Networking: for the business whore in you

Okay, I thought, if this is what it takes…I’ll do it!

So armed with my speakeasy Slacks, a funk-tastic paisley-patterned black and white shirt, high heels, Jackie-Kennedy inspired coat to top it all off, and my soft and cozy purple scarf as the icing on the cake…

…I headed there.

I had no idea what to expect and zero expectations for that matter. I was nervous, no doubt about that, but I kept thinking…desperate times, call for desperate measures. I’m not selling my soul, I’m just trying to make a living. And someday, when my dream will come true, I’ll know it will have all been worth it…

networking

Tight asses. Wine glasses. Pretentious Hors D’ouvres. And chatter. Lots of chatter. No, this isn’t your parents’ dull cocktail party. Instead, Welcome to your new “work”: the netWORKing meeting! 

Nowadays, as a business professional or owner of a small to middle-sized business, you don’t exist unless you belong to one of these groups: Networking Meetings…Networking Parties…BNI (Business Network International) groups…yada yada yada…mostly the same content, different packaging. If you’re trying to make a name for yourself, contract new business, or learn about other professionals in your community, you attend a networking meeting. What you hope to get out of it is, well, word-of-mouth advertising for yourself or your business, publicity, free referrals, marketing tips, improved public speaking skills and much more. 

These meetings have become increasingly popular also among Americans who have recently lost their jobs, mostly due to the recent turn of events in our economy. You’re thinking “support group”? Well, you’re sort of right. But consider that about 4.4 million (that’s like the entire population of Ireland, New Zealand or Costa Rica!) Americans were fired between now and December 2007 and you are on your way to understanding why people who attend such meetings are not minorities anymore–they are part of the latest trend! Moreover, as the downturn continues to deepen without an end in sight, they become a vast majority. 

This is what I knew before I attended one of these. So how did I end up at a networking meeting? Well, along with several jobs I have, I’m also a video producer. That is my business: I make you video real good 🙂 weddings, promotional videos, music videos, PSAs (public service announcements), documentaries, live recordings, interviews, news packages–you name it, I make it. A photographer I’ve been working with invited me to a networking meeting, saying it would be a good opportunity to meet potential clients. My business has been getting better and better ever since I started, with bigger and bigger contracts coming my way. But since you can’t take anything for granted these days AND because I want to ensure a constant flow of clients, I decided to give it a try.

So there I was, walking in with my above-mentioned outfit, into a room full of adults. At merely 23 years-old, I’m no adult, just a cutie-patootie, but I can fake it. I can hold a glass of wine and chatter meaninglessly, too, you just wait and see! Inside, I find lots of jolly people. But, to my surprise, no one is wearing buttoned-up shirts or ties. The women are wearing colorful, sexy dresses, they are giggling and flirting. Guys got their game on, playing the all-powerful jocks who seduce chicks. Did I misunderstand the invitation? Is this like a hook-up game? What kind of “networking” are we doing, eh?

Hmm. I get uncomfortable — and I am not one to get easily uncomfortable. I’m wondering, is there much to any of these conversations? These people seem…well, drunk. As a recent college student, believe me, I know drunk when I see it :-). Ahhh, silly adults! What’s next…break-out the peer-pong table? Okay, let’s check this out…

I make my way through the crowd, holding a glass of wine just to show I’m “one of them.” I start shaking hands. “Hi, I’m Sabina! Yeah, that’s Sabina, no “r”, not “SabRina.” Hahaha…that’s okay, I get that a lot…’Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,’ eh? Well, it’s easy to remember my name that way. Oh, I’m a video producer. Yeah. How about you?” Uninteresting responses follow. With some people I click instantly, others…I just skip quickly and keep moving along. 

After an hour of loud chatter, the event organizer asks us to put our business card in a bowl for a drawing. There’s about 50 of us in the room. I win, of course (I’ve won every drawing I entered since the beginning of 2009). The prize is a bag advertising a marketing company, filled with a wine bottle (shocking!), two cute martini glasses, some bubbler (?), and pop-rocks. Handy dandy! Dorel and I drank the whole bottle that night. Thanks, Rosetti Marketing! 🙂 Then random business cards get drawn from the bowl. If you get picked, you introduce yourself and your business to the group, and you tell SPECIFICALLY what you are looking for.

Fast forward this past week–my second time attending. I also introduced someone new to the group–an actor/model who has worked with me and the photographer I just mentioned. And I earned his business right at that meeting! He hired me to make his resume DVD. Cha-ching! 🙂 By now, I also knew to leave the slacks at home and wear a dress. I don’t flirt, thank you (I’m a married woman, remember?), but I don’t have to. I smile, look good, and talk a lot, so people come to me. Some remembered my name from last meeting and now weren’t strangers anymore. We could discuss about our respective businesses in a meaningful way and figure out how we can help each other. I got away many ideas and I also implanted ideas in others, suggesting to them how “a video on your Web site could really enhance and benefit your business; it’s an effective way of making your business personal to potential clients and it’s cheaper than advertising; plus, ANY reputable business has at least one video on their Web site — it’s the biggest thing since…well, photos!” 🙂 

I’m also meeting with a chick I met there for coffee next week. I got Jessica’s attention with my shoes:), which she loved and then started talking to me about herself. She works for Paychex and basically does payroll and taxes for small businesses. Most importantly, she’s going to give me lists of everyone in town who just opened a business. She stays on top of all that and has many connections to help her find out about new businesses. I’m mostly interested in up-scale restaurants — I want to make them some badass action movie-clips of how their chefs prepare their signature dishes “behind the scenes.” This is a big hit on restaurants’ Web sites.

A drinking group with a business problem? Perhaps. Nobody said these networking meetings are perfect. But all I know is that business doesn’t come to you…not these days. You have to go out of your way and find it. If you stay at home, nobody will hear about you. Internet is great advertising, but in-person meetings are the bread-and-butter of any contract signing. So until I’m as famous as Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell or Tyra Banks, I will continue to attend BNIs and, basically, sell myself 🙂

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