Networking your practice is not an activity as much as it is a steady stream of activities. When therapists ask me what I do on a regular basis I tell them I post on LinkedIn, blog, send out newsletters via Constant Contact, and use my LinkedIn Outlook Toolbar daily. When colleagues email me they soon find that they are getting emails from me on a regular basis. Some of them are articles that made me think of them, others are more general polls and rss feeds. All of this information can be as overwhelming as it is abundant, but I send it. And yes, even though LinkedIn discourages this I send network requests to people I don’t know personally. Why am I such a scofflaw and busybody? Let me tell you.
When I was growing up and going to Catholic school, there were lots of rules. Rules for when to get to school, when to go inside from recess, when and where to sit, how to address the teacher, what to wear, what NOT to wear, the list goes on. You’d think that I’d have learned by now to follow all the rules, whether it be with managed care or networking or marketing, but I continue to march to my own beat even if the tomtomtom annoys others at times. And the reason for this is the most important maxim I ever learned in Catholic School: It is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
Have you ever noticed how timid we therapists can be sometimes with our colleagues? We can talk with our patients about sexuality, abuse, feelings of deepest rage and envy; but when it comes to telling a colleague about our work, we choke up. When we are at conferences we are reluctant to give people our cards or bump iPhones, because we are afraid to seem pushy. So we don’t, and we go home and suddenly we’re complaining to our spouse or anyone who’ll listen about how “lonely” our profession is. Another maxim from Catholic School comes to mind here, “get off the cross, we need the wood.” Introduce yourselves to each other. If you are reading this, introduce yourself to me! Comment away, send me an invite on LinkedIn, I won’t bite. What is the worst thing that could happen?
How about this for a worst case scenario, it actually happened to me: Five years ago I would often go to open clinical grand rounds in the community I practice in. I was new to the area, and it was not easy to meet people. But I had printed up my new cards, put on my best game face, and started trying to introduce myself. After one grand rounds, the woman I was sitting next to was chatting with me about another workshop and she seemed friendly. So I got up the nerve to pull out a card and ask her, “could I give you my card?”
She looked at me blankly for a second than she said, “you can, but I can’t imagine what I would ever need it for.” She took it and walked away without saying another word. Was I embarrassed? You bet, and fortunately I had had some positive experiences with other people that day, so I lived. And you will too, even if you run into a few curmudgeons. Don’t wait and ask for permission, put yourself out there. And if you get a cold look, or a curt response to your email, or a “Unsubscribe” to your blog, be polite and apologize for any inconvenience you may have caused (if you feel it is merited.) And then shake it off and move on.
But do not, I repeat do NOT, forget how small or awkward you feel in that moment. It stinks doesn’t it? You shouldn’t have to feel that way, no one should. Which brings us to the last CSSFS: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
When someone offers you a card, take it and say thank you. Ask them a question about their practice. Accept that LinkedIn invitation, check out their website link, and send them a brief note saying, “nice job.” You don’t want to feel small or awkward, so stretch yourself a little when someone takes the risk of trying to network with you. We all know how hard it is to start and grow a practice, and we all know how to be encouraging. So pay it forward a little, and you may end up with a treasured colleague or business connection as a result.