I loathe business networking.

The Chamber of Commerce meetings. Networking “speed dating.”  Trade shows.  Business Networking International.

But when I started my own business, this seemed to be the only alternative.  My last “corporate job” was global in nature. For years I had been leading teams in China, Russia, Brazil, Australia — almost every corner of the world — and really had no significant business connections — no business leads — in my own region of the country!  So I had to get out and press the flesh.

I dutifully began the circuit of lunch and breakfast meetings, hoping beyond hope that a connection would lead to a connection and conversations would turn into customers.  It was an endless loop of meeting the same insurance salespeople, bug exterminators and realtors over and over again.

The end of networking as I know it!

Then came the moment that made me realize I HAD to find another way. I attended a local networking meeting called “TNT.” I can’t remember what it stood for, but I’m pretty sure the middle word was “Networking!”  At the beginning of the meeting, everybody stood up and said something nice about their business. At the end of each uplifting description, the whole room yelled “BOOM!”  TNT — get it?  I didn’t know it was coming and after that first BOOM somebody had to peel me off the ceiling.

This just wasn’t for me. And it wasn’t working anyway.  Sure, I met lots of nice people, but they were all trying to sell something to ME, too.  I acquired a few small local customers but they were unprepared to think and work on the strategic level I enjoyed.  They needed yard signs, not company strategies. If I stuck with it, I could have made a living, but I needed to paint on a much bigger canvas.

Luckily for me, this era of my life coincided with the dawn of Twitter.  I hated it at first.  The first tweet I ever received was “it’s 4 a.m.” confirming that indeed, this really was the stupidest thing mankind had ever dreamed up.

But to be a consultant and teacher, I had to stick with it and try to understand what all the buzz was about.  Twitter is deceivingly simple, but it took me 4-6 months to understand it … and I continue to learn every day.

The Twitter revolution

I enjoyed the fascinating people, humor, and intelligence that surrounded me once I got in the Twitter groove.  And I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had stumbled upon the greatest business networking opportunity in the history of mankind.  I was connecting with extraordinary people who would have been impossible to know just a few years earlier.  Many connections became friendships. The friendships went offline into phone calls and meetings.  The synergies seemed to multiply day by day and soon I was collaborating on projects, hiring Twitter connections for freelance work, and helping others find employment.

And best of all, I could do it from the comfort of my own home without the “BOOM.”  In my pajamas. Or even less!  And … it was FUN.

As the enormous benefits of Twitter networking accumulated, I stopped the time-consuming and expensive local meetings completely. Today, I have a thriving international business built almost entirely through social networking. My three largest customers and five most important collaborators all came to me via Twitter.

A lot of people get overwhelmed by the amount of time you can devote to social networking. Well, have you ever compared this to the time involved in REAL LIFE networking? In just the amount of time I was spending in my car I could write blog posts for a week or network on Twitter for a month!

I’ve been passionate about teaching others how to capture this social media mindset and transform it into business benefits, too.  And yet, there is only so much I can do in a 45 minute webinar, a lunch meeting, or even a phone call.  In my next blog post, I’m going to let you know what I did about it.  If you’re tired of the network meeting limbo dancing and are looking for a way to take social networking to a new level, help is on the way.  Stay tuned!

How has Twitter changed YOUR life?  Share your best story!  Or, are you still struggling like I did for so many months?

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