Tips for networking authentically
When I think of “networking” my skin crawls. Some people are SO good at it. I am not one of those people.
When I first started my practice, I thought I had to attend organized networking events. I went to breakfasts where I felt awkward and salesy. I sat through inorganic and inauthentic conversations with other people who I could tell also felt awkward and salesy.
Sometimes, it would be a sit down affair – perhaps a networking breakfast or lunch. At other times, it would be an organized event in a bar, where everyone was wandering and lost. Unsure of how to begin or end conversations. Again, some people probably felt fine but I felt oh so yucky and uncomfortable.
When I would leave these events, I would feel so defeated. I believed that in order to be a successful business person that I needed to go to as many as I could and represent my “brand” by showing up, speaking up, and connecting. Yet, I just could not imagine myself attending a lifetime of these things.
I kept attending them, anyway. And, I would show up. I would connect. I would share about my business. I would learn about other people’s businesses. But, as time went on, I realized that not much was coming of it. Sure, I knew who Deborah was at “The Addictions Center” (made up name) and I got a first name basis with Jonelle at The Meadowbrook Healing and Spiritual Identity Center (another made up name hehe). But I wasn’t referring to Deborah & Jonelle and they weren’t referring to me, either. If we did refer to each other, the clients rarely stuck on either end.
I started to realize that it was all a big waste of time. Not because Deborah & Jonelle, and myself weren’t AMAZING therapists. Not because our centers provided poor services. But because to really create a connection that will help you to build a practice it needs to be an authentic connection. And, it needs to be a “match”.
A lot of networking events do not support you in developing authentic connections with providers that are a good match. Those types of connections happen over coffee. They happen over chat and email. They happen on the phone. They happen when you feel called to connect with another person.
Once I shifted away from the type of networking that makes me gag and into the type of networking that makes me excited, I developed so many more connections in the community.
Here are some of my major referral sources, all from networking authentically:
- A major hospital system has us at the top of their referral list due to knowing myself and another clinician at the practice after we had a baby there!
- A major Philadelphia university has us at the top of the referral list because my colleague was helpful to the coordinator when she was first starting out in the area.
- A training center sends their students to us to supervise because I offered to provide them a free workshop. More than that, I am genuinely curious about the woman that runs the program. I ask about her family, I check in about how the program is going, etc.
- A major restaurant group PAYS for their employees to come see therapists at our practice. I never asked for this, but they offered because I was open to giving them free information about how to think about mental health within their system.
So, how do we network authentically?
I have not been to a networking event in years. It is my goal to NEVER go again. If you like them please keep going. What works for me might be different than what works for you. But if you hate them, don’t feel obligated to attend.
To authentically network, here are some tips:
*Use the internet to search for other therapists in your area that have similar skill sets. But, also seek out people that seem to have similar vibes and clientele. Contact them by finding their email and let them know who you are, what you do, and the types of client’s that you see. Ask them to tell you more about what they do, who they see, and who they are.
*BE RECIPROCAL! I cannot emphasize this enough. People will refer to you when you refer to them. Don’t expect to introduce your business to someone and for referrals to come through the door. Creating a long term connection means also referring to them. What are other ways to offer reciprocity? Share information, offer advice, forward them e-mails that have CEU offerings you think they might be interested in.
*Use social media to connect. Share other people’s posts, DM them about how much you love their work, create a real connection through conversation.
*Ask people to grab lunch or coffee. In a real way. Contact a therapist in your area that looks like you’d get along and say “Hey, I have been trying to connect with other therapists in the area. I saw we work near each other and I would love to get to know you. Would you like to grab a coffee?
*Whenever you connect with other professionals through mutual clients or in the community, be interested in them. Show curiosity about what they do. Get their number. Find out who their ideal client is.
*Provide helpful and free information. I am not saying give away all your hard work for free! But anytime you extend good will, it is remembered and I truly believe it comes back beyond measure.
Article by Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT
Elizabeth is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Philadelphia, PA and she runs a six figure practice in Center City with several employees. To read more about Elizabeth’s story, click here.