I’ve been attending local networking events as long as I’ve run my content marketing agency (so, 13 years). I’m aware that trying to sell yourself isn’t the general concept behind networking, that it’s better to build relationships over time rather than “machine gunning” your business card to everyone in the room. And believe me: I’ve seen people do that, and it never goes well.
But it surprised the heck out of me to get advice about networking from none other than my mother recently. I was complaining to her that work had been slow this summer, and she suggested I try out her “Mamma Networking Theory.”
Asking her to elaborate, she told a story about how my brother, recently graduated from high school and without contacts in the Arkansas town we had just moved to, was struggling to find a job. Our mother told him he needed to know someone to get a job. She encouraged him to ask any and everyone he could for leads, and she did the same. Apparently, the parents of a friend of mine owned a cleaning service, and when my mother told them that her son was looking for a job, they ended up hiring him.
Her point was: If you don’t ask, you can’t get what you want. And you never know who might have what you’re looking for unless you ask.
Applying the “Mamma Networking Theory”
I grumbled after reading her email because I felt like if I told people business was slow, I’d look like a failure. There’s this weird patina that entrepreneurs wear sometimes to seem like they’re more successful than they are so potential clients flock to them. Tell people you’re having a fire sale on marketing and they’ll flee, or at least that’s what I thought.
I decided to reframe my thinking. Rather than, “Hey, I’m broke. Got any work for me?” I decided to change my wording to, “I’m taking on new clients. Do you know someone I can help?”
I did this with several clients I’m close to, and some said they had more work they could pass on to me. Score.
Armed with this new attitude, I headed to my community business association mixer. I’ve been attending these events for years, so I know most of the people there. Relationship building? Check!
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I chatted with the office manager of the association and mentioned that years ago I’d pitched his boss about helping with social media management. My assumption was that they were doing it in-house and didn’t need help.
“You should talk to him,” he told me.
Fueled by that encouragement, I sauntered over to the director of the program. “Hi, Scott. Several years ago, I wanted to help you with your social media. I’d like to extend that offer again if you’re interested.”