Why Your Networking Isn’t Working

Why Your Networking Isn’t Working

A couple of months ago, I was speaking on a panel at the Sundance Film Festival about how we might reimagine education to provide people more professional and economic mobility without having to go to college.

After the panel, a man walked up to me and said, “I’m a true believer. I have money. I have connections. Let me help you.”

In that moment I imagined he was going to offer me a $1 million, enough to fund my initiative and kickstart the radical change to adult education I think we need to start preparing people for the future of work. I was so filled with emotion that, after exchanging business cards, I literally cried with joy into the arms of a stranger.

More on that in a minute.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess this is not the kind of experience you typically have when you are “networking.”

I feel comfortable making that assumption because, not that long ago, it wasn’t typical for me either.

Like most people, when I thought about networking, I had something I wanted to get out of it. Maybe I wanted to be considered for a big project at work. Once I started my own business, maybe I was looking for clients or referrals.

What actually happened was often depressing. I was either making small talk with someone who had no interest in me or my work or I was at the mercy of someone in the middle of a sales pitch who was constantly scanning the room for someone more interesting.

Sound familiar?

This is precisely why networking has such a bad name and why it is often ineffective at best or counterproductive at worst. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Think Connection, Not Transactions

 

The first thing you have to wrap your head around is the purpose of networking.

Most people go into networking opportunities with a transactional mindset, rather than one seeking connection.

This is true even of the advice that encourages you provide other people value before asking for anything for yourself. It sounds generous, but it’s still coming from an expectation of reciprocity. And that motivation, quite frankly, sucks.

What I’ve found to be a lot more effective and definitely more fun is to approach each interaction as an opportunity to connect.

How do you do that? Just start talking about what moves you.

In fact, I try to start most conversations with people I don’t know using the question, “So, what are you passionate about?” No matter what comes out of that conversation, I know it will be interesting and time well spent.

Now, if I’m at an event to specifically advance my business, for example, that doesn’t mean I start a conversation around my hobbies (though there’s nothing wrong with that if it offers a way to truly connect with the person in front of me). It just means that I start my conversation around the why of my business, the reason I think my work is meaningful and important, to see if this is something that speaks to their heart, too.

Ultimately, what you’re really looking for is partners—people who are invested in the same causes and outcomes you are. This makes helping each other both easy and natural, because their success is your success. You offer assistance not because you expect something in return, but because you both care about the result.

 

How to Fall in Love with Networking

 

What this means is that networking is only effective when you can bring something to the conversation that you really care about.

If you’re looking for a job, but you can’t describe why the work makes the world a better place, chances are your networking won’t be effective either.

If you want a brilliant example of what this looks like, watch how author J.R.R. Tolkien describes why he wants to write a book. Even if you weren’t a book publisher, you’d likely want to be a part of what Tolkien was creating too, for who among us doesn’t understand the strange things we do in order to prove ourselves?

Not everyone will hear you and want to help. That’s the point. By leading with your passions, you attract exactly and only the right people.

This strategy can work for you even if unsure what your big mission is.

When I was early in my moonshot and I only had a vague sense of the problem I wanted to tackle, without having a clue of how to address it, people loved serving as a sounding board for me and sharing book suggestions.

When I wanted to convene a meeting of experts to create a vision for the human experience of work in the age of AI and automation, people loved to recommend experts I might want to invite and organizations that might serve as sponsors.

And now that I’m narrowing in on a solution, people love to suggest partners or possible sources of funding.

This kind of networking is so effective, I often spend two to three days a week following up with new connections or introductions. Most of those conversations don’t have an earth-shattering result. But it does offer real connection with real people who share my passions and values. I’m delighted to know them and share time with them, regardless of what comes out of it.

Now back to my Sundance experience.

The person I connected with was drawn to my mission because we both believe that people are capable of far more than others think. We believe that one of the biggest mistakes we make as a society is writing people off rather than finding alternative ways to nurture and express people’s innate potential.

Based on his experience launching a related idea for disadvantaged youth, he helped me see there were many other ways I could realize my moonshot than I had originally considered. In fact, after our first follow-up call, I brainstormed 8 different business models I could pursue.

What he showed me was that I wasn’t quite ready for funding yet. I still had more design work to do.

That insight was priceless.

But I also know that when I’m ready and if it makes sense with my model, he’s prepared to share a system with me to build partnerships that allowed him to raise more than 15x what I was initially looking for in funding.

There’s a saying, “Go big or go home.”

When it comes to networking, it might be “Either make the world a better place, or stay home.”

Anything else is probably just a waste of time.

This Is What a Fear of Success Looks Like

This Is What a Fear of Success Looks Like

I’m ashamed to admit I was a skeptic.

Whenever I’d hear that Marianne Williamson quote about how “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” I would just roll my eyes.

She doesn’t know me, I thought.

I’m a pretty ambitious woman. I enjoy challenging myself and others. My husband always jokes, “Never compete with Jen Gresham.” I’m not even sure why that’s funny. Then my daughter starts imitating me at this one mastermind, as if that explains everything.

 

If there was anything I was sure of, it’s that my deepest fear had nothing to do with being powerful.

And then, surprise! Something happened to make me realize how wrong I was (sorry for doubting you, Marianne).

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

 

About a year ago, I learned about the concept of moonshots by reading Peter Diamandis’ book, Bold. A moonshot can mean many things (let’s face it, it’s a concept he borrowed from Google and a concept Google borrowed from John F. Kennedy). Generally speaking though, a moonshot refers to a near impossible goal that has the potential for exponential, positive impact.

I was instantly smitten with the idea.

So I started helping clients to define and execute personal moonshots. I helped one client become the director of a major research center that gave her both the funding and collaborators to extend her work from the academic to practical policy. I helped another break into the professional video game industry (yes, it’s a thing), giving him a massive new platform to introduce health and wellness programs to young people.

In fact, the initial results were so extraordinary, both my husband and I decided we wanted moonshots ourselves. Because the family that does impossible things together is definitely a good litmus test for your marriage.

My moonshot is to help people leverage technology to create more value for their employers/clients and more meaning for themselves in an increasingly dynamic and unpredictable world. While many people are crying about robot overloads, I happen to think this is a historic opportunity to align the interests of employers and employees in ways that historically haven’t been possible.

Now, if you look closely, I’ve actually signed up for something like three moonshots in one: 1) create more value and meaning for people at work, 2) leverage technological change to do it, and 3) help humans better cope with uncertainty and complexity.

 

They don’t call it a moonshot for nothing, am I right?!

 

Here’s the thing: although I’ve led research efforts in human performance enhancement for the military and have coached hundreds of people around the world on career change, I felt massively inadequate to do this work. I still do. My amygdala basically exploded. (Side note: it’s messy)

Feeling inadequate may sound like a fear of failure, not success. The difference is that a fear of failure often prevents you from moving forward all together—you procrastinate or find a reason to quit soon after starting.

 

A fear of success looks like a committed effort that you hide from the world.

 

Which is why I felt so helpless to respond every time someone asked, “What happened to you? I never hear from you anymore.” It’s why I haven’t written a blog post in nearly a year. It’s why I decided to skip Christmas cards this year.

What happened to me? I’ve spent the last 10 or so months reading and thinking and trying to write my way to clarity. I’ve interviewed experts across dozens of different fields. I’ve dissected the ideas from different books, and then stitched them together into some semblance of a new framework. I’ve cried. I’ve questioned my sanity. I asked my husband (who, remember, was now working on his own moonshot, thanks to his “inspirational” wife) to make me a lot of tea.

And in those times he would say to me, “Let me get this straight. Elon Musk has basically decided that building a spaceship to Mars is an easier problem to solve, and you’re feeling inadequate that you don’t have a solution after working on it in isolation for a few months?”

Like I said, a litmus test for your marriage.

 

That’s when I had my big a-ha.

 

It has to do with the difference between complicated and complex problems.

Complicated problems are difficult, but both the problem and solution are generally agreed on and understood. You break the problem down into a bunch of component parts, and as long as you can solve those and put all the solutions back together, you’ll be successful. An example, ironically enough, is sending a man to the moon (or hey, Mars). There were many physics, engineering, and human challenges that needed to be solved, and those solutions all needed to work together. But everyone agreed on the laws of physics and what putting a man on the moon looked like. Complicated problems may be incredibly difficult, but they are predictable.

Complex problems are a set of interconnected problems which often evolve over time and in response to manipulation. In my case, the future of work can be described as an economics problem and an education problem and a psychology problem and a human/machine teaming problem … all of which are related to one another in ways we don’t really understand and the problems themselves change over time. The experts in all of these fields can’t agree on what the rules of the system are or what success looks like. Thus, there cannot be just one genius solution that can be engineered, but a set of solutions may emerge. However, what those solutions may be is unpredictable.

This led to two very important insights about where my fear of success was coming from.

 

I had never in my life taken on a complex problem.

 
Few of us do really. I wasn’t even sure how to get started.

And that not knowing turned out to be, shall we say, uncomfortable for me.

I couldn’t tell people, “I’m building a school in Africa!” or “I’m teaching coal miners how to code!” I underestimated how much of my confidence came from having lots of knowledge, and by trickle down theory, answers.

When I couldn’t immediately tell people HOW I was going to make my desired impact or heck, even exactly what impact I wanted to make, well, I wanted to hide.

Ironic in light of my desire to help people cope with uncertainty and complexity, right?

I realized that the biggest mistake people make is trying to apply complicated thinking to complex problems. I might well spend a year or more just trying to understand and frame my problem in a new way—and that would be time well spent.

The biggest innovations often come from asking a better question (there’s a whole book on that idea called The More Beautiful Question—I highly recommend it). We’re not used to thinking of questions as contributions, but then again, we’re not used to grappling with complex problems.

 

You can’t tackle a moonshot alone.

 

This realization was initially a relief. Thank goodness I didn’t have to figure everything out myself.

Unfortunately, sharing an incomplete vision and then asking for help are not natural for me. I like to have everything figured out and polished before I go public.

I was a bundle of nerves.

Would they think me naive? Would I sound dumb without a proposed solution in hand? Would the people I was reaching out to reject me and never take another one of my calls?

This is what a fear of failure looks like—procrastination and perfectionism. No kidding, it took me months to write a single email to someone I already knew professionally to see if he would partner with me on this idea (if we can call my vague notion about the future of work an “idea”).

It was on a family vacation where I was decidedly moody that my husband begged me to stop re-writing the pitch and just hit send.

That’s when I remembered: it wasn’t about me.

As I explain in this conversation with my coach, Rich Litvin, the good that needed doing was just too important to wait any longer (spoiler alert: I cry and yes, it’s embarrassing).

It was my why that motivated me to start reaching out, one phone call or email at a time.

The response was extraordinary. You know you’ve got a moonshot when you tell people what you’re up to, and instead of getting a polite, “That’s neat,” people very often say, “How can I help you?”

And help me they did. One connection led to the next. Each conversation broadened my understanding of the issue and the potential solutions I might pursue. I got commitments from some of the most brilliant minds in tech, business, and the nonprofit world to attend a meeting in June to develop a way forward.

I was creating momentum. My ideas were coalescing into something people wanted to be a part of.

 

And that’s when I got really scared.

 

Scared I wouldn’t measure up to the bar I was setting for myself. Scared people would question my leadership. Scared my life would change in ways I couldn’t control and maybe wouldn’t even like as the project gained partners and champions.

This is what a fear of success looks like—and I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing in the initial stages of a moonshot.

Your big, crazy ideas need time and space to grow without getting squished under the collective boot of pessimism.

Choose your initial partners and confidants wisely. You don’t need encouragement so much as constructive criticism. People who see your passion and want to see you succeed so badly, they will tell you the truth, the whole truth, but nothing more.

Then, once you’ve got a bit of traction for your idea, once you can see the wheels in motion, you can and should tell the whole world about it.

You’ll still be scared. You’ll worry everyone will think you a braggart or arrogant for thinking you (you!) can do something so big.

This is what a fear of success looks like.

This is also what it looks like when you say, “Screw it. I’m not hiding anymore.”

3 Clear Reasons You Need to Change Careers

3 Clear Reasons You Need to Change Careers

I sat in my hospital room, anxiously twirling the strings that were not securing the gown behind me, waiting for the nurses to wheel me into surgery. My husband squeezed my hand and told me we’d be okay.

Up until that moment, it certainly looked like I had it all.

I’d spent 16 years in the military, and by all accounts, had a bright future in front of me. I wasn’t on the fast track, but my boss valued my ideas and was a gifted mentor. I was engaged with my work and liked my co-workers.

I told myself again and again how lucky I was, but I still felt a kind of euphoria every time I took a day off.

Worse, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the opportunity for the life I’d always wanted was disappearing with each passing year.

It took a tragic loss, my second miscarriage in the space of twelve months, to realize what was nagging me.

 

Life is too short to not spend it doing what you love

 

Sure, sure, we’ve all heard it before. But as I awoke in the recovery room, my belly sore and my emotions crushed from the loss of my second baby, I resolved to find the work that made me feel alive.

I walked away from nearly a million dollars in pay and retirement benefits.

Crazy, right?  Certainly more than one person said so.
(more…)

How I Became the Queen of Narnia (And You Can Too)

How I Became the Queen of Narnia (And You Can Too)

Sitting across from my coach, he asked me a very simple question.

“What would make this an extraordinary year for you, Jen?”

I rattled off the kinds of things that first come to mind. I’d like to make even more money in my business. I’d like to make even better memories with my family. I’d like to make a bigger impact in my coaching. Maybe this year I will (finally, for the love of all that is good in the world) write a book.

Every answer I gave, my coach countered with “What else?”

Eventually I got a little exasperated.

“Look,” I told him, “2016 was pretty much the best, most magical year of my life. I felt like I’d stumbled through the door to Narnia. If you really want to help me do something extraordinary, show me how to find the door to Narnia more regularly.”

And then, without realizing why, I added, “And become queen.”

He looked at me for a long moment, then informed me, “Jen, I’m sorry, but I can’t do that for you. You see, you’re already the Queen of Narnia. My job is to help you see that.”

I know it sounds stupid, but I started to cry.

The magic and splendor I had been searching for all my life was right in front of me all along.

And for years I’d missed it.

Do You Need Better Goals or Better Vision?

 

For most people, the start of the year is all about wiping the slate clean and setting new intentions. Good stuff.

But how are you going to turn those intentions into reality? What, exactly, has been holding you back up until now?

I’m not talking about creating a plan, although that’s not a bad idea. I’m talking about finding the right opportunities, the open doors to where you want to go. Because if you can do that, transformation becomes easy.

You see, once I acknowledged that I was already the queen of my own Narnia, I started to see the world very differently. Everywhere I went, every interaction I had, had an element of magic to it. And never was that more obvious than the bitterly cold day I trudged a little over a mile to the gym.

We’ve had an especially cold winter here in Seattle, and yet I noticed at least a dozen different kinds of flowers blooming. In the middle of winter. What the heck?

But this was only surprising because I’d never noticed them before. I had to wonder: what else had I been missing?

It turns out quite a lot.

When I toyed with the idea of starting a novel coaching program for CEOs and executive directors … I happened to find myself at Thanksgiving dinner seated across the table from a former CEO interested in the same thing. We’re now talking about partnering on the venture.

When I wanted to become more intentional in my charitable endeavors … a book on the topic showed up in my mailbox, apparently from a publicist hoping I would review it.

When I wanted to create a special holiday for my family … my neighbor happened to mention that the local gingerbread house exhibit had a Harry Potter theme (my Hogwarts-obsessed daughter was thrilled).

 

Yes, this is made out of gingerbread and candy…

 

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe I manifested these opportunities any more than I manifested flowers in winter.

In science, this is what’s known as selective attention, illustrated by the famous Invisible Gorilla experiment. Essentially, we all have a kind of filter that predisposes us to see some things while ignoring others. We evolved that way so our brains wouldn’t get overloaded with inputs.

What does this all mean?

Most of the time, you don’t have to massively remake your life to get what you want. You just need a new way of looking at the world.

What I’m suggesting here is chewing gum simple:

You Find What You Look For

 

You want to find the perfect job, where you have the autonomy to create brilliant, world-changing products?

Start looking for it.

You want to start a side business that allows you pay off your credit card debt?

Start looking for problems you can solve for people.

You want to go on a safari in South Africa?

Start looking for a way to get there.

I’m not suggesting that anything you want will magically turn up the moment you look for it (although sometimes it nicely works out that way). More often what you find is a trail of breadcrumbs, each taking you one step closer.

At times, the pace will be frustratingly slow.

But finding something has to be an active process.

Too many people are waiting for their dreams to happen rather than taking responsibility for creating them. I love it when opportunities drop in my lap, too. But if that’s your only source of magic in life, the haphazardness can make you feel a little helpless.

In the end, what makes you a king or queen is not castles or the crown on your head.

It’s being willing to own the power you already have—and not be afraid to use it.

How “No-Brainer” Pricing Ruins Your Business (And What to Do Instead)

How “No-Brainer” Pricing Ruins Your Business (And What to Do Instead)

Much of the marketing advice out there encourages you to set prices that are a “no brainer.”

That is, a price that is so low, compared to the value you are offering, it would be silly for customers not to buy from you.

Sounds like a smart strategy, doesn’t it? But if you’re a coach, consultant, or freelancer, there are two big problems with this approach:

1) It works: you get a ton of clients, but your prices aren’t high enough to create the revenue you want. The result is you look successful but feel like an overwhelmed failure.

2) It doesn’t work: few people buy because your low price positions you as a beginner or someone who isn’t very good. The result is you both look and feel like a failure.

I know how much these two outcomes suck because I’ve experienced both of them. And yes, they nearly ruined my business because I either believed I wasn’t good enough to make it or I couldn’t keep up the pace necessary to make it.

Both conclusions turned out to be completely untrue.

By learning how to catapult my own income as well as a wide variety of clients over the last 3 years, I’ve found a smarter strategy that works in nearly every kind of business or niche.

STEP 1: WORK OUT HOW MUCH YOU NEED TO BE CHARGING

 

Set a reasonable capacity for your services and then make sure your price per client adds up to the revenue you want for your business.

To make the math easy, let’s say you want to earn $100,000 in revenue and you can comfortably handle 10 clients per year. This means, on average, you’d need to price your services at $10,000 per client.

STEP 2: RAISE YOUR PRICES TO THAT LEVEL

 

It’s not the math that holds people back. The REAL problem is that you don’t think you can charge that much. You don’t see a path from the “no brainer” price model to the premium price model.

I get it. To go from say $1,000 to $10,000 for the same service feels, well, uncomfortable.

How in the world do you justify such a radical change? Won’t everyone be shocked and angry at your arrogance? The voice in your head almost invariably starts yelling, “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

But here’s what you probably haven’t considered.

WHY YOUR CLIENTS FEEL LIKE YOU’RE TRYING TO SQUEEZE MORE OUT OF THEM

 

Making a big leap in prices is often easier than small, incremental changes.

I know it doesn’t feel intuitively right, but I’ve done this so many times now, I can assure you it’s true.

Small, incremental prices are hard to justify. It says nothing has really changed about your business, you just want more. And, in fact, this is often how entrepreneurs try to explain such price changes. They argue they haven’t raised prices in years. Or that it’s in line with what their competitors charge.

But your customers don’t care about any of that. Incremental price changes often feel like you’re trying to squeeze more out of your customers. And they don’t like it.

Big jumps in pricing, on the other hand, require quite a bit more boldness and creativity. You can’t keep to the status quo. You (and your customers) will require a perspective shift to wrap your mind around this new number.

HOW TO RAISE YOUR PRICES EXPONENTIALLY (WITHOUT ALL YOUR CLIENTS DESERTING YOU)

 

I use about a half a dozen strategies to help my clients earn previously unthinkable prices in their business, but here’s one you can use after just a couple hours worth of work.

Change the way you frame your business.

There’s no doubt that how you describe your services establishes a point of comparison and sets the ceiling for what you think you can charge. If you’re already at the high end of your industry, here are two ways around that issue:

1) Give yourself a new title. There are two main reasons to change what you call yourself: you either want to put yourself in a profession with a higher perceived value or you want to get out of an oversaturated market. For example, the term “virtual assistant” suffers from a relatively low perceived value whereas a website developer, marketing consultant, or online business manager can easily command much higher prices. A life coach suffers from low perceived value and is also a saturated market. Better descriptions might be an executive or career coach.

2) Increase your specialization. Specialization is an easy way to essentially double the expertise you get paid for. For example, I worked with a client who called herself a freelance editor. But much of her experience was helping professors edit technical research grants and papers. Emphasizing this specialization helped her to increase her prices 20% overnight within that sub-community of clients.

The obvious caveat is that your new title or specialization has to be accurate. You shouldn’t call yourself an executive coach if you’ve never worked with executives before.

And of course, beyond your title and specialization, how you describe what you do and the value it produces matters tremendously as well.

Unfortunately, most people get this wrong, even if they’re whizzes at marketing, because they’re just too close to their own story. I’ve seen brilliant entrepreneurs vastly undersell themselves because they simply can’t see the true value of their work.

How much of a difference does changing the way you frame your value make? The proof is in your bank account. One of my clients used these exact techniques and got mind-blowing results, such as:

  • A new offer that even her existing clients want to buy, earning her an additional $4400 in the first two weeks of pitching it
  • A better way to package and price her monthly services, so one new client paid her as much as all her previous clients combined
  • A monthly revenue increase from $1906 to $9766 (after working together just two months)

Most people think leaving a stable job to start a business is a huge risk.

But the biggest risk is that you’ll stand in the way of your own success.

Many people hold themselves and their businesses back because they think they have to stay competitive.

Today, I’m giving you permission to charge for your value, not someone else’s.