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Monday, October 17, 2011
Networking for Barefoot Runners
I've been fortunate enough to meet a ton of barefoot runners from all over the world, both in person and online. In all my interactions with this group of people, I've noticed a common trend. In some way or another, most barefoot runners have some level of social awkwardness. In other words....we're all weird.
I suppose it's to be expected really. Becoming interested in barefoot running doesn't come from a desire to conform to societal norms. We all tend to go against the grain to some extent. There's nothing wrong with that. But for a lot of us, being weird might not make us the best at interacting with...like...people and stuff.
If you meet me in person today, you probably wouldn't believe that I used to be terribly shy. I became the loud mouth that I am today by forcing myself into uncomfortable social situations and learning how to react well and make friends. I especially forced myself into situations where I could make friends and have conversations with people who could help me out. Networking in a nutshell is just that...making friends with important people.
That being said, especially for the introverted, it's not the easiest thing to start doing. And if you want to get ahead in this world you have to do it. Your success, especially the world of barefoot/minimalist running, depends entirely on other people. It would help if you knew a few. Here are a few ideas to make your first contacts.
1. Friend a barefoot runner
This picture gets flashed around the Internet quite a bit. Although I have no idea how I ended up with my hand up Larry Gibbons's ass. Sorry Larry. This picture appears to have been doctored. Either that, or you're taller in person.
Anyway, I put this picture up because I met every person shown on some kind of Internet chat forum. Including my Larry Gibbons hand puppet. Before I became a blogger, I polluted the mind of all of these folks on the Runners World barefoot forum. Through chatting we became facebook friends, and do our best to keep in touch today. Our friendship isn't uncommon in the barefoot community. Barefoot runners live all over the country and the world. Most of our friendships come about through social media.
Social media sites are great for meeting people with connections, because there are virtually no barriers to contacting anyone. You don't need to schedule an appointment, or wade through a maze of phone trees and support staff. All you have to do is send them a message....or give them a friend request. You can friend Donald Trump if he has a facebook account.
Now I have plenty of friends on facebook that friended me, and I haven't heard from them since. That's fine...one more person to read my rants. Friending someone isn't going to do much unless you actually communicate with them. But MGBG! What am I going to say?! Try asking them a question. Or comment on one of their posts. Something to open up some dialog. You'll most likely get an answer. I've found most people involved in the barefoot running world to be very responsive to emails and facebook messages.
What good is making contact like this? To be remembered. You all have an interesting story to tell, a cool talent, or some knowledge that no one else has. And despite the volume of emails and facebook notifications I get every day, I read all of them and I will remember your story. When I need something in my blogging or professional life, I look to the people that I know or remember for help. If you're on my mind for whatever reason, it might be you that I ask to help me out.
You never know when that is going to happen, or what the opportunity will be. But it won't happen at all if you don't get yourself in front of that person. And yes...I fully expect to get a ton of facebook friend requests because of this post. I will accept them. I also suggest that you friend request Jason Robillard, and then spam the living shit out of him. Do my bidding MGBG nation!
Actually you're probably already friends with JR. He's a bit of a friend whore.
2. Join a local barefoot running club
The Barefoot Runners Society has been great for the development of the barefoot running community. It was created in part because of the need to organize into groups and do things with each other. It worked. The Minnesota Chapter has been doing a monthly group run, as well as clinics and events for almost two years now. I've met a ton of interesting people and learned even more about the sport from my membership.
But BRS is good for more than just meeting like-minded people. It's full of barefoot running industry connections. The president of a local BRS chapter usually has pretty regular communication with the BRS national folks. The BRS national folks are in regular communication with contacts from all over the industry. TJ, the BRS head cheese, knows everybody. If she doesn't know someone, she knows someone who does. Most industry people have an account at BRS (that they never check). BRS is literally the "6-Degrees of Kevin Bacon" of the barefoot running world.
Not only that, but being a part of BRS gives you ample opportunity to get your name out there. Especially if you take a leadership position in the organization. The media, races, and special events make inquires to BRS all the time about getting barefoot runners to do interviews, make public appearances, and do all kinds of cool stuff. I've done everything from helping kids out with school projects, to giving presentations from my gig at BRS. That work got attention, and generated further gigs and contacts. I wouldn't have gotten any of those without my BRS connections.
Now, not every chapter is as awesome and active as the Minnesota Chapter. Maybe you could make it that way by stepping in and putting together some cool stuff to do. Of course, by then the MN Chapter will be even more awesome, so you'll really only make your chapter as awesome as it MN was a long time ago. Still...ummm...join today!
3. Strike up a chat at your local running store
I'm the kind of guy that walks into a store to buy something, and ends up in an hour-long conversation with the store clerk. I probably won't even walk out with what I intended to purchase. I just love talking to people. I love making friends.
It's not just about being polite and friendly. It's good networking too. In the process of chatting people up, I become more familiar to them. When I go back to that store, the employees are more likely to remember me. They not only give me better service (and sometimes discounts...WINK!), but they open up to me about their lives.
Chatting up workers at a running store is helpful to your cause as a barefooter because, more than likely, the employees have some connection to the running industry. Many running store employees are also professional racers using the store as their day job. If they're not sponsored, they know someone who is. Running store owners also have tons of industry contacts. How do you think they get their merchandise in the first place?
Running stores aren't just good for industry contacts though. Most of what I do with running stores involves attending and hosting events focused on minimal and barefoot running. Running stores are great about hosting events. It brings in a ton of business. And it's a great place to meet fellow barefooters and chat up the event organizors.
I know that not everybody is good at striking up and maintaining random conversations. It's a skill that needs to be learned and practiced just like any other part of networking. But practicing in a place like a running store makes it easy for a runner. You already have something in common with the employees. You're a runner too. If nothing else, you can talk about all the cool gear and ask them what they use.
If you don't think you can strike up a chat in a running store, practice at a coffee shop or gas station. The transaction time is a lot shorter there, so if you screw up you don't look like as big of a tool.
4. Visit a race expo
If you think you can make a lot of good contacts at a running store, how about 10 running stores all in the same building? All big races nowadays have some kind of expo. Usually every running store in town signs up to have a booth selling merchandise. You can network with all the major area running stores in the same day! Bazinga!
And running stores aren't the only businesses getting booths at an expo. You can skip a step and meet the industry representatives themselves. Last time I went to an expo, I met the local sales reps for Vibram, Newton, and Brooks. I also met a number of folks representing chiropractors, physical therapists, charities, and publications. They're all an important part of the industry too, and they're usually sitting around just dying to talk to someone.
Also, not to brag...but I met Hal FREAKING Higdon. Just walked up and I chatted him up about barefoot running. He only seemed to think I was moderately obnoxious. I think I interrupted his nap.
5. Go to a conference or summit
The NYC Barefoot Run was epic. Not just because it was an incredible time. I also met more industry people in two days than I've ever met in my life.
Every major industry has some kind of annual national convention or symposium where everyone who is anyone comes together, stays at some cool hotel, drinks a lot, and half-listens to a bunch of presentations. It's like The Gathering in The Highlander, except without Sean Connery and all the beheadings. The NYC Barefoot Run is arguably the national convention for barefoot runners. If you can go, you need to. It was The Awesome.
I understand that not everyone has the funds to go to something like this. But that doesn't mean that you have to miss out. There are plenty of smaller events around the country where the same folks make an appearance. The Naked Foot 5K is a great example. Jason Robillard and Ken Bob usually show up at every race. Christopher McDougall has The Naked Tour. Michael Sandler has a national clinic schedule as well. When these people come to town you need to be there, and you need to shake some hands.
6. Networking is first and foremost about making friends
If there's one thing I dislike more than anything else, it's annoying networking. The kind of networking where someone contacts you with no other purpose in mind other than getting something from you. I find it disengenous and downright rude. Please don't be that person. You're just giving us all a bad name.
Networking really isn't about getting a leg up at all. It's first and foremost about friendship. Everyone in the barefoot running world is an incredible person. Each friend I make enriches my life. I want to meet all these people because it makes me happy...end of story. What more do you need really?
You actually get the most out of networking not by asking for favors, but by paying it forward and asking nothing in return. You will get it all back and then some. Offer to use your skills and knowledge to benefit someone you know. You never know when someone will repay your kindness. But when it happens, it will be huge.
Get out there and meet the rest of MGBG nation citizens! Cheers!