I’m sitting alone in a tiny cupcake store, in between meetings. My route from the car park to my second meeting location has serendipitously led me past this little place with the colourful cupcakes in the window, and since I am half an hour early due to the huge amount of nerves-driven contingency timing, I slip in the door, settle myself on a stool at the counter and order a strawberry cupcake.
As I sit there I scan through the emails that have already come in during the few short hours since I left home that morning, take a photo of my pretty cupcake, and give myself a pep talk for the next meeting.
I’m not a natural networker. Or at least I thought I wasn’t. In a previous job I had, networking meant trying to persuade people I didn’t know to do something I wasn’t very excited about myself. It was all about politics and competition and dirty tricks to get your foot in the door. I hated that aspect of the job and would break out in cold sweats before any call I had to make or evening soiree I had to attend.
I’d carried that perception of networking with me when I left the job. But I’m discovering it doesn’t always have to look this way. In fact it can look like a group of interesting and enthusiastic women discussing fascinating topics and encouraging each other in their endeavours.
And on this morning sitting in an empty cupcake store, I figured out that it can also look like an enjoyable conversation between two people who are passionate about their craft. It can look like listening to someone explain why they do what they do, how they’ve nurtured and improved their skill over the years, what their dreams and ambitions are for the future. It can look like telling the story of how I ended up where I am, why starting this business is so important to me, why I think I have something significant and unique to offer to the world.
Before I got to the first meeting I was worried about what I should wear to make the right impression, how I should disguise my weaknesses, how I could persuade this person I was worth their time.
But when I came out of the meeting, I was swelling with quiet confidence, re-energised to keep implementing all my ideas to grow this baby business, excited about the possibilities that working together could bring to both of us.
What I’m realising is that the business world is not a zero-sum game and networking does not need to feel like pulling teeth, like a fight to win influence.
Instead it can look like working together, supporting each other’s dreams and ambitions, giving each other a knee-up, knowing there is plenty of pie – or cupcake – to go around. This way of business feels gentler, more compassionate, more rewarding. And that’s a wonderful surprise.
Also, I get to eat cupcakes and call it “research”. Double win!