Root Canal or Networking?

Making the Unnatural Natural

By Alissa Haines
[Blueprint for Success]

You open the front door and look around. There it is, in all its terrifying glory: a networking event. People everywhere. Chatting. Exchanging business cards. Smiling. Laughing. Acting curious about each other’s businesses. Drinking coffee. You feel like throwing up but you square your shoulders, clutch your business card holder, recite your elevator pitch, and walk up to the check-in table.
Does this scenario strike fear into your heart? Welcome to the club. You’re just like 93 percent of massage therapists (that’s a likely true, but made-up statistic) who would rather endure a root canal than a networking event.
To many of us, networking feels pushy and salesy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Really. Networking can be natural, easy, and even <gasp> fun! A change in perspective can make networking a more pleasant experience and, of course, help your practice grow.

What is Networking?
Networking is not making dumb small talk with as many people as possible. It’s not pushing a bunch of business cards into people’s hands. It’s not selling yourself to total strangers. Networking is the act of connecting. Resist the urge to make it complicated. Or salesy. Or icky.
To be a great networker, look for opportunities to make useful connections between people. You’re probably networking every day without realizing it. Our clients are bankers and auto mechanics and Avon reps and all numbers of people doing all kinds of jobs. When your client with the Etsy store mentions needing a real storefront and you give her the name of your commercial real estate broker, bam! You just networked! Give yourself a cookie.
Once you think of it this way, it becomes easier and less stressful, right? You’re ready for the next step.

Networking is Not About You
Well, this is kind of true. It’s ultimately about you and growing your business. But this is not the initial approach. You help yourself by being helpful to others. Not in a smarmy, manipulative way, but by getting a little more savvy and structured about the connecting you already do every day.
When most people go to a networking event or are in a networking situation, they concentrate on how to get business from it. Or worry about doing it wrong. When you flip your focus to helping others, everything changes. Think about making connections that will benefit others. Who can you introduce to start a valuable business relationship? Who needs to meet your CPA? Your baker? Your chiropractor? Your goat’s milk soap maker? Take some pressure off yourself and don’t worry about getting business from networking. That may sound dumb, because what’s the point of networking if you don’t get business from it, right?
Here’s the thing: the more you help other people, the more you will benefit. There’s a reason Business Network International (BNI; the largest networking organization in the world) coined the phrase “givers gain.” The more you give, the more you get in return.

Keep Your Elevator Pitch Simple
People get hung up on the perfect elevator pitch. They want to say something like, “I’m Mary! I’m a massage therapist who helps people feel better and lower stress. I typically work with athletes, busy professionals, and new moms.”
Yuck. How awkward. Elevator pitches tend to look great on paper, but when you actually try to use them in real life, you sound like a robot.
Keep it simple with something like,
“I’m a massage therapist. Have you ever had a massage?” Now you’ve actually started a conversation. No matter what the other person answers with, you have a chance to talk about massage in a conversational way rather than just spitting out a recited pitch.

Remember that Everyone is Awkward
There’s this myth that everyone else is good at networking and somehow you’re the only one who has anxiety. Guess what? Everyone is awkward. At least half the people in the room are afraid of tripping and spilling their beverage. With this in mind, try putting the focus on rescuing others.
If you find yourself at a networking event, look for people who need a friend and swoop in to save them from boredom. I like to find someone who is also sticking close to the wall, avoiding the fray. I walk over and say, “This looks like the perfect place to people-watch. May I join you and attempt some awkward networking conversation?”
You could also try the traditional approach. Introduce yourself, shake hands, and say something like, “I’m not great at networking events. Any advice for me?” This breaks the ice and starts a conversation. Or just ask them about their day. See if you can help them.

Have an Exit Plan
In networking, there’s nothing worse than being cornered by someone who wants to tell you their life story and will not shut up. The mortgage agent seemed nice enough when you introduced yourself, but after 15 minutes of listening to them pontificate about how amazing they are, you need an exit.
One of the easiest ways to extract yourself from this situation is to act like you’re doing the other person a favor. Try saying, “Well, I don’t want to keep you from meeting more people. It was great talking to you!” It can be as simple as that. Being up front and direct is better than faking it.

Make Networking a Habit
Many people think networking only happens at formal events like BNI meetings or chamber of commerce mixers. But networking can happen any time. It’s as simple as striking up a conversation in line at the grocery store or telling a client about the physical therapist around the corner. It can mean getting to know people you volunteer with at a local nonprofit. It can be chatting up the other parents at your kid’s soccer games.
As you get into a networking mind-set, it will become easier. The more connections you make and the more you help people, the more you will attract business of your own.

Allissa Haines runs a massage practice and collaborative wellness center in Massachusetts. She partners with Michael Reynolds to create business and marketing resources for massage therapists like you at