Deceptive Labels

This morning I attended a breakfast hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce.  There was a speaker from the Chamber and a packed room of nice people enjoying bagels from Panera. It was a networking event.

If you are like me, the word networking evokes a feeling of ickiness, a slight shudder of dread, a fear of being dropped into a hungry pool of sharks right after cutting yourself shaving your legs.

But it wasn’t like that. Instead, it was a group of small business owners talking about different things they have tried in order to buoy their businesses. They discussed tactics that worked, and a few that didn’t. They talked about their worries and some specific challenges they were facing.

The experience made me think about labels. I almost didn’t get up when the alarm clock said it was time to get ready for the breakfast; I had been dreading it since I clicked “accept” on the invitation. Would the dread have been less if it had been called a Collaborating Breakfast instead of a Networking Breakfast?

After the meeting was adjourned, a nice man sitting next to me asked about my business and for a card (which I still don’t have any of!!!), and as usual I said, “I write newsletters. Email newsletters,” then stuttered and stumbled my way through a description of what I do.

The name of my business is Smiling Tree Writing. But it could just as well be Smiling Tree Marketing, because I help small businesses design and execute marketing strategies. So, why do I describe myself as a writer?

The terms “network marketing” and “social media marketing” have given lots of smart, helpful business people a bad name. Just like networking, the word marketing feels kinda slimy.

Yet, neither networking nor marketing is slimy if done well. For instance, no one at breakfast this morning tried to sell me a single thing. No one shoved a business card in my face. There wasn’t a shark in the pool. And, when you “like” a page on Facebook or sign up to receive a newsletter, or request a catalog aren’t you requesting a company market to you?

Like stereotypes, labels can trip us up. Although I still prefer to think of myself as a writer, from now on I am going to be much less reluctant to network.

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