Networking in Central Illinois

photo by George Bean

photo by George Bean

by Tammy Finch

As an introvert, networking has always been tough on me.  I can make small talk with others and I find it interesting to talk with them about their companies or goals.  But I have to force myself to go to business events to network.  I'm uncomfortable because I'm usually alone and would rather be home with a decent book.  But business owners need to network in some way. 



I remember going to my daughter's sporting events.  There was a couple, the Petersen's, that always made everyone feel welcome.  They would always scoot over to make room for you in the bleachers or they would point out an open place close by, say your kid looked great and always had a smile.  People would gravitate towards them.  They knew a lot of the parents just because they were so friendly and supportive to the kids. 

Looking back on those times, I feel the Petersen's were connectors like in the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  They had a huge network of people they knew, just by going to games and making small talk with other parents.  Spending a few hours together in the bleachers each week, is really just a way of staying in touch or networking. Think about it, we already had common ground (our kids) and saw each other regularly. 

After 16 years in business, I find it easier to network with people now.  But I still have to force myself to go.  I recently joined the GPACC (Greater Peoria Area Coffee Club) group that meets each week.  The early time works for me so after I get in the habit of going, it should be easy to keep up with my networking obligations.  The group is very fun and inviting.

Business networking does not really have to be boring or a chore.  There are many places to network with others, for instance:

At you can find something interesting to do each week.  Startup Peoria has a lot of events happening, Ladies with Moxie is a networking group for women, and finding others with like minded interests is a relaxed way to network with others.

Chamber of Commerce events
You paid your dues right?  You should go to at least one event a month.  Put it in your calendar and walk up to someone standing by themselves and introduce yourself. 

Why not learn something while you network?  Classes here at Web Tech are a good way to meet others in the area.  SCORE Peoria puts on workshops too as well as the local libraries.  Check their websites for a schedule. 

Most business owners belong to some type of organization who will hold a conference at least once a year.  But be flexible and attend a few to find out more about the industry.

What about other ways to meet those "connectors" who can put you in touch with someone in their network.  Here are places to meet people where you already have common ground:

Dog Parks
Really, why not?  You have something to talk about (dogs) and can make a few human friends.

Coffee Shops
What better place to get away from the office and hang out with others than a coffee shop?  Just holding meetings there can get you out of the office and a way to meet others.

Speeches and Talks
Just like classes, there are always opportunities to network during breaks or before and after these events. 

Social Media
Don't forget your presence on social media.  But do step away from the computer once in a while and talk to people in person. 

Look at the events page on Peoria Area.

Find something to do and keep your focus in mind.  Find out what your friends are doing and tag along.  Don't be the "sales" person of the group, however listen to others and keep an eye out for those connectors.