the value of networks
My good friend, Jason Gill-Bloyer of Cypress Mortgage recently emailed me an invitation to his
networking group. I was reluctant at first, perhaps feeling overly confident on my ability to locate business on my own (or better yet, not placing enough value on the opportunity at hand). I finally agreed, and attended today’s event. It’s true, I have a beautiful smile. But, I don’t think that’s what drew people to speak to me after the event finished. I think it had more to do with the confidence I exuded when speaking about my recently launched Content Marketing business. That same confidence resulted in me leaving the event with three more business opportunities I previously had. Attending the event had me reflecting on the value of networking for entrepreneurs.
As a growing entrepreneur, have you engaged networking opportunities? Networking is the key to unlocking additional resources and growing your business. People can’t refer your business if they don’t know you. Duh! It’s really that simple. What I love most about networking, is that it provides you the opportunity to be your chief advocate.
Why do you struggle with networking? I know many of us do. Introverts might find the exercise of networking to be too taxing. Extroverts might view their network too casually, forgetting to be purposeful with their opportunities. Don’t feel you are being “pushy.” Gather some courage, and take full advantage of your opportunities. Some of my best personal and professional opportunities have occurred through networking.
I’m sure you’ve heard of South by Southwest (SXSW), the yearly conference held in Austin, TX. Some might say, it is one of the top digital conferences for innovative and growing brands and individuals. I do, that is why I attend each year. SXSW is always a dynamic atmosphere – full of excitement and possibility. All of that energy must be contagious, because last year when I attended, I did something gutsy. I gathered my “chutzpah” and introduced myself to the VP of a local ad agency I have been following for many years. I flashed my SXSW badge at the entrance, glanced at the picture I had of her for a quick reminder and with confidence walked up to her. Do you know our conversation resulted in an invitation for me to correspond with her personally? This is the type of commitment and energy you need to grow your network.
Honestly, I’m not asking you to fly to Austin and attend SXSW. There are countless ways to network in your own area.
1. Locate your opportunities
Scour websites related to your field or industry publications. Utilize Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Meetup to identify upcoming networking or industry events. Use your local chamber of commerce and city website to identify a myriad of community leaders and events.
2. Come prepared
Give yourself the tools to leave a strong impression. Have business cards? Don’t – Create them! (Hint: Sally Experiment is a talented designer and good friend! Reach out if you need help.). You can always download a contact-sharing app on your smartphone too, i.e. Bump. If you’re at an industry event, find out what people have been talking about on your Twitter feed and be ready to listen. If you’re going to a trade show or conference, map out your days with seminars, booths and meals that interest you and advance your goals.
3. Be brave
When I attended the networking event, each person received 60 seconds to describe their business and their target client. While I know the ins and outs of Content Marketing, nervousness took hold and I wrote notes. When it was my turn, I realized that these people were my friends, and there was an opportunity to cast out my fear. I held my notes for another second and then started speaking from my heart and confidence. I left with three more business opportunities than I had before. Who would have known? To increase your network, you have to put yourself in front of people which may include those “take-a-breath” moments before saying, “Hi, I’m Lola and I am a Content Marketer” with your business card in hand.
Christine Comaford, Forbes.com writer, suggests “equalizing yourself.” She says “we all have one unit of self-worth—no more, no less. Just because people are powerful, rich, or famous doesn’t mean they are better than you. Practice equalizing yourself with others… We are the same.” This humanizes the process of interacting with new contacts—the “imagine everyone in his or her underwear” for a business-after-hours event.
Don’t be intimated; be yourself. Find opportunities, come prepared, and be brave as you expand your network.