his own trembling hands and the constant shaking of the man across from him, he never managed to keep the cards up for more then a second or so.