BusinessDictionary.com defines networking as “creating a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communications for mutual benefit.” And some of the most common places to meet these types of professional contacts include Chamber of Commerce get-togethers, field-based events and trainings, referrals from family and friends, or pretty much any type of gathering where you’re likely to find other professionals in your field or area.
However, I’ve also found that some of my best connections have been made in the most unexpected places. Here are a few of them, as well as some shared by others who’ve experienced the benefits of networking outside of the normal venues:
On a Plane
If you’re flying and going to be stuck in the same seat next to a total stranger for hours, why not make the most of it and talk to him or her? Who knows; you might just make a connection that will benefit both of you.
I did this once when I was flying from California to Michigan. With more than five hours to kill, I struck up a conversation with my seat mate. We immediately hit it off when I told her I was former law enforcement and she shared that she currently worked for a local prosecuting attorney. Boy did we have stories to share!
Anyway, after talking for a while, I told her that I was a writer now and had published a book about weight loss, something that she admitted she’d been struggling with for quite some time. I gave her my business card and received notice that she downloaded it the very next day. That’s one connection and book sale I wouldn’t have made (and countless others if she referred my book to her friends) had I decided to keep to myself versus starting an innocent conversation strictly to pass the time.
I had always thought that Toastmasters existed solely to help people with speaking-related careers or positions become more proficient while standing in front of a crowd. Yet at the first meeting I attended with this worldwide organization, I learned that it is so much more. Belonging to this group also teaches you how to effectively communicate and develop yourself as a leader, two factors that can help you with networking. Plus, I’ve made some really good connections just by being involved.
Some members are fellow business owners, giving me great contacts as either mentors or even clients. Others have requested information about how they can become better writers or publish their own books as well, giving me the opportunity to help them get ahead too. Either way, it’s been a win/win all the way around, making it a surprising but effective networking tool that I’ve never really thought about using before.
Through Social Media
I don’t know about you, but when I set up my social media pages for my business, I had simply hoped that they would help me grow my platform in able to make a bigger impact when it comes to my writing, speaking, and coaching services. What I’ve learned is that these accounts have also connected me with some of my greatest mentors…and clients.
For instance, when I first started out, I connected with a marketer on LinkedIn solely to learn how to promote my business. One thing led to another and not only did he ask me to write for him, but he also helped teach me what I needed to learn in order to succeed as a full-time, self-employed writer. Without making that connection, who knows if I’d be where I am today, having completed more than 4,000 projects and published in some of the most-read publications in the world.
At an Entertainment Event
It’s kind of a no-brainer that professional events in your industry are great for networking, but so too are entertainment events. While I’ve yet to meet a contact this way, probably because I don’t attend a lot of these types of events, others have had great success in this area.
For instance, Levo, a company dedicated to helping people grow professionally, published a blog in which Shelby Ivey Christie, associate planner at Mindshare, tells how connecting with an acquaintance at a 2Chainz concert wound up with a job interview and, ultimately a job offer. Additionally, Brittney Oliver, freelance writer and marketing communications professional, shares how she got a writing gig with ESSENCE Magazine after connecting with the editor at a Janelle Monae album release concert.
It just goes to show that you never know who you’ll run into that can benefit you professionally, even if the event or venue has absolutely nothing to do with work. All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to start a conversation. You never know where it will take you!
Any that you’d like to add to the list? I’d love to know so feel free to share your most unexpected networking places below!
I’m always interested in learning other small business owners’ thoughts on relevant topics and issues, so if you have a comment or unique article idea, feel free to contact me at [email protected] (put “Businessing Magazine” in the subject line, please). If I use it, it’s a free link to your website!