Today’s topic can be fuzzy to describe. Business Networking is generally viewed as a marketing method where sales opportunities are created through small networks of collaborating business people who commit to regular meetings and activities that allow for the building of new relationships and business opportunities. It’s a cost-effective method of building business because networking involves more personal commitment than company money. It’s seen as beneficial to new companies and emerging small businesses as it can replace cold calling — a dreaded, expensive, hit or miss effort. Networking is also about interaction and face-to-face selling on a level where the entirety of the business brand is promoted rather than selling individual products or services.
Can a small business survive if it ignores business networking? Yes, if other elements of the business are solid, an organization could probably survive in a hermetically sealed state. The better question might be: Can a small business thrive if it completely ignores networking? Unlikely. Much depends on how closely associated the business is to the actual owner/entrepreneur.
This column is made challenging because business networking has a fractured following: lovers (who see it as a chase), haters (who see it as a silly game or feel inadequate by it) and fillers (who act as low-key networking participants). Business networking is not for everyone. Does the word “schmoozing” make you feel cheap and easy? If so, then reading an article on how to improve your networking skills is like receiving instructions on how to feel guilt more deeply. If few enjoy doing it, then fewer still would enjoy reading how to do it better.
FORGOTTEN TURKEYS ALWAYS RESENT THE PARDONED SHOW-BIRD
To paraphrase the fine young scamps of our great nation, I want the Business Essentials column to be known for keeping it real. The “Boring or Evil” title might seem harsh but after years of observing real people striving to make the most of walking a trade show or properly manning an exhibitor’s booth or just using the right approach to politely interrupt a group of strange industry professionals so that one could possibly join their conversation at an after-hours meeting, the title is actually more reasonable than you might imagine. For some, these are very difficult things to do. Business networking is something that, generally, you don’t feel lukewarm about — you either love every moment of it or you just hate it with the kind of fowl fury that only thousands of sweaty Butterballers could muster for that white-feathered, smirking uber-turkey that’s paraded through the Rose Garden on Thanksgiving with the executive pardon stuck in his beak.
Often people feel alone in their networking anxiety; never seeing the others who probably just do a better job at concealing their disdain for the entire dog and pony practice — suffering right along with them. As a management consultant I am sometimes allowed to peek inside the privacy curtain and see how many of the brightest business stars still need to prep themselves, stretch themselves and even trick themselves in order to be stage-ready and not feel so outclassed by other business owners. In the end what’s produced is an all-too-human and all-too-real mixture of bravado, insecurity, swagger and flop-sweat.
IS BUSINESS NETWORKING BORING OR EVIL?
Do the “How To” articles you see which offer instruction in modern networking skills, as well as energetic encouragement to “break type” and adopt an outgoing professional persona, bore those who already love and embrace active networking? Sure they do! For those others that simply cannot “act on cue,” articles like those are tantamount to management abuse. There remains in our industry, and many others, a population of first- and second-generation old-school companies (with old-school founders) who firmly and zealously believe their finished surfacing products, and the programs and prices that go along with them, do all the talking anyone should ever need to make a buying decision.
For those tougher types, the concepts that fuel much of 21st century networking can sound like insulting doublespeak. They are insulting not because they are intellectually superior, but because they sometimes make a mockery of the most relevant sensibilities that brought the industry out of the hands of the tinkerers and gave it a name and a practical economic purpose. In this way, “How To” articles do represent a kind of “evil” that’s not so welcomed in their hearts or marketplace. It’s my belief that modern business networking, when kept inventive and nonintrusive, can be a critical slice of a company’s pie. My belief doesn’t mean I have the necessary skills to publicly and fearlessly network the hell out of myself and my services — I don’t.
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE FRIGHT
Phobias or fears form a portion of the basis for most businesspeople’s anti-networking positions. Currently there are more than 500 recognized social phobias that plague humans. Some of the identified phobias seem to make all the sense in the world while others might have difficulty passing your personal sniff test. Acrophobia, the extreme fear of heights, has been observed and accepted by the psychiatric community for many years now. Few would doubt the authenticity of someone claiming this malady. But what about Agateophobia? Agateophobia is the unrelenting fear that one is always on the verge of insanity; full-blown raging madness is always just moments away from taking root deep within you. How’s that for overthinking a problem?
Does your insurance cover glossophobia? It is believed to be the single most common social phobia — affecting as much as 75 percent of the population. Glossophobia or speech anxiety is the fear of public speaking and it fits like a dye-cut puzzle piece into our examination of those most rattled by networking. Informally, it’s often called “stage fright.” Amazingly, the fear of speaking is ranked even above that of death.