How to Network in Your Community

I was at a luncheon meeting not long ago. Everyone was asked to stand up, introduce ourselves and say one thing about our work. I gave my elevator pitch and sat back down.

When the meeting was over, two people asked me for my business cards. I actually had forgotten this was a networking luncheon. I thought it was just a luncheon. I scurried to find business cards in my purse, lamenting how I had a thousand at my desk.

I almost offered one inquirer my dental appointment reminder and the other my nail salon punch card, but I came up with the needed items.

The point is: don’t be like me. At least in that moment. Be ready.

Networking is not just an event. It’s an availability. A connection. A conversation.

Early in my self-employed life, I ran into a colleague at a community gathering that involved free beer tasting (a detail central to my claim). He was the editor of a magazine. We discussed an article. When it came out, someone asked, “How’d you get that assignment?”

“I ran into the editor one night when he was drinking beer,” I explained.

One time I did something I really, really did not want to do – I became chair of an alumni committee for my alma mater. I didn’t want to go to the meetings or be in charge. I kept asking myself, “Why did I say yes?” Yet that experience led to an article assignment and a speaking opportunity that led to years of weekly editing assignments and another client referral. I was very soon asking, “What if I’d said no?”

My favorite networking story is about a visit to Target. My 2-year-old niece needed new Play Doh. I said I’d get it. I discovered that six containers totaled about two dollars – not too shabby for a favor. I pulled them off the shelves and headed to the checkout line, where I saw a PR colleague checking out ahead of me.

I can trace that two-dollar investment and brief, unplanned conversation to a newsletter series, four work-for-hire book projects, and several magazine assignments.

That’s how to network within your communities. Make connections. Enter conversations. Keep business cards handy. Say yes to growth opportunities. And always volunteer to buy the Play Doh.

Minnie Lamberth is a marketing copywriter and author of Story Shaping, a creative encouragement platform.