Unconventional Places to Network

how to network in unconventional places

Can I just ask this to all my beautifully honest readers: Do people even like networking events?

I so often wonder who is that girl that walks into a room full of strangers, looks around and says “HELL YEAH I’m ready to make connections!

I am not even an introvert, at all. I can talk to strangers just fine.

But honestly the 3-minute elevator pitch over and over, it is just so forced. It’s so unnatural.

And can I say, it is also IMPOSSIBLE for someone like myself who has multiple businesses?? Like, which business should I be telling you about, should I just word-vomit everything I do and see what you connect with? Or should I start with one, if it doesn’t catch, move onto the next?

Or do I just grab a drink and head to the bathroom to reapply my lipstick for the 400th time?

EW. I hate it all.

I’ll admit that my problem with traditional structured networking lies in my insecurities about not knowing if people will “get” the multi-business owner thing — and mistake me for a girl with a lot of hobbies and no direction.

But I know for a fact I’m not the only one who clenches her wine glass extra tight when the speaker says, “You can now network amongst yourselves.” I see you doin’ it, too.

But girlfriend can’t get ahead sitting in the bathroom, right?

If the traditional networking scene isn’t for you (raising my hand), try something a little out-of-the-box. Here are some places I’ve found success networking outside the traditional networking settings.

Unconventional Places to Network

Volunteering

If you don’t already have a good excuse to volunteer & give your time to something, well, here it is. Not only are you saving the world, but it’s a great way to “find your sphere.” Heck, you already know that you have at least one thing in common with the other volunteers.

The best part about this type of networking is that it’s natural because it’s starting from an honest place. Some of the best connections are made when you’re not in business-mode & your professional guard is way down.

unconventional ways to network

Speaking from experience, the bonds formed with people you rally with are unique & are usually formed quickly. I’ve gotten some damn good friendships out of my volunteering gigs & without a doubt I would give these people my business — and vice versa. It’s a no-brainer connection, and it’s about as authentic as they come.

Volunteering: Save the World & Make a Connection. Two birds with one stone.

Weddings

Take those plain, structured networking events and add expensive catered food, an open bar, a DJ, and a beautiful couple in love — and you’ve got yourself a wedding!

Think about it: the bride & groom have already thoughtfully assigned you to a table of people to chat with for at least the duration of dinner, and they probably know more than you do that these are your people.

networking in unconventional places

Lee & I are pretty used to only knowing the bride & groom at many of the weddings we attend, so we’ve perfected the art of chatting up a table full of strangers. It’s not uncommon that I come home with at least one new Facebook friend, minimum — usually a few phone numbers & business cards as well.

But honestly only recently did I realize that we were actually networking WHILE HAVING FUN. I didn’t think of it as networking before because, let’s be real, networking sucks.

But this isn’t traditional networking, which is why it doesn’t suck.

Also, it ends with cake!

Facebook Groups

I bring this topic up with caution because it can be used & abused.

Facebook groups are an excellent place to make connections OR become a spammer. It’s your choice.

Instead, start becoming active by leaving comments on other people’s posts, and every so often start a discussion of your own. Warning: this take WORK and dedication to stay active and become a person of influence in a Facebook group. But there is also no barrier to entry. You don’t have to send in an RSVP, choose chicken vs. fish or shop for a new dress. Just open your laptop and find some groups that have people you connect with.

Additional Facebook Group Tips for Networking:

  • I avoid groups with 100’s of comments per post. These groups are probably too big for you to make your mark & it’ll be hard to be noticed. For networking purposes, look for groups with between 10-25 comments per post. It shows that the group is very active, but not overcrowded.
  • I look for groups with a decent local presence. This doesn’t necessarily mean Chicago only, but I’ve joined groups with a heavy number of people from other countries — and for basic business purposes it’s all great. But for networking, it makes things pretty complicated.
  • The ideal situation would be finding people you can grab coffee with and chat — turning Internet friends into real-life friends is the ultimate win for Facebook Group networking.

I wanted to share one last anecdote of how I saw Facebook Networking used REALLY well.

In a group of business women from all over the country, one member simply said,

“I have to afternoon open — does anyone want to have a virtually coffee date?”

She put up some time slots and within a few hours they were all completely full AND she had back-ups. Genius! This gal was able to manufacture a networking situation with only the people she wanted to talk to, and without all the stuffiness of a traditional networking event. I really loved the creativity & I bet she made a handful of damn good connections that afternoon.

 

Do you have the same love/hate relationship with networking as I do?! What other stress-free networking situations have you been in? I could really use your advice here!

 

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  • Caitlin Patton

    okay I love the inclusion of weddings – I met one of my favorite fashion editors at a wedding we both were invited to as dates. we spent the entire night talking about her job, my blog, Gossip Girl – our dates probably regretted bringing us but I am so glad I went!

  • I loooooove these tips! I seriously love that Weddings are on here. I definitely network when I go to weddings, especially when it’s with a bunch of people I don’t know.

    xoxo,
    Dannie
    http://www.stilefotocibo.com