More Than WE Know

Women Entrepreneurs sharing Information, Inspiration and Support

The Dark Side of Networking

Posted by Liz Fuller on August 18, 2007

dark-side.jpgWhat happens when your worst nightmares about networking actually come true?

Despite the hours of positive self-talk and the extent of strategic planning, you get to the networking event and discover that people really aren’t interested in meeting you or are only interested in you as a potential customer, rather than as an ally, a referral partner or a creative inspiration.

A scenario like this happened recently to a friend of mine. She went to a local networking event geared toward working women in her town.   She was excited to share the news of her new small business. She had recently started her own business as a life coach for mothers who were transitioning back into the workforce.  She herself is a mother of two small sons and has extensive experience in Human Resources. These traits, coupled with her excellent coaching skills, make her great at what she does.

She went to the event fully prepared with a 30 second intro, interesting ice-breakers, a purse full of business cards and a positive attitude.  What she wasn’t prepared for was the competition.

By the time she returned home a few hours later, she was depressed and ready to throw in the towel.  “Out of 25 women at the event, “she wailed, “there were three life coaches.   My town is too small to support that many coaches! I might as well give up now!”

Welcome to the dark side of networking – the part in which we suddenly come face to face with our competition. If we are not prepared, we can suddenly forget who we are and what makes us unique and special.  Instead, we focus on all those other people who appear to be so much more successful, more accomplished, and more qualified. 

So what do we do when this occurs?

  • Don’t panic. The fact that there are other people in your line of business validates the decision you made to pursue it in the first place. If other people are gravitating to the same business, they must also think that there is a market there. 
  • Consider that these competitors are in some ways making your job easier.  They are raising awareness of the services or business you provide. As they go out and about selling the idea of coaching, or pet-sitting, or ready-made meals, or whatever your own business is, they are raising awareness.  

Trends start because of people raising awareness. People want what their friends and neighbors have.  And they don’t necessarily differentiate between your services and the other guy’s at this point – so all increases in awareness are good for your business.

  • Competition is about differentiating yourself.  If you fall into the trap of thinking that your services are the same as everyone else’s – so will they.  Instead of avoiding competition – seek it out.  Find out what your competitors are doing and then do something different, or do the same thing, only better. 

Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart,  visited competitive stores every single weekend. He observed what they were selling, what they weren’t selling and how they were selling.  And he didn’t just do this when he was new and starting out. He continued to do it as he grew his business into the largest corporation in the world. So, welcome competition.  They’re an education for you in what to do and what not to do in making your business stronger.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, networking is one of the best ways to become exposed to new people, new opportunities, and new ideas.  What I didn’t say was that those new people may be competitors; those new opportunities may look more like challenges; and those new ideas might be overwhelming.

But take heart. Once the initial shock wears off, you’ll realize that you’ve learned much more than you would have by staying at home and remaining isolated.  You’ll find yourself thinking of ideas for your business that you never would have thought of before. You’ll start to realize what you have to offer that they don’t. You might even begin to see ways to turn those competitors into collaborators.

So, don’t pull away when you find yourself confronted with the Dark Side of Networking – just remember you have your own light – so let it shine!!

Have you had a bad experience networking? If you’d like to share what happened and how you handled it, please comment below.

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