I don’t remember when I attended my first networking group probably because I’ve blocked it out. I’m fairly certain I did a crappy job.

I was scared, shaking in fact, and had no idea what to do. When it came to my turn to impress people with “what I did” I have no idea what I said. I could barely speak.

I hated networking. Sometimes I still do. Well, I hate the “old-school” way of networking. (That’s also why I started Biz Divas.)

Old-school style is giving out as many business cards as possible in the hour you are together, getting as many business cards, making small talk to “impress” people, pitching people on your stuff then putting all of those business cards into your database so you can spam them. Lame. Super lame.

As Marilyn Sorensen said at a recent networking group she spoke at, Networking is really just a fancy word for making friends. It’s about connecting. It’s about being genuinely supportive to other people. That’s it.

People ask all the time how to network if you are shy.

Flashback to me as a kid: quiet and shy. I was more content drawing and playing with one or two other kids and disliked being in the spotlight.

Flashback to me in high school: quiet, shy and now add a low self esteem.

Flashback to college: ditto for what was in high school.

This shifted in my mid-to-late 20s. I have not always been someone who could easily talk to people. In fact, I still have to prepare myself to go into a room full of people and talk to them. It’s still a stretch. You can still be an excellent networker if it scares you!

This is how you do it:

#1: Stop making it about you!
If you are having thoughts like “networking doesn’t work” then you are making it about you. Make it about how you can serve someone else.

#2: Give first, then receive.
Give value and then you will receive value. Give connections and people will be more likely to give you the connections you are looking for. Give referrals and people will remember that and refer you when it comes up.

#3: Show up more than once.
People will buy after they have been exposed to a product 4-7 times. Just because you go to an event once and you walk away without any sales doesn’t mean the event was a failure. Are you showing up consistently? If not, then don’t complain.

#4: Know what you do.
If you are showing up at an event and every month you are doing something different, or now you have this new package and the next month you have a new, new package and the next month you have a new, new and really new package, no one knows what to expect from you. Stick to your core message. Just because you are bored with it doesn’t mean your prospects are. Get your elevator pitch down!

And you can’t be an expert at everything. Focus on your niche. (You can get help with this at the July next Biz Divas – see below for details and for what is happening in June.)

#5: Ask questions then stop talking.
In a networking setting, ask meaningful questions. Then listen. Then do what most people don’t do and connect them to a possible contact or resource. Suggest who they can talk to if what they are looking for isn’t you. Be a good connector.

#6: Find a match.
Find a group that resonates with you. Go to where your ideal client will be. If your ideal client is women then find groups or events that have women. If your ideal client are moms of pre-school age children, then find out where they are hanging out, or blogging or shopping and talk to them.

#7: Authenticity is everything.
Be real. Be honest. Show up authentically. People will connect with you. And since you show up regularly, people will trust you.

#8: Follow Up.
Just do it. Phone, email, card, social media…it doesn’t matter, just do it. Stop trying to make it perfect and just follow up authentically. A thank-you goes a long way.

#9: Be Grateful.
Thank people for giving you referrals. Thank people who refer you. Amber Griffiths of AG Design is the queen at this. Every time I’ve given her a referral, she has sent me a thank-you card with in a couple of days of receiving the referral. I’ve even gotten a thank-you from her when she was able to bid on a graphic design job and she didn’t know if she got the bid. Now that is a class act.

It’s really that simple. If you are in business you have to meet people. You can “meet” people online but you can LEVERAGE your business when you connect with people.

Your next client, deal, sale and solution may not happen with the person in front of you, but everything happens THROUGH people. Get out of your office and connect.