Does the Word Networking Fill you with Terror?

Go on, how do you really feel about networking?

For me, I can’t imagine anything worse than a room full of people I don’t know. I even find it canapes hard to be part of a room full of people I do know, let alone strike up a conversation with strangers. Does this sound familiar?

So, do I have to change into an extrovert overnight in order to market my practice?

Of course not. Neither does networking mean you have to strike up a sales conversation with those you meet. It is simply making contacts, and keeping in contact. You get to choose who you want to talk to, and what you want to say.

However, before I let you off the hook altogether, remember that you do need to help clients and referrers to find you. You see, in order for people to know you are open for business, you have to tell them. You have to promote your practice in some way. There are many ways to do that, and if you scroll through the posts on this website, you’ll find it’s the topic I write most about, because it’s the aspect of running a practice that most therapists struggle with.

And you are the best form of promotion your practice has. You are the best advertisement, the best description and the best testimonial. By getting to know you a little as a person, potential referrers and potential clients get to know a little of how you are as a therapist. And that’s where networking comes in.

wine and cheeseWhen I hear the word networking it conjures up for me images of stilted, painful conversation over luke-warm canapes at events no-one really wants to attend! Or the forced sales hype you sometimes find at corporate events. Not very attractive, is it? Yet at its heart, networking is as simple as talking to people, establishing and maintaining relationships, something that all therapists are good at, because it’s our work. So somehow we have to find a different way of thinking about networking that makes it easier. Here are a few suggestions that I’ve found useful.

  1. Set an intention: Having something to aim for often helps. And being specific about what you’re going to do and why helps to keep you on track when you get wobbly. Examples: I’d like to broaden my network of contacts; or I’d like to spend more time talking to my colleagues or other professionals.
  2. Make it simple: Adopt a strategy, and stick to it for a while. At least until you see whether it works for you or not. Don’t pick something that will be a huge stretch for you, because you won’t last. Examples: I’ll meet two people for coffee each month; or I’ll call one person every week.
  3. Write it out and put it somewhere you will see it: Making the intention visible serves as a reminder. When facing a decision about something we can then ask ourselves “Does this bring me closer to, or further away from my intention?” and if the answer is further away, we can remind ourselves why we wanted to do it, and adjust our course, if we want. Example: Pin it up in the room where you keep your work documents, or have it on a card in your diary.
  4. Be proactive: There are a lot of things to fill up our day with, so if you don’t take the initiative, it may never happen of its own accord. Examples: Pick up the phone or send an email, hand someone your business card, or ask them to meet up with you. Don’t wait for someone else to do it!
  5. Practice when you can: At workshops or seminars where peers are present is an obvious place to practice your skills, but don’t forget, any gathering of people is an opportunity to meet someone who could be a contact for you, a potential referrer, a potential client, or someone with whom you could work on a project. This is not about being pushy or making a sales pitch, it is just about making new acquaintances. Examples: Sports and social occasions, volunteer groups, resident association meetings, or school gate encounters.
  6. Practice in front of a mirror or with a friend, if you find it really hard: Learn how to say “My name is…, I’m a counsellor/psychotherapist…” and then find a way of bringing the attention to the other person. Most people respond easily to be asked about themselves. Ask their name, and a simple inquiry about one or more of the big four topics:
    1. Work
    2. Family
    3. Holidays
    4. Interests and hobbies
  7. If the energy feels right between you, make an arrangement to follow up: If the energy feels right…if it doesn’t, don’t do it. If it feels forced to you, the other person will feel it too. If it does feel right, again, keep it simple. “Would you like to meet for coffee some day?” or “I’d love to hear more about that…”

Sometimes, we can make it out to be much more than it is, just a conversation with someone. You don’t have to win them over with sparkling repartee, or witty jokes. Just be yourself, and use that skill you have been trained to use, your ability to relate to others. You’ll find it’s easier than you thought!

If you struggle with networking and would like to stretch yourself in this area, perhaps I can help. Email me here for your free 20 minute consultation.

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