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Lisa Manterfield
Lisa Manterfield

The People Solution (or Networking for the Rest of Us)

People power for the faint of heart

Does the idea of “networking” send you scurrying for the safety of your bed? If the concept conjures images of slick entrepreneurs with shiny suits and perfect hair, striding around hotel function rooms balancing a glass of cheap wine in one hand and a shrimp-on-a-stick in the other, and handing out business cards as if they’re scattering confetti, no wonder you’re afraid.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from networking. When you’re pointing your life in a new direction you need all the help you can get, and you can find it among your own friends and associates­–­and their friends and associates. All you have to do is present a problem and ask for help with a solution.

Ask yourself: Would you help a friend in need?

For many of us, asking for help is a prospect worse than walking over hot coals. We’d rather struggle on alone than bother anyone with our problems. But what if a friend asked you for help?

My own fear of networking turned a corner a couple of years ago when a young woman I knew through a volunteer program contacted me and asked if I knew anyone involved in arts education. She was considering a career change and was looking for advice. I didn’t know anyone in that line of work, so as a networking contact I considered myself useless.

But here’s what happened: I wanted to solve her problem. I reached out to my friends who were teachers, and then my friends in creative fields, and then to people who I knew moved in those circles and might know someone who knew someone who could help her. When I asked my own contacts for help, their problem-solving instincts kicked in too, and before long I was able to hand my colleague the names and contact information of three people she could talk to.

Offer a problem and ask for a solution

It’s human nature to want to help, to find solutions, and to fix other people’s problems. Successful networking organizations tap into this with problem solving group meetings. Women Who Launch, a community of women entrepreneurs, calls their meetings “Mastermind Groups”; Life Coach, Barbara Sher calls her version the “Idea Party.” Whatever you call it, the idea is the same. Get a group of people together, tell them what you’re trying to accomplish, present your problem or obstacle, and then ask them for ideas. They’ll be even more motivated if you offer them the opportunity to present their own problems to the group and brainstorm ideas for solutions.

Tell everyone you meet

Don’t get hung up on the idea of a formal networking meeting. Everyone you come into contact with is a potential source of help. You strike up a conversation with someone at the doctor’s office and you tell her you’ve invented an anti-spill widget for coffee but don’t know how to go about getting it produced. Odds are someone will say something like, “My brother-in-law sells thingamabobs. Maybe he’d know.” Don’t assume that other people can’t or won’t help. Just ask and see what happens.

Find your tribe

You might think that finding a community that shares your particular challenge isn’t going to help. “How are they going to help me if the can’t help themselves?” But life isn’t one size fits all, and what works for one person might not work for another. The converse of this is that a solution that didn’t work for one person might be the perfect solution for you.

Remember, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness and most people you meet will jump to the challenge of helping you find solutions. All you have to do is ask.

About the Author
Lisa Manterfield

Lisa Manterfield is the creator of and the author of I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood.

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