Coffee, Tea, or Beer?

In the month that I’ve joined CoCo, the Collaborative and Co-Networking space in downtown Minneapolis, I’ve come to realize that I know next to nothing about networking and selling myself for the kinds of opportunities that I’m interested in.  When I started my career, I would send out resumes for full-time opportunities with a cover letter detailing why I thought I was a match for the company, hoping that I said the correct things to get noticed.  Later, after I became a contractor, I’d rely on recruiters for both contracts and later full-time roles.  After 17 years, I’ve found myself disillusioned at the effort I feel I need to make to “fit-in” and be accepted.  My pool of effective recruiters continues to implode on itself as I discover less that provide me with any kind of relevant feedback.  And as my intent has changed from finding a job to finding something I enjoy doing, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I can network properly, I’m more likely to find success in that.

Kelly is a freelance developer for the Agriculture industry that Matt, a fellow confidant working at CoCo, has connected me to.  Kelly’s about my age and has been working in IT for a little longer than I have.  He has found himself in roles, mainly as a Software Developer and at times as Project Manager.  Kelly has been successfully freelancing for over a year now.  After stopping by his solo desk near the back, we both grab our cup of tea and head off to the lounge area to chat.  I’m looking forward to picking Kelly’s brain about how I can better market myself as a freelancer, or contractor for that matter.

We spend the next hour talking about everything ranging from our own personal work histories to networking oneself and finally finishing on a more philosophical note of where Technology is going and where we may find ourselves functioning in that technology space in the next 10 years.

Kelly confirms some of the information that I’ve been given by other individuals.  I need to be more assertive about what I want, and start working with my network more effectively.  To my surprise, he’s found LinkedIn to be much more helpful than I have, although I don’t find myself networking as much as he has on there.  He reaffirms for me that creating a set of business cards that market my skills as an individual will probably be beneficial.  I’m also under the perspective that scrambling to create a portfolio website at this time will not help me much.  Kelly also talked to me about why recruiters post consistently with links to articles on LinkedIn all the time.  While not extremely relevant all the time, the effect it creates is to keep that person “at the top” of the list.  He didn’t suggest that I employ the same mechanism, but that posting on my linked in on a semi-regular basis could help me stay relevant and generate more interest in my skills and needs.

What I found even more helpful is when we talked about when Kelly was just starting to go freelance.  At one point, he says, he rented out a small, shared office space in downtown Minneapolis hoping to be among a more entrepreneurial crowd that he could network with.  Instead, he found himself among divorce lawyers and insurance salesman.  The only positive thing from that experience, he states, is that he could call the aide at the front desk and have copies of documents made.  It’s lonely striking out on your own, and we both agreed that you need people to interact with.  We also agreed that some of the best networking that we’ve encountered came out of the beer networking events hosted by CoCo every week.  I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy the socialization and networking that comes from either having a coffee, tea, or beer with someone.

Of course, the best part of our networking came when Kelly validated everything that I’ve gone through thus far.  Having experienced all the same uneasiness in marketing himself and having so many questions surrounding how to do it correctly, he reassured me that everyone striking out on their own experiences the same fear.  I’ve come to realize the most important thing derived from networking – not feeling alone and stupid.  In the end, Kelly recommended two books for me.

Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

It’s a good thing that I’m a sponge for books, because I WILL read these books and hopefully be the better for it as far as networking goes.  I’ve also come to realize that networking for me is becoming so much more than finding my next opportunity, but for getting ideas.  With each person I talk to, I get more ideas to play with, or books to read, or a better perspective about things I’ve originally thought were useless or didn’t apply to me.  And while it seems, for the moment, that all I’m following is a trail of breadcrumbs, I am moving in some direction.  I feel positive about that.

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