As the saying goes, it's not always what you know, but who you know. That’s what makes networking and relationships so important for entrepreneurs. The stronger your bonds to others, the better off you and your business will be in the long run.
But what if you hate networking? Chances are pretty high that if you don’t like networking, it’s likely because you feel it is uncomfortable or “salesy” and not in your comfort zone. While the networking events of past decades may have been all hard sell and self-promotion, the truth is that most people today loathe networking in that outdated fashion.
Entrepreneurs just like you want real relationships and a genuine sense of connection. That’s why some of the best networking opportunities you’re likely to have will probably have nothing to do with business. If you aren’t on board for networking events, here are three more organic options.
1. Meetups. Meetup.com arranges local get-togethers. There are groups and clubs for any interest or profession under the sun in cities around the world. Meetup presents a fantastic opportunity to search for interesting groups of people that are engaged in activities or interests that are similar to yours.
Don’t force yourself into business here either. Try joining a club with an activity or hobby focus to help ease into relationship building and talking to strangers. You know you’ll always have something to talk about because the other people are going out of their way to meet people with a common interest. That’s an automatic conversation starter and gives you a chance to build organic relationships. You might actually enjoy it, too.
2. Entrepreneur organizations. The great thing about choosing an organization or club over a networking event is the focus of the group is on building relationships. That will allow you to contribute to a group and build up dynamic, authentic relationships with others in a natural fashion.
Make sure to research the group ahead of time. Why do they meet and where? What is the focus of the club? Do they charge a membership fee? Who else attends?
You may even wish to dive in more specifically with a group that caters to your particular needs. For example, SMARTY caters to female entrepreneurs and touts that it was created because its members don’t like networking either. The group has a speaker series and communities in Los Angeles and Boston.
There are sure to be similar organizations in your city. Start by asking other entrepreneurs, mentors or people you admire what clubs or groups they’d recommend.
3. Volunteer or community service. You might be surprised by how many entrepreneurs and business leaders work volunteer or community service into their lives. If giving back to your community or cause is something you’re passionate about, get involved and get going.
Try a website such as VolunteerMatch.org, which can help pair you with other locals who are organizing opportunities for causes you care about. It’s a great way to help and to forge powerful relationships with likeminded people.
One important note: don’t fake it. Everyone can sense a phony. Don’t get involved in something you aren’t really committed to or don’t truly care about just to meet people.
Approach community service with authenticity and the spirit of giving and see what new relationships bloom.