- Antonia Higgins
Networking for Counsellors: it’s all in the relationship
Does the word ‘networking’ fill you with dread? What do you think of when you think about networking events? If you’re imagining a room full of people who are suited and booted and who are seeking out people to find out what they can get from them, or so they can size up the competition, you’re probably not alone with those fears.
In my ‘previous life’ networking felt very much like that. I’m a bit of an introvert and I loathed networking. I never felt like I had enough to offer, always felt like the people I was talking to were putting on an act, and had much more to say than I did. Partly that was down to the person I used to be - quite shy, lacking in confidence and with a giant dose of imposter syndrome. But partly, I do think I was right. My past experiences felt superficial and false, so I couldn’t trust that I’d get anything useful from it.
However, networking now can be a very different experience (and not just because now it sometimes happens in a Zoom room). It seems that perhaps many people have had similar experiences to mine, and this has given rise to a new age in networking groups (face to face and online) which are welcoming, gentle, encouraging places. Half the battle is finding these groups and being brave enough to join in.
Many of the counsellors/therapists I know are reluctant networkers, and I believe that’s for the reasons I mentioned above - we see right through insincerity, superficiality and play-acting. We are used to making deep and authentic connections with others, so if we are in situations which feel superficial and inauthentic we are not going to shine. Add to that the dilemmas we have about our visibility, confidentiality boundaries and personal disclosure (how much is too much?) and networking can become a bit of a minefield.
As therapists, we’re actually overflowing with the skills it takes to be good at networking. Think about it - networking is about building relationships. We do that every day, sometimes in really difficult circumstances and sometimes with people who are reluctant to build a relationship with us at all. We’re good at it, and that’s not something we can use only for benefit for our clients. It’s a life skill, and a real benefit for building your private practice.
Here are 8 tips I’m sharing from my own experience to help you overcome your fears of networking.
Be yourself You are your business, and people buy from/recommend people that they know, like and trust. Showing your authentic, genuine self is the only way people can get to know the real you. Authenticity is attractive and will draw others to you.
Know what you are prepared to share personally Counsellors can be nervous of self-disclosure and it can feel like a real ethical dilemma to share anything about yourself publicly. But how can anyone get to know, like and trust you if you give nothing of yourself away? It’s worth thinking in advance about how much you are prepared to share about yourself and have that boundary in place before you start. Also, remember that the people you talk to at networking events are not your clients, so you don't have to apply the same rules to communication that you would with clients. At some point someone you have met at a networking events might become your client and then your rules would likely change, and would be contracted.
Be interested in the people you are talking to One of the reasons I became a counsellor is because I like people and am interested in their stories. I would wager that all counsellors are much the same. And because we are interested in people, we build relationships with people - we listen, ask questions, offer our insights…we’re curious about other humans, and this is networking gold!
Listen more than you talk See tip 3! People like to talk about themselves, and therapists are expert listeners. We listen to understand, and so we can often give really valuable insights and observations. These are the things that are remembered and that build 'know, like, trust' factor in relationships.
Contribute When opportunities arise for you to contribute your professional knowledge to discussions, do it. Being a contributor is a great way to be remembered. For example, if there is some discussion about stress/doing too much, you can contribute compassionately to that by offering ideas for self-care, or perhaps suggesting you lead a guided visualisation at the end of the session. These contributions will stick in the minds of those you meet, especially if you have helped them to feel better.
Circulate You don’t have to ‘work the room’ until you’re exhausted, but could you commit to meeting two new people, as well as catching up with some that you already know? This broadens your network as well as strengthening current relationships.
Come prepared Another way to help people remember you is to have something to give them. Business cards, postcards or flyers are good choices. Remember to have your branding, contact details and socials on your marketing material to make contacting you as easy as possible. Some people are still being very careful due to covid, so having electronic versions of your cards/flyers can be useful for emailing.
Follow up with the people you talk to A couple of days after the event it’s a good idea to reach out to the people you’ve met. If you’ve chatted about something specific, maybe there is a link to a useful article/blog/video that you can send. Or maybe you have a question about something they talked about and you can reach out to ask that. Or perhaps you have a contact who might be able to help them with that thing they mentioned whose details you can pass on. If none of these are possible then reaching out to say it was good to meet them or good to see them again is also an option.
How does networking sound to you now? If it sounds more appealing I urge you to seek out some groups and find what fits you. Whether online or in-person, you’ll reap some benefits from connecting with others.
If you are looking for help to start up or grow your private practice, my Steps to Success coaching programme or Success Strategy Sessions are for you. Contact me to book a discovery call.
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