how to network if you stink at networking

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” One of my favorite lyrics of all-time; one of the most applicable song lyrics to life. It’s repeated in themes in so many other songs that I’m not even sure how original it really is (it’s just Joni Mitchell that sticks out in my mind the most).

I used to think that it meant that it took absence to miss the presence. Or that it explained the many reasons why we only appreciate things once they are gone. And while I find both of these instances to be true, these lyrics have taken on a very different meaning for me in the last four days.

Sometimes the “it” is something that needed to be removed from your life in order for you to focus and appreciate things you were overlooking. You don’t know what you’ve got till “it’s” gone. It could be a bad relationship – a relationship that prevents you from committing yourself to your friends and family. Whether its a relationship with a person, a relationship with a hobby or a relationship with a career – sometimes you need to lose to find those appreciations that have always fueled your happiness.

On Day 4, I couldn’t be more appreciative of my friends, my family, and my professional network. It took losing my work for me to realize a) I actually have a network, b) I have a network that actually likes me and c) I can now give advice on how to network by not networking.

The amount of texts, phone calls, wise words, help, and ears that people have leant me in the past few days have me excited for the possibilities that lie ahead of me. I would have never thought that so many people would be willing to offer assistance to me even if they had nothing to give. In my mind, I guess I never confidently felt that I had earned that – because I never confidently feel like I’ve done my part in doing things for others. I was never confident that I was a good networker.

Though this little “test” has proven that I actually DO have a network of people who want to help and support me professionally and personally, I still consider myself a mediocre networker. I built my network a little differently. Just like marketing is sales but not sales, so I could still call myself a bad sales person but an excellent marketer – relationship building is networking but not networking, so I can call myself a terrible networker but an excellent relationship builder.

There are ways you can build an ecosystem of great business relationships just by being you and adhering to your own basic principles.

1. You attract how you act. So act favorably. Positive, uplifting people are drawn to other positive uplifting people. And positive, uplifting people like to do as they are defined – lift people up. Depending on how long you have known me, you know I wasn’t always “positive and uplifting”. It was a new way of thinking that someone else had inspired in me. But I never thought that being positive for me, something that I needed to do to shift the way I looked at my own life, would help me attract such great relationships. Your attitude, the way that you carry yourself, and the way you look at life can attract good people. So live your life with a favorable attitude and a network will be attracted to you.

2. Give more than you take. People have different perspectives on this. Some people like to keep it even (I’m cool with that.) Some people like to take more than they give (I don’t associate with that.) But I personally like to give more than I take – and for no selfish reason other than I like how it makes me feel to give. I’m going to make an amazing Santa Claus one day. Those who appreciate what you have to give and those with their own principles on giving more or giving evenly – those are the people that will end up doing everything they can to help you someday. Take a cue from Passion Planner and write in your calendar a few weeks of the year to give something to someone who has made an impact to you. Give more than you take, and you’ll build a network too.

3. Establish trust by keeping the best interests of others at heart.  I’ve been asked several times to get on board with things that I didn’t feel were in the best interest of people that I work with. And I’m proud to say – sometimes I was wrong. But there were other times where my gut feeling proved to be right. Those times where I chose to take a risk and be vocal about not believing in an idea was in our best interest are some of the reasons I have sustained a handful of really great business relationships. It’s a principle. You have to be about what’s best every time – even if it means a loss for you. But a loss for you, is a gain in the relationship column and that makes for a win in the future. People want to work with people they can trust, so if you can keep your honesty, integrity and transparency in your every day business, you will help build a good rapport and relationship with coworkers and clients that will help strengthen your professional network.

4. It’s okay to not want to talk about the weather to a stranger. Networking 101 states that if you have nothing to start a conversation about with a stranger, talk about the weather. And this is why I considered myself a “failure” at networking. Talking about the weather to a stranger was more than I could get over. Another networking tip I’ve gotten is to remember the names of people’s children or spouses. My memory is pretty above average, but if you try to network with 100 people and have to remember 200 names of kids (2 for each person or MORE!) it gets kind of hard. I haven’t met someone I haven’t shared something in common with – beyond the weather and children. And that “something” is typically more meaningful anyway.

Networking principles would have told me that in a room full of over 300 professionals at a conference I once attended in Orlando, I should have struck up conversation about the weather with a stranger and made sure to have remembered both his kid’s names. Instead, completely out of my element, I found the youngest looking person in the room and told him I just held a crocodile. Networking failure – no networking genius at play.

Jake Thompson was also a social media maven, proud owner of Compete Every Day, a really cool inspirational clothing line company that when I first met Jake, outfitted CrossFit teams. At the time I was working with a sports nutrition company that sold pre-workout and protein powders to cross fitters. We naturally bounded over fitness and being the babies at the convention. The two people at a Cheap Trick concert who shouldn’t have known who Cheap Trick was (but do because we both aced music history). Jake and I stayed in touch in case there was some partnership there with brands we represented, but I’ve come to really respect and bond with him as a business owner, entrepreneur and friend. I’ve watched him start a blog, get comfortable with Snapchat and live stream video and really tighten his (amazing) brand up while launching ANOTHER cool brand (Donut Judge Me). He’s someone I’m super proud to know and super proud to follow – and did i mention Jake is cool enough to keep tabs on me too? He was among the strength in my network that I’ve experienced this week.

I failed at networking that night, but I really didn’t. Even refusing to step out of my own comfort zone or follow what I knew about networking (which got easier for me as I matured professionally) led me to a really great professional contact and friend.

Be about baseball or football, drop the names of some podcasts you like – clients love tacos too. It took me a while to remember the name of a friend and former client’s two daughters, but embarrassingly I always remembered the name, age and breed of his family dog Daisy and the moment when he first showed me a photo of their new puppy. (I love dogs, okay?) You don’t have to be anything but who you are to make a connection with other people, so don’t be afraid to have a bond with other people that has nothing to do with business to help develop great relationships that DO have to do with business.

At the end of the day if networking is about meeting people, then building relationships is about the impact that you leave on them. It’s what you give them to remember you by based on the interaction you have. It’s more than your business card. And it’s exercised over more than just one meeting. It’s what you have to bring to the table. It’s not a sales pitch, it’s not an “ask” for business. It’s not 5 minutes to let someone know what you do for a living in case they can hook you up. It’s about caring about more than just business transactions. It’s about being a good human and leaving a memorable imprint on those you come in contact with in a way that only YOU can.