If you’re anything like me, you’re diligent in your research – you do all of the groundwork from the paperwork, to hiring a web developer. In your head, you’ve already identified a caterer, DJ and press for your launch party. However, when starting a service based business, you’re missing one thing – CLIENTS! Ladies & Gentleman, you haven’t made a dollar yet to support your grand idea!
Being the resourceful person you are, you initiate a plan of action to network with “like minds” – that is, meeting contacts within the industry & demographic you plan to service. While you are fortunate to know a lot of great people, no one explains:
- How to go about it or
- Where to go
We may have friends that are great resources and have the connections they need. However, depending on your demographic, you may be out on your own, facing new networking challenges.
In my personal challenge to ensure that I am meeting my own expectations for a successful start-up, I’ve found that with the wealth of resources available, there isn’t really a roadmap that provides a brand new entrepreneur with the guidance necessary to begin networking their asses off.
START WITH LINKED —–> PREMIUM
Here’s the thing about LinkedIn, it’s not Facebook. However, I’ve found that there are people with 500+ connections who don’t reach out or respond to anyone. If that’s you, you missed the WHOLE point. The cost of doing business (and I mean a real business, not your hobby) is that you pay for the things you need for longevity even in the absence of “having it”. What I mean by that is – yes, it costs money to be a LinkedIn Premium member – however, the membership itself allows you to message people that you wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to message because they are not a connection. In other words, it costs when you’re aiming to be the boss. Per my own experience, I started by messaging a few people that I thought maybe/might want to speak to me or network “someday”. With a more focused vision at the end of 2015, I’ve specified connections with greater experience than me in the market and thoroughly reviewed their profiles.
I pay close attention to: Title, Industry, Years of Experience, Previous Employment, and Location. This criteria is important if you want to gain knowledge, expertise and a contact for future endeavors. Likewise, if you find someone in the area you live in, you can always initiate a meeting in person (in a public location, of course). You want to connect NOW. We don’t know what the future holds and so I aim to connect, learn and interact with as many people as I can possibly fit into my calendar throughout the month.
EVENTBRITE, MEETUPs & CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE
Eventbrite & Meetup have the same premise as LinkedIn except you can find networking events. For Eventbrite, I suggest looking by category & event type. For Meetups, there are a ton of high-level categories & sub-categories. Also, based on the profile you create (where you specify ‘interests’) there will be suggested meetups. Again, it costs when you’re aiming to be the boss, so don’t shy away from events if there is a fee. Let’s be honest, 5 cups of coffee in NYC and I’m sure in other big cities can easily add up to $20 a week. In that case, please don’t act “brand new” when you need to spend $28.50 for 3 hours of gaining a much needed experience. Also, don’t forget your business cards – if you don’t have any, you have work to do!
Another resource I definitely didn’t know about initially are the various Chambers of Commerce. Often there are multiple within the same city – you can either become a member or pay for events as they come along. I’ve personally met a number of business people that are great contacts (I have meetings set-up with at least 2 people in upcoming weeks)!
Lastly if you’re worried about the fees (truly), I think knowing that they are tax deductible business expenses should put you at ease. Please note, I am not a certified tax accountant, but my service provider WILL be getting “all of these bills” shortly for my own business tax returns!
MAKE A CALENDAR AND BECOME A NETWORKING NINJA
If you really want to take yourself out of shyness, out of not wanting to talk to other people all the time, or just take yourself out the non-networking habit, make a calendar, write it down and watch you hold yourself accountable! My personal goal is to attend 5-7 networking events per month and that does not include the people I meet up with independently. I have an alarm that gives me fair warning (2 days in advance) so I can’t decide “I don’t want to go today” or tell myself “I forgot”. Making the commitment is the key, holding yourself accountable is the habit. If you know anything about habits, once formed, they are very hard to break. If you have an entrepreneur friend – make them accountable for you attending an event together.
DON’T RATIONALIZE = LYING TO YOURSELF TO MAKE IT “OK”
I’ve identified early breakfast networking events that I can attend before my 9-5, some that start after 7p.m., some that are quarterly so that that I can plan around my schedule and I’ve also budgeted how much I want to spend each month towards my networking ninja goal (every dollar counts). There is no excuse for you not to make at least ONE networking event a month. Seriously guys, knock it off. Making the sacrifice to opt of of meeting your friends for that happy hour on Thursday when you needed to be at “Networking Like a Boss” on 23rd & Madison is for the greater good. Supportive friends will not mind and they will reschedule!
BE WILLING TO STRIKE OUT
Babe Ruth is one of the most influential players in baseball of all time. He was the 1st player to hit 60 home runs in one season and also held the lifetime home run record for 39 years until 1974. However, did you know that Babe Ruth had 1,330 strikeouts that was also a record for 29 years?! I think you get the point – you will be contacting a lot of people that may not want to contact you back, may not care who you are or what your vision is – that is OK! Simply put, be willing to strike out with an obscene number of people before you even get one response back. If you strike out in getting any replies from 10 out of 10 people, that only means you need to branch out and contact 20 people overall. It’s not the number of times you strike out, it’s how many times you are willing to go back to the plate!
NETWORKING IS NOT USING
I struggle with what to ask or discuss with any person I connect to simply because I want to be sure to make a connection without the individual thinking I am here as a saleswoman.
Do not…I repeat, DO NOT go out into “these streets” asking folks to meet up with you to talk about your product only because they can help you. To be clear, that is not what networking is about! Networking is an opportunity to learn, grow and model yourself after people who have done it before you. Organically, those relationships will grow and lead you to opportunities. Take for example my participation in Passionistas! I met the CEO+Founder, Beth Smith well over two years ago at a networking event! It was very organic and so our connection was founded, without making “a sale”.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a master networking ninja (yet), but I do know that being “a user of people” is not who I am, nor how I want to be perceived in business. Keep your eyes on the prize, invite people to coffee or cocktails and just by doing so, you’ve established a new relationship. If you think about it a different way, no one (including you) wants to feel as if they are being utilized for someone else’s gain – do unto others as you would want done unto you. Also, remember that someday very soon you will be considered the expert and have people reaching out to you for knowledge. When I approach networking contacts, I ask myself, “Would you, want to talk to you”? Check your attitude and be humble. Your previous interactions and any pre-conceived notions need to be left at the door! Ultimately, this experience is a process – learn to be open to new people and new concepts without judgment.
CAW = CELEBRATE ALL WINS
I contacted 10 people this week via LinkedIn, 2 contacted me back. I’ve set-up 2 meetings for cocktails next week, just today. That means: I. AM. KILLING.IT! That’s 2 whole people I didn’t even know last week! YES – go me!
Don’t forget to have fun! I’ve found that I was really uncomfortable in a room full of what I considered to be “experienced entrepreneurs”. I’m far from shy (can you tell?) – Still, everyone has a specific group of people that they somehow deem “bigger” than themselves. After a cocktail and roaming around for 20 minutes, I realized – they’re here to meet YOU, just like you are there to meet THEM. We all look different, have different levels of experience, expertise and challenges as entrepreneurs. However, we are all aiming to accomplish the same goal. Loosen up and put your true self out there! Remember, we all shine best when we are being our true selves.
LEARNING & GROWING
What I’ve learned so far in this journey is that networking “ain’t” easy at all, but practicing on different audiences, in different situations makes me a better entrepreneur. I’ve heard that one of the traits, of the most successful entrepreneurs is doing things that other people do not or refuse to do. In that case, if you have a contact that you don’t “feel like meeting today because ____________”, please know, I will invite them for a cocktail, at their convenience.