When I opened my private practice and started reading about the “powers of networking”–how if I didn’t do any marketing, or have a social media strategy, or didn’t make sure I was networking, that I wouldn’t succeed. Such a vague term—networking –and honestly, I found it quite overwhelming.
Networking. Hmm. Don’t know much about it. Guess I’ll go to my trusted, wise, old friend Google and see what wisdom can be dropped on me there…
Louisville networking for young adult female
Louisville networking for counselors
I found that the definition of networking is “a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes.”
And that Louisville has LOTS of networking groups for all different types of businesses and individuals, all geared toward connecting them with other individuals and businesses.
After lots of research I still felt like networking wasn’t something I needed to do and that it was…
not for me
But then I remembered that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and that I might as well give it a shot before writing it off. Spent a little bit more time narrowing down all the different groups and organizations in Louisville to be involved with and finally stumbled upon one I aligned with. I joined and signed up for my first event.
Went to my first event and immediately regretted it. Walked into a room of what looked like a group of people that all knew each other, and I was the odd man out.
Immediately went the restroom and convinced myself that I could just walk back out, get in my car and go home and no one would notice. Which, if I’m being honest, no one probably would have noticed, but that wouldn’t really be me giving this networking thing a fair shot now, would it? That would be me happening to use the restroom at a bar that happened to be hosting a networking event.
So, I mustered up the guts to leave the restroom and enter the event. Looked around the room, immediately felt panic again that everyone else is squadded up talking and I am the ONLY ONE ALONE in the room.
So, I go wait in line at the bar and in line the individual behind me was wearing the same shoes as me, so I mentioned to her that I liked her shoes. She said thanks and laughed and we then went on to have a conversation about where we got them, which led to what parts of town we hang out in, live in and work in, to what we do for work, to how long we have been in Louisville…and so on. At the end of the conversation we exchanged business cards and went our separate ways (aka I'm alone again).
GO TO THE BATHROOM.
THIS IS AWKWARD.
I reminded myself to breathe. I didn’t go to the bathroom, didn’t go home, and instead just acknowledged the awkwardness and kept breathing through it.
Throughout the night I met a handful of people and exchanged business cards with some of them. Had lots of small talk and conversations that started with “oh you’re a therapist…how amazing of you… must be such hard work…gosh I could use your services…” and drank some beer.
1. My first networking event didn’t kill me (Yay!)
2. Definitely felt awkward and self-conscious the entire time but…
3. Glad I went because if not I would have never known that…Practically everyone else there also felt awkward (because they told me, or I could tell when I was talking to them by their body language, verbiage, etc.) and that, at its core, networking is talking to strangers.
Once I was able to reframe this in my head, all future networking events were so much less intimidating because:
1. I know how to talk. I do it all day long.
2. I love what I do (counseling) and advocating and normalizing mental health, so the more people who will listen to me the better.
3. The more events I went to, the more people I recognized and the less awkward I felt walking into a room of strangers.
Long story short,
I get it. Networking is scary, new, intimidating, hard, anxiety inducing.
But as mental health and wellness professionals in private practice we do need to network because…
1. It’s free (or low cost): No need to spend hundreds on a fancy marketing team when you’ve got all you need! Just be yourself! Be genuine. Advocate for your profession while spreading the word about the services you provide.
2. It builds your confidence: Know that networking doesn’t come easy to anyone (even those who make it look easy). The more you do it the more comfortable it will become. Trust me.
3. It creates connections: It gets you out of your office, off your computer and out into the community. Teaching you about the services around you that could assist you, your loved ones, or your clients down the road.
If the sound of networking still makes you want to crawl out of your skin. That’s okay.
Start “networking” (aka talking) with anyone. Maybe it's your spouse, your kids, your friends, or your office suite neighbors. Tell them about what you do and the clients you best serve (of course leaving all PHI out of the conversation). If your office neighbors aren’t other mental health or wellness professionals this can be intimidating, but you’ve got it! If your office mates are in the mental health and wellness community themselves, even easier (and you’ve still got it)!
Within my company, we only rent office space to individuals who are licensed or certified mental health or wellness professionals. Therefore, making it easier for our tenants to naturally network, consult and refer to each other within our like-minded community. We also host bimonthly socials for our tenants to step outside the office, let their hair down and get to know each other in a non-clinical atmosphere. Our tenants love this and see heightened levels of success in their practices because of built in networking opportunities.
Shannon Gonter is a professional counselor in Louisville, KY who works with young adults and specializes in mens issues. She strives to create a counseling environment that men and young adults can relate to, feel heard in and find new solutions to their negative patterns in. Learn more about her and the services she provides at www.therapybyshannon.com.