Networking with Chronic Illness
Jamie Smith

Anyone who reads this website understands the value of networking and how, in today’s relationship economy, networking is vital to your business’ success. Networking can take on many forms and what works for one industry, size of business, or personality, may not fit another.

But what if there’s something in your life that makes networking difficult—sometimes seemingly impossible and even somewhat dangerous? Sounds a bit overly dramatic, but that’s the reality for a growing number of us in Northwest Arkansas who live the “spoonie life.” In other words, we live with at least one chronic illness.

Today, I want to give you some tips for effective networking when you live with a chronic illness.

In the more than eight years since starting Jamie’s Notebook, I’ve attended what feels like countless networking meetings all over Northwest Arkansas. I’ve made many business relationships, but what’s even more important to me is, I’ve made friends.

As I wrote on my business blog recently, I continue to operate a successful business despite developing an autoimmune form of arthritis three years ago. In that blog, I shared several tips for small business owners living with chronic illness.

5 Tips for networking when you have a chronic illness

As you know, all health situations are different. What might shut down your body may not be an issue for others. I encourage you to apply these ideas to your own situation. Family schedules, client schedules, and many other factors will also play a role in how you network!

Re-evaluate your networking style

I used to attend several styles of networking groups, especially the open events that were more like a business cocktail party, and the round robin events that tend to be much more structured. I also loved to attend conferences and participate in various groups where I’ve earned business through the relationships built there.

As an introvert, I always found the open networking meetings tiring, but when I developed the autoimmune issues, that meeting style became exhausting. Between the moving among various people to carry on conversation and sensory overload from the noises, smells and lights, that style of networking was not healthy for me anymore.

I’ve found that focusing on networking through organizations that match my passions is the most effective use of my time and energy. It’s more focused and I can often still participate from home when my health and work load make it necessary.

Your experience might be different. You may need the short-term commitment that hour-long, weekly or monthly networking meetings provide as opposed to committing to an organization that might take more time but offer more flexibility.

Network when it works for you

Not only are there different types of networking groups, many meeting time options exist. My family is on a second-shift schedule, yet I used to try to attend all the meetings I could, even when they were early in the morning. This method was not healthy for me and, in turn, affected my family life and my ability to work effectively. I now no longer attend any meetings or make any appointments before 10 a.m.

I know many people are more the morning type, yet they push themselves to attend evening meetings. Burning the proverbial candle on both ends is not sustainable for anyone, especially when you have a chronic illness.

I love that I’m seeing an increase in lunch-time networking groups. This includes meeting times for both traditional networking groups like MOB, and organizations such as Lion’s, Rotary and Toastmasters. This creates another option for successful, sustainable networking for everyone.

Get rid of FOMO

I shared this tip on my business blog, but it’s worth repeating here. I know as a small business owner, I can be afraid that I will lose an opportunity to gain new business, to learn new skills, or to otherwise develop my profession. This leads to trying to be everywhere and be everything for everybody.

When you live with chronic illness, it’s not feasible to be at every networking event all the time. Nor is it fruitful. You need time to work on the projects you earn and if you’re so busy always trying to get the next project or gig, you won’t have the time or energy to service your clients.

The truth is, if you try to do all the things, you will not have the energy to do what really matters. Your work will suffer, you will suffer, and your family will suffer. Instead of developing your professional life, you will potentially damage it. This means learning to establish and keep boundaries and learning to say no to what doesn’t really matter so you have the time and energy to say yes to what you really want.

Maintain relationships

Don’t rely on the in-person networking meetings as your sole networking. Build relationships online (most in-person networking groups seem to at least have a Facebook page) and really focus on building strong relationships with individuals who will refer you and who you are also willing to refer even if you don’t see each other weekly.

Another part of good working relationships is being good to your customers or clients. This may sound obvious, but if you make sure that you are treating your clients well and doing good work, you will get good word-of-mouth referrals. For me, this is especially important when one of my networking friends refer me because I know my performance affects both my reputation and theirs.

Take care of yourself

This should be able to go without saying, but I know we all push ourselves! Take care of yourself body, mind and spirit. Pay attention to your health triggers (for me, it’s weather usually). I’m no doctor, but I can tell you it’s important to care for your immune system. If there’s a huge flu bug going around like we experienced this last winter, then consider missing meetings. If you’re a networking group leader, please emphasize to your members the importance of staying home if you’re sick so they don’t share their germs. If you don’t practice self-care, you will not be an effective networker or be good at your job.

Do you live with a chronic illness? What tips do you have for successful networking? Share with our community!