Networking. Some of us love it, some of us hate it. Either way, it is essential in your small business!
I have been very lucky to have many clients through word of mouth over the years that I didn’t have to face the networking crowds when I lived in Florida. It wasn’t until our recent move to Georgia when I found myself needing to get out there and meet my new community. I didn’t want to work here without being involved in the local area and knowing what clients needed out in the low country.
Here are some helpful tips to boost your confidence and get you on the right track for networking in your community. You will be a pro in no time and remember, everyone, is just as nervous as you are so werk it!
Where to Go
There are many networking groups in every city, the number one place to start looking is the Chamber of Commerce if you are interested in starting with a trusted source. You can also google networking groups in your town. I highly suggest asking locals for advice; there may be smaller groups you didn’t even know that fit your niche better. The bigger the city, the more choices you will have. Choices are a good thing! Most groups allow you to visit once for free if they require membership dues. They get to meet you, and you get to see if it’s the right fit for you too. When trying out a group ask yourself after, did I meet enough people who might need my services? Was there anyone interesting I would like to get to know more and possibly use their services? Does the time of this meeting work for me monthly? Being able to attend regular meetings after you join is paramount so make sure you can benefit from the membership fee you will have to pay. With this in mind take advantage of these one-time expeditions. Network with the folks you meet, don’t pass up any opportunity.
Find an Event
Ok, hopefully by now you have picked the right networking group; it’s time to breathe! Let’s talk about going to your first event within that group. Make sure you dress the part. If the event is a formal one don’t show up in casual attire, impress them, so they remember you! If it is a monthly meeting, feel free to wear day to day work attire but try to amp it up a bit. I can’t stress this enough; you need to be you but still look professional! I sit in front of a computer all day. I wear jeans because they are comfortable and I love them. Attire for an artist is just as important as it is for anyone else in the business world. However, when I go to a meeting I still wear jeans, but I certainly like dress them up to make an impression. Fun jewelry or scarves can certainly make any outfit pop so get creative and be memorable!
Ask a Friend
Know someone in the group? Ask them to join you! Friends make things more fun so why not use this as an opportunity for you both to mingle together. It’s a lot less painful I assure you. Plus it is a great way to cross network, they may know business owners you don’t and vice versa.
When I say have enough I mean have enough on all accounts. Have enough business cards, have enough courage to talk to people, have enough energy to be present, have enough skills that you can openly talk about and look knowledgeable in your field, have enough confidence to know you’ve got this! There have been many times when I have gone to an event and walked in the room and though, wow, I should have gotten better sleep and I probably should have ironed this shirt a little better. If you don’t feel 100% you probably won’t perform your best so give yourself some slack. Know in your heart this just might not be the right day to show up, it’s ok to miss one meeting, don’t beat yourself up for it.
It’s not over yet
So the event is over, and you feel pretty good about it. You have passed out business cards and have received some in return. Now, what do you do? Go back to the office and get to work? Of course, but don’t forget to carve out some time later that day or the next morning to email those kind folks who connected with you and gave you a business card. Even if you email them and they do not respond, even if you probably don’t see yourself doing business with them directly…they will remember that email and maybe down the line need your services or know someone else who might. If you do get a response from them, ask if they would like to meet for coffee to learn more about them. You can advertise as much as you like, but word of mouth clients are truly priceless. You can only obtain them through your ambition and drive to make your business the best it can be. Remember to be polite and available to connect and it will be rewarded, I promise!
Photo by Hope Farm Co.
In closing I would like to say, I got really lucky. When I started looking for that perfect group that would fit me best in my new community I found a creative group that made me a better. A better businesswoman and a much better artist! They inspire me and I am so excited each month when I get to see them all at our monthly meeting. There is a constant feeling of support and collaboration, they want to lift each other up which is a true gift. I have been honored to help some of them with their branding and in return, they have helped me so much as well. I also recently joined the Chamber of Commerce in our area too and I am looking forward to meeting more businesses in the future.
I will leave you with this last piece of advice, don’t be afraid. Others in the room are just as nervous as you are, know this when you walk in. Make eye contact with someone and just say hello to start that conversation. Now, put on your big girl pants and get out there, it’s time to NetWerk!