Bad At Networking? Try Community Networking…

I’ve always found networking difficult… when I had to do it… for work.

The Story Of A Networking Inept…

My employer would go to great lengths to organize networking events so all the consultants including myself (working daily on client sites) could meet once in a while and learn to know each other and share success stories.

I would stand awkwardly on the side with a glass in my hand waiting for people to approach me. When they did, I had very little to say (a bit about my work, their work,…. and blank…). I found it easier to talk to people who had a few more drinks later in the evening. They were more relaxed and would open up but, come the following event, they’d forgotten about me.

To me, networking had become a dirty word, something that sleazy people did to be noticed… not I. I would be noticed by the quality of my work alone… or so I thought.

I was wrong. When the company had to make cuts, my outstanding work didn’t matter. When I found myself jobless, I had too few contacts to call upon.

… Turned ‘Mover And Shaker’

Fast forward 10 years and, here I am, constantly meeting new people, putting in touch others, doing favours, receiving favours, having fun networking!

Not only have I noticed the change in myself but others seem to have noticed it too. To my surprise I recently learned that I was considered one of the ‘movers and shakers’ of my community! Me, the networking inept initiating change and influencing events!

How did that happen?

Well, I’ve come to love networking. Not just because it’s useful but because it’s fun too.

The main difference is that now, I’m not forced to network. And most importantly, I network within my community.

I discovered community networking thanks to my children first.

When they joined a nursery, I met other parents and discovered we had loads in common: similar interests, similar issues – mainly kids related (juggling work and children, potty training, children-friendly places, ….) but not only (karate, walking,..).

When my children moved to the French school in London, the discovery was mind-boggling: all of a sudden I realized there were loads of parents who like me were French but had lived and worked for a long time in the UK, often married to a Brit. They, like me, were faced with the same issues of raising dual-nationality children in 2 cultures and 2 languages. They had similar tastes to mine, were from similar background and had gone through similar experiences. I was never stuck for a conversation subject any more! I had fun talking to people, developing relationships, friendships, helping out whenever needed.

So What Was I Doing Differently?

The real secret to networking, like Alan says, is to be yourself. Networking within a community of like-minded people allowed me to do just that: be myself. By being myself, I was relaxed, friendly, easy to create rapport with.

That’s when I discovered networking was actually the best way to open new possibilities.

Looking for a new car? Somebody would know somebody who could get me a discount. Looking for a recommended plumber? Somebody would know just the person. Looking for a new job? Let me help you with your CV. I’m stuck with nobody looking after my children? No problem, leave them with me, they’ll play with mine until you’re back.

When, eventually, we moved out of London for the countryside. I seeked to recreate what I had in London and looked for other expats. There were few French people and even fewer who were interested in hooking up just because we were French. They had been here a long time and had their own network.

So, I didn’t dispair. I found myself a new community. I joined the village committee, the school association, helped the Brownies leaders, found another karate club. And presto I met like-minded people who shared common interests, people who knew people and things and were happy to share their knowledge.

A New Vision Of Networking

Now, my perception of networking has completely changed. From a dreaded negative activity to a very positive bundle of experiences. It’s made me a lot more sociable and outgoing. It’s opened up many opportunities and made things easier. I wished I’d known all this when I started working. It would have helped me tremendously. And frankly, it would have made me better at my job.

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