On Being a Cheerleader
I was recently asked to give my best networking advice and I had to think about it for a minute.
I strongly dislike networking in the more traditional sense of the word: attending conferences, making small talk, swapping business cards, sending follow up emails the next day. It all just feels forced and disingenuous to me. The idea of meeting people for the sole purpose of furthering your professional interests just feels a little bit icky. (And if I meet someone and it feels like that is what they’re looking for… I tend to avoid that person.)
My disdain for networking in the traditional sense is one of the reasons why I am happiest in a profession that allows me to (mostly) stay home, sit behind a computer, and write. Of course, the industry has changed quite a bit since the beginning and now there are dinners, events, and conferences… but I try to be really careful about what I say yes to and how much I take on as I find those things really draining. Prior to running my site full time I had a more traditional career, working for three large companies and then a startup. While I formed some really close friendships in the workplace, I dreaded going to networking events and conferences. I did it out of obligation, but I didn’t enjoy it. Maybe I never would have been successful in a more traditional career; I guess we’ll never know.
I have so much admiration and respect for my more charismatic, extroverted friends… people who will walk into a room of strangers and walk out with five new best friends (or professional relationships). This is my friend Alex to a tee and she amazes me.
There is, however, one thing I can do – that I really enjoy!
It is a small but important thing: being a cheerleader and supporting other people’s endeavors, especially other women.
I do this with my friends (if a friend launches a new project you better believe I will be first in line to buy their product or spread the word, telling absolutely anyone and everyone about it) but also with strangers I might admire.
I think it is really silly to play it cool with people we admire. And I have zero problems being a FAN. I think about my friend Alisha. When I found Girls Night In (her email newsletter), I told everyone I knew to sign up. A newsletter for indoor kids who love staying home? My people!!!! Eventually, Alisha and I connected and became friends. She came on our podcast, and was a guest at both of our DC live shows. Girls Night In had me be a guest editor. She sent me some of her puzzles. I wrote about them on my site.
I wasn’t supporting her newsletter (or any of the other things) for my own personal or professional gain, I did so because I was a genuine fan of hers and liked what she was doing. And in doing that, we developed a real relationship. The same thing happened with Ashley and Rayna from Girls Gotta Eat. I sent them fan mail (seriously – an embarrassingly long and gushy email) and we ended up grabbing drinks. A friendship was born!
Of course, you have to be genuine, and you have to be doing it without any agenda.
I don’t believe in “creative women supporting other creative women” just for the sake of it. It has to be a fit, it has to be something I really like. And if it is, I will scream and shout about it. But if it isn’t, it just isn’t! There’s no need to feel bad or guilty about this, you’re not going to like everyone and every project (and not everyone is going to like you or what you are doing – it’s OK!).
You might be thinking, “Well, Grace, it’s much easier to do this when you have a blog or big social following.” Maybe. But there is power even in just telling one friend, and there’s a reason why word of mouth marketing is so beneficial – it’s why brands spend hundreds of thousands of dollars investing in referral programs. Don’t keep good things to yourself. Support good people. Send fan mail. Spread the word about things you enjoy (especially small businesses, good books, etc.) Even if there is zero professional gain, you are doing a good thing. Even just telling one person about something can have a real impact.
I mentioned it briefly above, but also: be a fan of your friends! Send your girlfriends flowers when they get promoted at work. Don’t be afraid to tell them how amazing you think they are. Hype their projects. Life is too short for playing it cool. Don’t be the cool friend. Be the cheerleader.
I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Matt Haig: “Never be cool. Never try and be cool. Never worry about what the cool people think. Head for the warm people. Life is warmth. You’ll be cool when you’re dead.”
photography by Laura Saur.