Just two months ago I was able to turn my side gig of two-and-a-half years into a full-time business. The day it began, I knew I needed to start networking. I needed to meet people, learn from them, and soak up all the entrepreneur “vibes” I could.
In the last weekend of June, I signed up for four events, one for each week of July. I’ll admit, I’m not a “networking” person and the thought of attending all of these events scared me—a lot. Don’t we all despise the awkward situation when you walk-up to a group, and then stand quietly until someone asks you something?
While there’s been plenty of that in the last month and half, there’s been so much that I didn’t anticipate. In August, I’m continuing the rhythm, with one event each week, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I’ve gotten so much out my experience of networking as a service-based business and I’m here to share those learnings with you.
1. New Service Offerings and Expansions Can Come From Other People
My newest service offering didn’t come from me. It came from someone I met at a networking event. After the event, she told me that she was looking for 1-on-1 intensive social media coaching.
“Can you do that?” she asked.
My response: “I definitely can!”
I had never even considered this particular task as a service offering, but I left with a new client, for a brand new service offering that I’m so excited about. We now have an ongoing working relationship and she was the perfect first client for this new service, which is now the focus of all my efforts.
2. Networking is a Chance to Learn
I look at networking less as an opportunity to pitch myself—though it is, and I do—but more as a chance to learn from others. There’s so much collective wisdom in a room full of business owners. Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or running your very first business, there’s always something more to learn.
The key is listening to other people’s stories and absorbing feedback and ideas as you share your story and what your business is with others. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned thus far is that we all feel like we’re not doing enough, not working hard enough, and far behind everyone else. It’s easy to feel alone in that entrepreneurial struggle and I quickly learned that’s not the case at all.
3. It’s All About Making Connections
People often put a lot of pressure on networking. “I must meet a new client or sign a new deal or it’s not worth it!” When we take the “network” out of networking, though, you miss the value of it. As a service-based business, much of our work comes from referrals. The best way to make referrals is to meet people; get to know them, ask questions and be open.
For example, I recently had lunch with someone I met at another networking event. We ended up talking about more than just business and made a real connection. Now I know that if someone asks her if she knows any social media coaches or marketing consultants, she’ll send them my way.
If you approach networking with authenticity, you may find you get more out of the networking events you attend.
4. A Lot of People “Need That!”
I can’t tell you how many people have learned about my business and said, “Oh! I need that so bad!” Exciting, right? Kind of. It’s exciting to hear that your service is in need, but it doesn’t mean the person who said it is a great lead. I’ve had calls with a number of people after events and few have panned out to a client relationship.
That’s not to say networking isn’t valuable for driving leads. I’ve found that keeping your expectations neutral allows you to be more relaxed, open and conversational, and that’s what drives great business down the line. I’m always happy to explore a potential lead, but I go into the call or conversation ready to simply share information and if it feels right, go into sales mode.
However, remember that you’re always selling. So even if you’re not directly making the ask, your demeanor, attitude and personality are selling for you.
5. It’s Refreshing!
If you’re a solopreneur like me, you may quickly realize that sitting in your office behind a screen all day can make you go crazy. Not to mention, it’s easy to doubt yourself and your success when the predominant voice you’re hearing is your own. We’re always our own worst critics.
One of the first things I learned when I started attending events was how refreshing it can be when you're feeling exhausted or frustrated with your business. Talking to other business owners and entrepreneurs always brings such important perspective. I quickly realized that everyone has the same doubts, worries, and fears as me.
The founder of Uggs was a speaker at the very first event I attended back in June. He said something that so many of us need to hear. We all think we’re supposed to be further along. We look at someone else and think, “Why am I not there yet?” or “I should be doing that!” But that’s not the case. We’re all on our own unique paths to success.
I left feeling so refreshed and reaffirmed about the decision to grow my business. That’s not something you can feel without hearing the perspective of others who are doing what you’re doing.
Networking: Just Do It
I didn’t network for a very long time because I was too nervous. I’m so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone because the experiences have been life-changing. Luckily, you can find networking events on MeetUp, Facebook, your city’s Chamber of Commerce, and through your own personal and professional networks. Sign up for one, go in with a courageous heart and open mind, and let it do its job. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a content marketing consultant and freelance writer. She’s been part of a growing start-up for two years now, where she’s learned a lot about running a business and being resourceful. She now owns her own business and has been featured on Forbes. She’s also written for StartupNation, Manta, Glassdoor and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.