Networking. I used to shudder when I heard the word. Meeting a bunch of strangers, talking about myself in front of a group, and trying to convince people to hire me sounds like one of my worst nightmares. As an introvert, I used to try to avoid networking at all costs.
But, when you start a new business you simply have to do it. You have to put yourself in front of people and get your name and services known. If the aggressive approach is not your style, a slightly less in-your-face approach can both help your business and take the pressure off.
You can begin networking at any time. I personally feel more comfortable talking to people about the writing services I offer when I have my website and social media set up (it doesn’t have to be perfect – you can constantly update and reorganize while honing your focus). Now, when meeting someone new, I can hand out a business card and direct them to my website so they can really see what I can do.
Your website and social media accounts set the tone as a professional. Your blog showcases your writing style and everything you post allows others a glimpse into your personality. If you want to be taken seriously – act the part. Get your business cards ready (mine arrive this week!) and prepare your elevator speech. You want to be prepared to talk about how you can help someone add value to their business by hiring you. Being prepared allows me to feel more confident and in control when asked questions about both what I am offering and my qualifications.
Join a business networking group in your area. I found a great local business group and it was a great place to start. Attending meetings allows me to meet other business owners, practice talking about my business and the services I provide, and gets my name out into the community. I also hear how others present themselves and can adapt the things I like into my own presentation. When my inner introvert worries about having nothing to say, I counteract by remembering that I have written out my elevator speech and memorized it as well as a few topics of conversation. If you do this and practice at home, even hold a pretend conversation, you might think you look stiff and nervous, but you more than likely look professional and prepared.
An interesting result of networking, for me, is that just like in any other sort of social circle – you find your people. By this, I mean that you can find likeminded new business owners who are experiencing the same new business issues. Those who are just starting can offer tips and advice. Others who are further along in their careers can help you avoid the mistakes that they made. Sometimes creating a smaller more intimate networking group, made up of the people you really connect with, can allow you to talk more in depth about the things that directly affect you and the other few members. A smaller group can give you the space to be more vulnerable and to ask for honest feedback about what you could work on. I have found the motivation, learning opportunities, and support provided by both types of networking groups to be invaluable.
When you are a small-business owner, promoting yourself is important. You don’t have to present yourself as perfect, but as someone who is professional, prepared, and the right person for the job. So far, I have found networking to be the best way to find potential new job leads. In a nutshell – just do it!