I used to be afraid of people

| 19-min read Stay updated

Yes, it’s true. I used to be afraid of people.

But 35 years of running my own business has changed all that.

At the April Office Hours gathering for the Simplest Marketing Plan I shared a bit about how networking played a big role in my transformation. Then I shared a new way to think about networking. So...

And if you cringe when you think about networking...

Join me for Jumpstart Your Networking, a free webinar on May 15th. You’ll hear all about it when you sign up for Quick Tips from Marketing Mentor.

Listen here:


Read the full transcript of Episode #470 of the Marketing Mentor Podcast below...

Why do so many people hate networking? That’s one of the questions we started to tackle as we kicked off the second quarter with the Simplest Marketing Plan community. I’m opening up this Office Hours to the public, well, because I loved it so much! In today’s episode, I share a bit of my own history, define strategic networking (and why it works), and propose a new way to think about networking. I think you’ll like it – and it may even change the way you think – and behave. So listen and learn.

All right, welcome, everybody, y'all.

I'm coming to you from a tiny house in Portland, Oregon today for the April Office Hours. It's April 7, 2023. I'm really excited because this is the first Office Hours of Q2, the second quarter, which means that we are moving on from the Q1 content, which was all about content marketing. I think we all learned a lot.

If you want to put in the chat anything that stands out that really struck you about content marketing over the last quarter, please put that in the chat. We'd love to see that.

But we are moving on to strategic networking, and I'm really excited about that because it's actually one of my favorite things to do. Yes, but it wasn't always that way, and I'll tell you about that.

But first, we're going to do the poll that we always do at the beginning. The question is: how busy are you with client work right now?

So I'm going to launch the poll: Too busy. Busy enough. Slow. Or, no work at all. So take a moment while I let a few more people in and vote.

Okay. I'm going to end the poll and I'm going to share the results.

So what you see is that 5% are too busy, and that's compared to 3% last month. And 40% are busy enough, and that's compared to 43% last month. 31% are slow, which compared to 30% last month. So looks like almost everything is about the same. No work at all, 24%; last month it was 23%. So that's very interesting.

The thing about numbers that I've learned is that it's the trend that matters more than the actual numbers. So the trend is consistent. The trend is consistency, which is kind of interesting.

All right, so if you have any thoughts about what you see there, what trend you see there, I'd be interested in hearing it.

The other thing is that we want to make it clear that there's no judgment per se about being slow. Some people are really happy to be slow; some people are really unhappy to be too busy. So it really all depends on what you want and how you want to run your business, which is just the beautiful thing about being self-employed.

Sometimes numbers help us freak out less. Actually, one thing I've realized and noticed a lot lately is there's a big difference between how we feel about how things are going and what the actual numbers are.

When you do your numbers at the end of the quarter or at the end of the year, you might see, "Oh, it felt like I was not so busy, but I'm actually doing better than last year." That happens a lot. So if that happens to you, I'd love to hear about that in the chat as well.

All right, so as usual, I have way too much content and ideas to share, so we're going to wing it a little bit and do what makes sense.

But as usual, in terms of big ideas, I want to start with a little philosophical perspective about networking. So we're talking all about strategic networking ... and there'll be a lot of interaction in the chat as usual as well. 

First, I want to actually just show on the Simplest Marketing Plan ...right, 'cause sometimes we get to this point in the year and maybe people can't figure out where they put that document and are they using it? So if you are using it still in April, I would love to see that in the chat as well.

But here we are on tool number two. This is page eight, when we're talking about strategic networking—which we're going to define and talk about the challenges and all of that. So just to orient ourselves ... But I kind of want to start with, it's not really a story, it's just a little reminiscing I've been doing about myself, 'cause this is April.

Actually, I don't know the exact date. It was a Friday in April in 1988 when I was fired from my second job out of college. I'm sure a lot of you have heard that story again. And so it's 35 years, and I was just a totally different person at that point in my life.

Even before that, I was reminiscing last night with some friends and thinking about how as a child, I just was afraid of people. I was afraid. I wasn't an introvert. I wasn't shy. I was afraid.

I'm not exactly sure what I was afraid of, truthfully, but I didn't really trust people very much, and so I was a listener and not a talker. So I would just basically sit and listen while other people talked—which is actually a lot of what I do these days, but I also talk much more now.

But I never knew how to jump into a conversation; I really never knew what to say. But again, as I said, things have changed, and I'm almost 62, my birthday's coming up and we will be celebrating it one way or another.

But I do think that thanks to 35 years of being self-employed, I am a different person. It's thanks to all the opportunities that I've had that I've provided for myself over the years in this laboratory that is my business and your business—so I hope you're using it as a laboratory. I really feel like it has forced me to rise to the occasion and to behave differently; to literally become a different person. You really wouldn't recognize me.

I'm not here to say, "If I can do it, you can," because that's not necessarily true. But I do think that it's possible, if you're someone who is afraid or shy or introverted or whatever word you use, or not, the networking is a really important element in building a business. I do think that's where it starts.

Actually often, we've done a little research lately and I've noticed this, but I didn't have the numbers, we've learned that often when people start a new business, the first thing they do is go out networking, because it's the most accessible thing to do, except when you're locked down. But now that we have LinkedIn, it really is one of the easiest things to do.

So I want to define “networking” first. Let's do that together. I'd love to know before I tell you what it is to me, what is networking to you. In the chat, please; then Bonnie, my lovely assistant, will tell us what she sees.

What the heck is networking? Because a lot of these ... the language that we use and especially even the three tools of the Simplest Marketing Plan ... people confuse them. "Oh, that's networking." "No, no, that's outreach." So I really want to know what it is to you.

Bonnie Fanning

Seems like most people are saying, “Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Meeting new people. Meeting new people.” Those are the top, and “building relationships.”

ilise benun

Yeah, I love that the word “connecting” has come up because that really prompts me to show this. So some of you have, I hope, taken the networking survey that we sent out earlier in the week and the week before. If you haven't, we'll share it later.

But we have also been gathering that information. I want to show you, we did a word cloud based on what people said their challenges to networking are. I can't tell you how happy I was to see the word “connections” as the biggest word in that word cloud because I just love connections and I love connecting. I'll talk a little bit about that shortly too. But yes, I would say networking is connecting with people; building relationships.

As I've said before, I'm going to try to get you to think a little differently and maybe even behave a little differently, if possible. Maybe even today you might try behaving a little differently when we do our networking breakouts.

But to me, networking is about, essentially, making friends. We're making business friends. I think if you can think about it that way, it gets a little less scary.

Again, I don't want to assume that everyone is afraid of networking, but a lot of people are. So if you can think about it as making friends, usually Rosenberg, one of my clients who some of you know, talked about it as “going to a party.” Think about it as going to a party, an online party or even an offline party, an in-real-life party.

But it's also engaging with people, interacting with people. This, to me, is the way you listen to the market by engaging and interacting with people. So when I say, “listen to the market” and people say, "What do you mean?" I mean networking, I mean engaging, I mean interacting.

So that ... and actually, some of you may have seen my second Quick LinkedIn Tips” newsletter that I sent out also this past week was all about commenting.

Commenting is the perfect example of online networking. To me, “liking” is not really networking. But engaging and commenting and sharing—that is definitely networking.

Anything else before we move on to networking challenges, Bonnie?

Bonnie Fanning

No, I think you can go ahead.

ilise benun

All right. So I want to know what your networking challenges are. What your struggles are. I have a few ideas of what people struggle with. Again, if you don't struggle with this, tell us why. Tell us how you see it, how you think about it, that other people may adopt. Because everything is about timing and hearing something at exactly the right moment that allows you to see it a little bit differently and that could happen here today.

When you're ready, Bonnie, tell me what they're saying. What are the challenges?

Bonnie Fanning

So far, it's between “time” and “shyness.” Shyness is just a word that one person used, so probably doesn't apply to everyone, but the hesitance to do it for that reason. So “how salesy to be maintaining and growing a connection”—I think that's a really good point too, because it's not just reaching out.

ilise benun


Bonnie Fanning

“Worry that they'll annoy people.” “Feeling like an introvert.” “Emotional overwhelm.”

ilise benun

Right. So there are a lot of challenges and I think we need to, one by one, work at overcoming them.

Some of the things I've heard recently is people saying, especially in an in-person environment with the people who you might see as your people, your market, but you serve them and you might feel like an interloper in their environment. I've heard a lot of people put that obstacle in front of them. "Oh, I'm not one of them, so I shouldn't go there." But that's exactly why you should go there.

The other thing that came up a couple of weeks ago with someone who I thought was doing a brilliant job “working her network”—that was the phrase I used—I put it in a blog post. When she saw it, she said, "Oh, please take that out. Don't say, ‘I'm working my network.’ That sounds too opportunistic or cold and calculating." Instead, she wanted me to say, "Connecting with my network," and I just found that fascinating because it is all about the language and the words we use when we think about what we're doing.

So I'd be curious, also in the chat, if you have an opinion about this phrase that I think is awesome, “working my network,” if that feels like something you wouldn't want associated with you as well. Kevin, you would say what? You would say ... ?


I think my network is fine. I'm going out there and I'm working and I'm making connections with people within my network.

ilise benun

Right. Good. I say “good” as if bad is the other thing, but you know what I mean, right? Like, no, let's work our networks. That's how we're going to help each other, actually. That's probably a good segue way to another point that I want to make about connections.

I do love connections because, really, everything is connected, everyone is connected. And I think LinkedIn proves that to us when we see how many degrees we're connected to other people by, from.

One thing that's really interesting when I help people really focus in on LinkedIn and look for their people on LinkedIn, your eyes suddenly open up to, "Oh, my God, we both know this person," or, "I didn't realize how many people were in my local area that I could actually work with." So that's one of the things I love about LinkedIn. It really unearths, if you will, the connections that are already there that we don't see.

This reminds me, again, also of absence blindness—not seeing what's not there. But if we can unearth what's there, then we can see it and then we can use it. And that applies to your network as well.

Some of you may know that I just love learning about the brain and how we think. One of the main things about the brain is that it's made up of connections, and the connections connecting are how we think. Don't quote me on that.

But I really do just love even the phrase “connecting the dots of your marketing,” which is what the Simplest Marketing Plan is all about, bringing all those things together.

So I want to be painting a picture of what networking could be, especially strategic networking for all those people who resist it, struggle with it, maybe even love it. Right? Let's think about it differently. Let's think about it in a much more open way.

All right. I'm going to break networking down next, but Bonnie, anything we need to know before I do that?

Bonnie Fanning

Nope, just that we have a lot of feelings about this stuff ...

ilise benun

A lot of feelings.

Bonnie Fanning

... in the chat, which is good.

ilise benun

Excellent. All right. So as I've been thinking about strategic networking. I've broken it down for myself in ways that after I did that I thought, "Oh, I'll bet not many people have thought about it this way," so I want to share that with you. But first I just want to define “strategic networking” for those who aren't clear yet on how it's different from networking without being strategic. Because often, and especially at the beginning, if you're just starting out, you go out there and do networking. You probably go to a local chamber of commerce, 'cause that's the obvious place to network. But if those are not your people or you know those are not your people, then that's probably not the best place to go, not very strategic.

Nothing wrong with the chamber of commerce. It's the perfect place for some people who are focused on small business, local business, or just want to even practice networking—the local chamber is a good place to do that. But it may not be where you land. It may be where you start, but it may not be where you land.

So I've identified three different ways of thinking about networking. And we do want to do it strategically, otherwise it's a waste of time. So I'll identify the three and then I'll just share a bit of detail about each one.

So first, there's in-real-time versus virtual. That's one way to think about networking.

Second, there's local versus global, so you could do it near where you are or far away.

Third, there's networking with your peers versus networking with your target market, your prospects, the people who are your people—and you may not know who they are yet.

So the first one, for in-real-time or in-person versus virtual ... in the last three years, obviously LinkedIn has essentially become, for a lot of people, the place for online networking. It could be all you need. A lot of people are just doing their networking on LinkedIn and it's fine. And I think that's fine.

But I have to say in-person actually is best. It is the way you make the strongest impression on real people with your physical presence, and that's how they remember you. Because I don't know if anyone else has had this experience, but when you're networking online with people, it's all a little fuzzy. And people have similar names, and then they've got those pictures and, "Wait, was that the person I had that conversation with? Or was it another Brian or another Steve or another Bonnie?"

So that doesn't happen, for the most part, when you meet someone in person. You really are able to make your strongest impression and they're able to make their strongest impression. So highly recommend, whenever possible, to do in-person networking, as afraid or resistant as you might be.

So that connects to number two then, which is local versus global. So if you can, find places locally near you, a chapter of an association where your people gather, that is ideal. But even if you don't, some people say, "Oh, no, but there's nothing near me, so I can't do in-person networking." I don't necessarily think so. I think that you may find an association that has an annual event that you travel to, maybe across the country, maybe to another state.

I sometimes use the example of Conrad, who is a copywriter, the most introverted copywriter I may have met. He did what I told him to do years ago and went to the Transportation and Marketing Sales Association event. He had to travel to Florida, I think, for the first one. Now he's about to go to his fourth one, which is being held in Savannah, actually, in June. He has since spoken at one of them. He's been on a committee. It's through this experience of interacting in-person with those people that he's been able to become the go-to copywriter in that industry. So that's what’s possible with in-person networking, and that's why I'm a huge fan of it.

Then the third is an interesting one: your peers versus the market. Because I find that often, because you know where your peers are, if I say “networking,” you might think, "Oh, I'm going to go network with other designers, other copywriters"—which is fine, because they could be good referral sources for sure. But if you really want to do it for marketing purposes, then you should go where your people are, where your target market is.

You may feel like an interloper in doing that, but that's okay because they're not going to kick you out, I promise. They just want your money, so don't worry about that.

All right. One other thought about that, actually, before we're gonna go into networking breakouts is, you may not know where your people go. And you may still not know exactly who your people are. But my suggestion is if you have a client—all you need is one client—then ask them where they go to gather with their peers and their colleagues, because that could be a place that you also go to find people like them, especially if they're a client that you would like to clone and find more of.

All right. I think I've talked enough now, Bonnie. Is there anything in the chat that we need before we talk about the networking that we're about to do?

Bonnie Fanning

Not really, but if you don't mind, I have something quick that might-

ilise benun

Go ahead, yeah.

Bonnie Fanning

-be on other people's minds, perhaps. I'm definitely an introvert. And I also feel like I'm awkward and say the wrong thing, and just in-person brings up that fear of being awkward and saying the wrong thing, which is why LinkedIn is so attractive. Are there other people here who feel just awkward in-person and that's a fear? Couple, a few. Maybe somebody doesn't want to raise their hand. I'm just curious what you'd say about that.

ilise benun

About being awkward and saying the wrong thing?

Bonnie Fanning

Feeling like you're awkward, yeah.

ilise benun

Who cares? I think first of all, nobody's actually listening. Have you noticed that people are not listening? So the fact that you say not the perfect thing, right, let's just say not the perfect thing, I really feel like who cares? Even if somebody heard it, they're on to their own thing. They're focused on what they're saying that's the imperfect thing, as well. So I actually really think, who cares? And feeling awkward, well, you'll get over that by practicing it.

Bonnie Fanning

Thanks. I love that.

The baby step I’m recommending is that you join me on May 15th for a new webinar called Jumpstart Your networking. 

And as always, if you want to build a thriving business on your own terms, the first step is to sign up for my Quick Tips at marketing-mentortips.com. Once you’re on the site, you’ll find lots more resources, including my Simplest Marketing Plan. Enjoy and I’ll see you next time.

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