Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with @pamslim. Pamela Slim is an award-winning author, speaker and leader in the new world of work. She spent the first 10 years of her solo practice as a consultant to large corporations such as Hewlett-Packard, Charles Schwab and Cisco Systems, where she worked with thousands of employees, managers and executives. In 2005, she started the Escape from Cubicle Nation blog, which is now one of the top career and business sites on the web. She has coached thousands of budding entrepreneurs, in businesses ranging from martial arts studios to software start-ups. Her new book, Body of Work, was released with Penguin Portfolio in January 2014. For more information, visit pamelaslim.com.
SmallBizLady: What do you think of when you hear “Build your network?”
Pamela Slim: Many people think that “building a network” is a huge amount of work that involves lots of time and energy. I prefer to think of networking as a daily practice of planting seeds in the right gardens, having useful and fun conversations, and thinking strategically about the kind of people who can help your business grow.
Building a network is actually building a community, and that takes time, patience and continued effort.
SmallBizLady: Why do most people dislike networking?
Pamela Slim: Some people feel that networking is disingenuous, and that they have to be extremely self-promotional to be effective. The best networkers I know are very natural and relaxed. They show up in a group as interested listeners, and as helpful providers of information.
The things that you dislike about networking – awkward conversations, the pressure to close sales and lots of discomfort – can be solved through careful planning, preparation, and reframed expectations.
SmallBizLady: What is the definition of networking?
Pamela Slim: My definition of building a network is to support, empower, uplift and improve the quality of life of the people you most care about serving. From this perspective, your beloved customer or client is at the center of your network, and it is your job to surround them with excellent resources, people and information.
When you go to a live event, or read an article, always think about people you know who could benefit from it. This is building a network of support for the people you care about. And business results will follow, including increased fans, friends, clients and opportunities.
SmallBizLady: What is a good way to network with people before a live event?
Pamela Slim: If you are attending a live event or conference, look for the Twitter hashtag, which is usually on the event page. Search the hashtag, and read what the organizers, speakers and attendees are talking about. Interact with them, share information, and begin to form a relationship. If you can, set a place and time to meet at the live event so that you will know at least one or two friendly faces in a new crowd.
SmallBizLady: What is a good way to break the ice at a live event?
Pamela Slim: One of my favorite opening questions at a live event is “What brought you here?” This is a nice open-ended question that shows interest in the person you are talking to, and is likely to elicit replies that not only share who the person is and what they do, but also what they are looking to get out of the event. You can use this information to help them have a positive experience at the event, which will strengthen your bond and relationship.
SmallBizLady: What kinds of things should you share with your network?
Pamela Slim: You should have a plan for sharing information with your network, which I call a “Content Map.” Your content map should define all of the topics, questions and information that would interest your ideal client. If you are not sure what they are interested in, then ask! If you already have a mailing list, send out a short survey. If you work with clients directly, spend a few minutes asking them what their biggest challenges are, and what information they wish they had. Then build your content plan to solve these problems and provide the information, in the form of blog posts, ebooks, webinars, Tweets, or live events. Make sure that you are sharing at least 50% of information from others as part of your content plan, even if the information comes from some of your competitors. You want to be known as the person who is relentlessly helpful.
SmallBizLady: How can you network on social media?
Pamela Slim: There are three basic rules for networking on social media: Be yourself, be helpful and be productive. If you have a small business, you want to use every interaction with friends and clients to be useful. Show your personal interests and personality, because that builds a human connection. That said, be very aware of what you say. Know that every comment you make on social media could end up being shared broadly. Political rants, emotional tirades or snarky comments that are easily misinterpreted are NOT wise to share on social media (or anywhere, save the ear of your spouse or best friend).
SmallBizLady: How can you find great places to meet ideal clients in person?
Pamela Slim: A good planning question to ask when plotting out good places in network in person is “Which meetups, conferences or meetings do my ideal clients regularly attend?” I call these your “watering holes,” since they are teeming with people you want to hang out with. If you want to find professional association meetings in your area, Google “(Name of Association) in (Name of your City),” for example “Professional accounting associations in Mesa, AZ). You can also use meetup.com to search for groups that meet over common interests. To find interesting conferences, you can use http://www.allconferences.com/ or Google the type of conference, and the current year.
SmallBizLady: How can you network if you are an introvert?
Pamela Slim: My client and friend Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, has taught me a lot about the true definition of introvert. We have many cultural stereotypes about introverts, like they are socially awkward, shy and not good with people. This is not true. Introverts simply draw their energy differently than extroverts, and so get more drained from large groups and superficial conversations. Knowing this, if you are an introvert, planning and preparing for events will help you a lot. Aim to have a couple of longer, in-depth conversations with just a few people, rather than multiple conversations with many. And then after a period of lots of personal interaction, make sure you have plenty of time alone to rest and restore your energy.
SmallBizLady: How did you build your own network?
Pamela Slim: I had been in business as a consultant for 10 years before I started my first blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, in 2005. While I had trusted friends and former business colleagues, my blog was the vehicle that blew open so many opportunities. People started to follow my blog, then, when social media was invented, I was able to connect with them on Twitter and Facebook. When I did my first book tour in 2009, I used Twitter to determine the cities that had the most interested readers, and I set up workshops in San Francisco, San Jose, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta and Dallas. I continue to nurture my network on social media, and often host meetups in cities where I will be speaking.
SmallBizLady: How do you avoid becoming overwhelmed with networking?
Pamela Slim: Great networks are built with thought and care. Watch where you spend your time and energy. You do not have to attend a different business event every night in your city; you will be better served by planning and preparing for a once a month gathering that is filled with ideal contacts. Instead of staying on social media all day, plan for blocks in your day when you can check in and share information and respond to questions. It takes some discipline, but with practice, you will make building your network a core part of your every day work, that is not draining.
SmallBizLady: How can you remain indispensable to your network?
Pamela Slim: The best way to maintain a thriving network is to never take your community for granted. You are not collecting “fans,” “numbers on your list,” or “customers,” you are building real relationships with real people. Stay connected to your mission, and if you lose enthusiasm for your work, choose a different path. You must continue to learn and grow, in order to remain indispensable to your network. The great thing is: you don’t have to do it alone. My community has been amazingly supportive as I have shifted business models, written different books, and managed work-life balance as my children have grown. There is nothing more empowering than knowing that you are truly making a difference in the lives of those you most care about serving.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.