Editor note:  This is the second post in our new “Ask the Expert” series.  We will post answers to questions from entrepreneurs like yourself to our group of experts in different fields.  First up is Darlene Ellison.  Today’s post is the second of four from Darlene.

Networking is SO awkward. How can I make it easier?

Honestly, networking is only awkward if you are in a networking group that is either NOT in line with who your target market is or is a group whose format is uncomfortable to your personality. My first word of advice to those looking to find “comfortable” networking opportunities is to first “sample” a group and, upon leaving the networking event, ask yourself, “Would I want to be friends with the people I met?” If the answer is no, you are in the wrong networking setting for YOU. There is no right or wrong way to network in general, but there is a right or wrong way for YOU – depending on your personality, your target market and what kind of time you have to give to networking. A few ways our WIB Networking Socials take the “awkward” out of the experience is that nametags are pre-printed with names and business names. Also, hosts, charity spotlights and door prize donors are highlighted on their tags. That alone is a great introduction to a conversation! What does “XYZ business” provide? What charitable organization do you represent? What is the door prize you are donating? We also have a Business Card Table with business card holders, so women place their cards out for all attendees to pick up. That takes the “awkward” out of carrying around your cards in your hand and trying decide if and when you should hand the WIB you are talking to your business card?!?! Our WIB Networking Socials are just that…SOCIALS. We have announcements and door prizes in the middle for about 15 minutes but the majority of the 1 ½ hours is much like going to a cocktail party – building new friendships and making connections.

Is it worth it to join a group with expensive dues? Is the exclusivity of being the only one from my industry worth it?

For some people, yes, For others, no. I think much of the time it depends upon what industry you represent and also if you have the commitment to meet the meeting and referral requirements. For some, this is ideal networking because of the regimen and knowing what to expect. You build deep relationships with the other members. For others, myself included, I prefer the moving dates of our WIB events, the looser structure of the socializing, the format of our events and the fact that there is no fee associated with it. Veritex Community Bank provides the operational aspect to putting on this program as a part of our community outreach to Women in Business. The groups are inclusive rather than exclusive because the philosophy of our Women in Business Program is that people do business with friends/people they enjoy socially. Therefore, there is plenty of business to go around and having several women of the same industry in the room still yields different business possibilities.

Honestly, any networking is worth it, IF it is a “best fit” for you and your business. If you are happy and enjoy the group, the likelihood of you continuing to participate, engage and grow business relationships is limitless!

Veritex Bank’s Women in Business page: https://veritexbank.com/community-events/women-in-business

Darlene Ellison has over 25 years of experience in the combined fields of child psychology and business, as well as serving as an avid community volunteer. Years as a Development Consultant, as well as her 7-year-old role as the Vice President of Business Development/Community Development Executive for Veritex Community Bank, have allowed her to create a unique business development strategic plan that focuses on niche positioning and high touch customer service. She is also the founder and coordinator of three award-winning community Women In Business organizations that help women business owners and executives gain personal and professional growth. As an extension of these programs, she has created the Future Women In Business internship program for college-aged women. Darlene was honored with the 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the Greater East Dallas Chamber of Commerce, was named a 2011 Dallas Business Journal “Women in Business” honoree and, most recently, was awarded the “Pete Sessions Leadership Award” for outstanding years of service to the Greater East Dallas Chamber of Commerce. Darlene currently serves in her second year as Chair of the Chamber, is on the Board for the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and serves as an Advisor on the Board of the Lakewood Service League. Darlene’s book, “The Predator Next Door…Detect, Protect and Recover from Betrayal” has been awarded both a 2009 IPPY Award Gold Medal in True Crime and a 2010 Next Indie Award Gold Medal in Autobiography. Darlene speaks all over the country on child abuse prevention, as an advocate for victims of child and family violence and as a motivational proponent of overcoming obstacles!