by Aron Daniels
With travel coffee mug in hand, I finally work up the nerve to step out of my car and find my way into a restaurant I’ve never been to. I find an empty seat in the back of a room full of strangers. It’s awkward to step into a room knowing I’m the outsider. I’ve been a graphic designer for ten years at this point, but this particular morning, as everyone stands and speaks about their various professions, I feel unqualified, and certain that everyone will notice right away. I have just moved to Greenville and I don’t know anybody. This day, I’m taking my first step.
My nerves subside as I near the end of my coffee, so I stand, introduce myself, and explain what I do for a living. Afterward, I actually meet a couple of people. I come back again the following week, and by the third visit, I decide that I want to join the group. I figure this is all I’ll need to do to start my new business booming, right? Wrong.
What is networking?
I did not know then what to expect from joining my very first networking group, Business Networking East (BNE). After attending for a couple of months and not receiving any direct business from the group, I wondered what I was doing wrong. Was this worth the money, or even the drive across town? My schedule was crazy enough as it was; I could not waste energy on things that were not going to bring in business. But rather than search for a weakness in the group, I decided to see what adjustments I could make in how I was approaching networking. Because ultimately, we are in charge of ourselves, and ourselves alone.
I knew I wanted business from a business networking group, but more than that, I wanted to bring something to the group that would ideally add value for other members. To get to know the other members outside of our once-per-week meetings, I scheduled lunches and coffeehouse chats, and emailed people to follow up on the conversations we had shared. It didn’t take long before the weekly meetings stopped being entirely about business. I gave high-fives, cracked jokes with new friends, and referred fellow members to family and friends whenever the opportunities arose. I volunteered my design services for a few flyers, banners, and website graphics for the group—just because I could. I was adding value.
Then it happened! Someone asked me to make them a business card. Someone else needed a logo, and I left a meeting with details in my notebook, the projects mentally taking shape in my brain as I drove home. I set up a meeting to talk through a brochure project. Another member referred me to someone and made sure I had the contact information to follow up. You know what? Because I knew those people as individuals from our lunch meetings and coffee breaks, I knew exactly how to design their projects.
This is the secret to networking success. People are not numbers. Invest time and attention in people; be generous with them. If you get business, great. If you don’t get business, you probably have a new friend.
I now have been in Greenville for nearly five years, and nearly everyone I know here are extensions of the people who were in that room the day I attended my first networking group meeting. I befriended those people, and as members and visitors cycled through the group, I remained in contact. Eventually those relationships branched out to new friendships, some of which included business opportunities.
Networking isn’t about using people. It’s about giving to people. I would say that I still give more referrals than I receive, but that’s because I love connecting people. Today I’ve belonged to Business Networking East (BNE) for nearly 5 years, my wife is a member of Women’s Power Networking (WPN), and together we recently joined the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. Going to these meetings aren’t merely items on our to-do lists. They don’t even feel like meetings most weeks; they’re chances to connect with friends for whom we happen to have professional respect. It’s win-win.
So, what is networking? It’s not an hour in a room with people. It’s being who you are and connecting with other people who are killin’ it. There are great quality networking opportunities here in Greenville. Here are the ones with which we are personally involved:
Business Networking East
The Barn at St. Andrews (upstairs)
400 St. Andrews Drive
Wednesdays 8:00am – 9:00am
Women’s Power Networking
The Painted Peacock
Women’s Power Networking
Great Harvest Bread Company
Tuesdays 12:30pm – 1:45pm
Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce