It might seem like a stupid time to write about networking, when we’re currently socially distancing due to the coronavirus, but I’m going to do it anyway. In fact, I’d argue now is a very good time to be thinking about networking.
At the moment, everyone feels like the enemy.
The other day, I was out for a walk and a woman with a facemask laden with shopping bags rounded the corner, saw me heading towards her on the path, and froze. As per my new instincts, I immediately crossed the road. She proceeded a few metres forward to her front door, and called ‘Thank you!’ across the street to me.
‘That’s okay!’ I replied cheerily. But actually, my eyes welled up and a lump formed in my throat.
Because it doesn’t feel right to be living this way – afraid of passing other people in the street.
Social nervousness and networking
A lot of people don’t realise this because I’m pretty good at fighting through it, but I’m quite a shy person. I can find it stressful talking to people – even family members and friends. And I’ve learned over the years that the more interaction I have with people, the easier and less stressful it becomes. It’s something I try to ‘keep on top of’ – because otherwise the anxiety can get … not debilitating, but annoyingly difficult.
When the time comes that we can start interacting with people again, I am going to be an exhausted, sweaty mess for a while, let me tell you!
A lot of people get nervous when they meet new people, or see people they don’t know very well, or have to navigate large crowds. And that’s why a lot of people’s stomachs knot up when they see the word ‘networking’.
Whether you’re an author or an editor, you’re going to have to do some networking at some point in your career – at conferences, workshops, book launches, reading groups or literary events.
I shied away from networking for a long time. Part of the reason I decided to work for myself was so I didn’t have to do things I didn’t want to do – like meeting new people in a professional capacity. But then I realised I wanted to learn from my fellow editors, and to do that I’d probably have to talk to them.
I quickly discovered that my fears were unfounded. I attended an informal get-together of local editors, and I came home buzzing from the interaction. Turns out, editors are a lovely bunch.
Now I have a better understanding of what professional networking is – and what it isn’t. Thankfully, it’s not about drinking cheap wine from a plastic cup and handing out business cards while spouting your elevator pitch (though sometimes those things are involved). Mostly, networking is about getting to know your professional peers.
And by the way, online networking counts too.
What are your reasons for networking?
If you find the idea of networking a bit daunting, I highly recommend spending some time thinking about what you want from doing it. Because if you really think you won’t gain anything from it (or it just doesn’t feel worth the time or effort), then don’t worry about it! Let yourself off the hook, and focus on other things.
But if there are things you want, reminding yourself of them will encourage you to get out there (metaphorically).
For me, I want to network with my fellow editors for a number of reasons.
I want to:
- Be known – so I’m top-of-mind if someone needs to make a recommendation or referral.
- Learn about others – so I can make referrals and recommendations of my own.
- Learn from others – since there’s always so much to learn about running an editorial business.
- Make friends with people who understand my profession – so I can moan about commas to people who understand my pain!
If I have referrals and recommendations coming in, if I know who to recommend if I can’t take on a job myself, if I’m able to tap into the collective wisdom of my industry, and if I feel like I’ve made some friends along the way, that’s the result of successful networking.
Making networking easier
If you want to be a successful networker, my main advice is this: be present and be helpful.
Being present means being open to chatting to people online (social media, forums, video meet-ups etc.), and attending events and gatherings without hiding in the corner for too long (once such things are up and running again, of course).
Stop thinking about yourself (if your hair is smooth enough or if people can see your sweat patches) and start focusing on the person you’re talking to and what they’re saying. (Maybe take a step back of those sweat patches are pretty bad. Just saying – people have noses.)
By actually listening to the person, the conversation will flow. But if you’re thinking about what you should say next, when it’s your turn in the conversation, you won’t have registered what the other person has been saying – so you won’t know how to respond appropriately. Also, people know when you’re not really listening to them, and that doesn’t create a great impression.
Being helpful means not just talking about yourself all the time, and providing advice or talking about your experiences when asked or when it feels appropriate. Emphasis on that last bit. Spouting reems of advice people haven’t asked for can be very annoying.
Networking can feel uncomfortable at times, but it’s worth reminding yourself why it’s important. If you focus on having a good time and making friends – by being present and being helpful – the more traditional benefits will follow.
And while we’re all socially distancing, don’t forget to reach out to people online – because we’re all still here, and we all need each other. More now than anything.