When I had a proper job I would occasionally get sent to Britain’s fair capital ((by which I mean lovely capital rather than the place with the best fairs though I imagine the fairs in London probably are great because why would the people in charge allow the fairs in the rest of the country to be better than London fairs)) to a conference or a workshop. Always there would be a section in the agenda where the MC would say “we are going to break for networking”. Then there would be a long period where people stood awkwardly sipping almost undrinkable coffee and I would go out for a fag ((standing outside a building smoking is NOT networking)).
After I gave up smoking I would go outside and make terribly important phone calls ((I did go through a phase of texting a colleague so she would phone me and it would look like I was desperately in need at the office)).
Then I became freelance and there was no-one to send texts to ((maybe there’s a business opportunity there ™ me)).
I hated networking. I mean I really hated it. It seemed so cynical, so artificial, so… commercial.
I bet you hate networking ((I’m playing the odds here but the house always wins in the end)).
I’ve not met anyone who LOVES networking. Even phenomenal networkers would rather be at a family party, watching a movie or canoeing ((maybe that’s just me)) than at a business breakfast event just off the M62.
It isn’t a totally comfortable experience and it can go horribly wrong. I remember an excruciating dinner held by CBI Scotland. To be fair to the CBI the dinner was fine, I was the problem. Picture me, uncomfortable in an unaccustomed DJ, sitting next to business leaders almost unable to speak. How they must have hated me. “To my left that MSP who wants me to invest in his constituency AGAIN. To my right a deaf-mute with some sort of neck problem. And it looked like he’d never worn a DJ before”.
I’m much better now ((partially with the assistance of the fabulous Heather Noble from Salt Solutions http://www.salt-solutions.co.uk)). I can walk into a room without panicking about what everyone else is thinking about me.
Everyone feels a bit like a fraud. Everyone feels that sense of artificiality. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone would rather be somewhere else.
But the glorious and terrible thing about freelancing is that all you’ve got is yourself. People have to get to know you. They’ve got to know that you exist.
They don’t have to be entertained by you. They don’t need to be your best friend. But they need to have some sense of rapport with you. They need to understand what you do. They need to know that you understand what they do.
Networking is OK. You can do it. You may not ever relish it but it does get easier.