Susan the Business Owner’s Networking Nightmares


One of the things every business class has taught me is that networking is very important stuff. So in addition to being involved (although not involved enough) with my local Chamber, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for groups that meet over lunch in my area. After all, I work at home, by myself. If I don’t go to the Hoity Toity Health Club, I  may not see another adult at all. Plus, there’s the business-side benefits to raising my profile locally. More jobs for my non-fiction department, for instance.

I thought I’d found a group, a women’s-only group organizing online.

The directions for the first meeting were sketchy. Panera. Table in front. But when I clicked through to RSVP, it said “Table in Back.”

I went to Panera. I got there right on time and walked through. At the front was a group of people who’d pulled a bunch of tables together. They sat in a semi-circle and faced a man who was holding court.

But… it’s a women’s networking group, right? Maybe the “in the back” was what had come to be.

Sure enough, back there sat a group of women in rather conservative business clothes, with very conservative haircuts. Most of them were older than me, which wasn’t what this group I was trying to meet had sounded like. Dirty plates were piled to one side. They’d clearly been there awhile, and they were very involved in their discussion, leaning in toward each other, ignoring everyone around them.

Now, there’s a couple reasons I work at home: I like it. I’m here for my kids. If I want to work at 2AM, I can (and I do. Nothing soothes an emotional upset or bad nightmare like getting lost in words.) I can work in my sweats. And it keeps my business overhead low. Very low.

So it’s an occasion when I’m heading out. Even though I’m still on the business clock, I’m not editing, so I structure my day around getting my project work done. That means skipping the Hoity Toity Health Club. It means putting the sweats aside and enjoying the fun of getting a little more dressed up. Dangly earrings! Flats instead of hiking boots! Shirts that button and pants that zip! Woot! We’re living large now!

And because I’m going to all this effort, when I get to where I’m going, I want to feel welcome. I want to feel on an equal footing with people. I want to be able to say I’m an editor because I love what I do and I get out of bed every day excited to see what words I can play with — and not get strange looks for that. After all, I don’t look at accountants funny when they wax poetic about how numbers make sense and it’s all there in black and red. I want to be met as a business owner, which I am. Nothing less, but maybe a lot more (esteemed business owner, welcome presence… you get the drift).

Maybe if I’d been having a better day, I’d have walked up to that group at the front of the store, the one surrounding the man, and asked if they were the people I was supposed to meet. And you know why I ultimately didn’t? Because when I paused inside the doorway and took them in, three of them looked over at me. None of them smiled or acted in any way inviting. In fact, they looked sorta … hostile.

I don’t know. Maybe they were as put out at having a man come in and dominate as I felt. Maybe their favorite food wasn’t on the menu. Maybe they’d wanted to order lunch but had been told to wait.

But still. Those are all crummy excuses to, at the first meeting of a new networking group, not have the welcome mat out. And right then, I needed a welcome mat in the form of a cheery smile and a “Hey, glad you’re here. Come join us.”

So. Moral of the story:

1. If you’re running a new networking group and meeting in a popular public place, bring a balloon or goofy stuffed animal to set on the table so people can find you.

2. If you’re running a new networking group, smile at the people who walk through the door until every last person who RSVPed has arrived. Even if their idea of business attire doesn’t match yours.

3. If you’re the one walking into a new situation, buy the intimidation you’re feeling a brownie and stick it in the corner with the fancy chairs.

Maybe another group will surface. Maybe I’ll hear from this one that they’re sorry they missed me and next time, they’ll bring a goofy stuffed dog so we can find each other.

In the meantime, I’ll be at home, playing with words for an international clientele who continues, on a daily basis, to overwhelm me with their creativity, professionalism, and passion for what they do.


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