You’ve started a business, yippeee! Now you know it is time to get yourself out there and do some good old fashioned business networking and shameless self- promotion.
Maybe you don’t know exactly how or where to start. Maybe you know what you need to do but something is holding you back. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last few years and attending school online. My favorite outfit for these activities is yoga pants. They are comfortable, what can I say? Yoga pants are also versatile- you can stretch or actually do yoga in them, meditate, go to the store and take your kid to school without feeling too bad about your appearance. You are probably with me and you have your own version of yoga pants- sweatpants, stretchy shorts, pajamas or whatever. You probably created your business in those pants.
I saw a friend the other day that was so excited to be out of the house and wearing regular girl clothes, so much so that she got really dressed up with makeup and everything. Working from home, she spends most of her time in comfy pants or pajamas too. She confessed that she changes out of her night time pajamas to put on her day time work pajamas. I can relate.
We all like to be cozy comfy. But in order to improve your business networking skills, you have to get out of your comfort zone. It’s time to put the yoga pants away or whatever and expand your little universe.
If you want to work with clients in your local area, social networking and marketing can only get you so far. I believe in the power of a firm handshake and a face to face conversation. If you are not sure that you have a firm handshake, you might need to work on it. Please, no wet noodle handshakes!
The business of networking has changed slightly over the last several years, so I thought I would really put some time and energy on a business development plan. Business development is like a muscle, I just need to start using it again.
My universe has been so very small and cozy the past few years. One of my goals is to have a high referral business. Until that day comes, I need to get myself out there so I decided to brainstorm some ideas and really put a plan in place to get me started. Once you start stepping out, the universe really does put people and opportunities in our paths.
1. Who do you know?
My mom is my inspiration here, she is so well networked in her industry. Who can help you grow your network quickly? Who is in a related industry that you can meet with and ask them for feedback on your work?
Once you start taking some risks in asking for some assistance from people you already know, you might be surprised where your efforts can take you. I have recently started asking people I know to take a look at my website for me.
I was on my LinkedIn the other day and realized that a friend of mine now works for our regional small business development center and I reached out. See how the business universe works?
2. Tryout Local Business Groups
When I worked in the Defense community, it was very clear what industry associations to be a part of here in Colorado. As a creative business owner, I need to do my research here. So, I am going to reach out to friends in the business community and try on some groups. You don’t have to commit to anything right away, and going to these events are great practice. Facebook and mastermind groups yes, but only as many as you can stay active in! I am going to join the Chamber of Commerce and get active. Business networking groups can be great, but the only thing I don’t like here is the commitment to be there every week. However, I do know a lot of people that place a lot of value on these groups. Check out your local MeetUps too! Whatever you do, get busy taking control of your entreprenuer destiny here.
Make sure to have a great elevator pitch about you and your business ready when you do get to these events!
3. Schedule It
Schedule your networking time every week outside of the office. Decide how much time you can dedicate to this form of business development and schedule it. From your contact list, add people into your schedule. You can call, write a quick email, or share an article. If you like that one on one networking, start a routine where you invite one person to coffee every week on a certain day and time. This will guarantee you have at least one outside meeting per week. For entreprenuers that mainly work at home and online, this is an easy time commitment… and it gets you out of the house!
You never know what could come out of a little coffee talk.
4. Curate Your Contact List
Regardless of the kind of business you are starting, people are your business. To build a strong business, you need to focus on people. Your clients. And potential clients. Curating a great contact list will help you build the kind of business you want.
Remember that it’s your business. You don’t have to add everyone to your list. Sure, be polite and send a nice follow up email. I’m saying, add the people that seemed interesting . Add only the kind of people that you can envision working with. Isn’t this why you are in business for yourself in the first place? To work with only the clients you want work with and take only the projects you want to take?
5. Reach Out AND Follow Up
All of your activity means nothing if you don’t reach out to start building a rapport with your new contacts. Focus on your new contact list and reach out regularly. I received a great tip this past year. In addition to your task list, you need a people list. People you need to focus on that day, for any reason.
I recently asked a recent LinkedIn contact for some feedback on my website and portfolio. I am so glad I did! Not only did I receive some honest feedback, I gained a little confidence in my work. We have developed a new business rapport and started to discuss his design needs and ways we can collaborate.
The key to successful networking is stretching outside of your comfort zone. Get yourself out there! Put together a plan, join a networking group, build a robust contact list and schedule time every week to focus your business development and networking activities. Save the yoga pants for the weekend. Or actual yoga.
What are your tips for business networking? What are your challenges? I would love to hear from you.