One of the biggest things I’ve learned running a business that I didn’t really think about before I started was the aspect of how much of an impact networking and sales would have on the future success of my business. I have gotten great referrals out of surprising places and have met amazing people when I’ve least expected to. Whether you are good at sales or not (I’m not), networking is crucial to any business owner, even if you have our own sales team.
Always Have Business Cards on You
I continue to be surprised at the places I end up giving someone (or even multiple people) my business cards. I’ve met people in line at the DMV, my dog groomer, and even when I’ve met someone that I already knew online and they still ask for my card. Having at least 5-10 cards available in any situation (whether it is social or professional) will definitely come in handy when you and your new acquaintance begin discussing the question of all questions: “So, what do you do?”
Because it’s is human nature to look for connections to everyone around us, people will naturally think of people that may need your help or who are related to you. Moo.com, VistaPrint, and Zazzle are all great places to find business cards (no affiliation, I just genuinely love them!).
Help First, Ask For Help Second (Always)
This trait of human nature feeds into this theory as well. Even though it may be a gut reaction to look for connections, as a solopreneur, you should also be proactive about going above and beyond. There have been so many social and professional conversations I’ve had where the person I was talking to was interested in a website or resource I’ve recommended. I make a point to send them the information through email (or Facebook, or Twitter, whatever works best) when I get home. It shows that I remember our conversation and hopefully, the information I’ve provided them does help.
That way, when I need help, people will be more likely to go out of their way to give me a hand. While I genuinely don’t expect anything from what I’ve provided, it’s nice to know that I am building relationships for now and in the future.
Be Your Business
This was another component of networking that I didn’t realize made an impact until years into building my business. When I tell people I am in digital marketing, they have a certain expectation about people that are in the internet or marketing industry. This means that I need to dress the part. For instance, if I say, “I own my own digital marketing agency” I need to choose an outfit that represents me both as a business owner and creative thinker. This doesn’t mean that I’m wearing a business suit to a happy hour with my friends. But it does mean that I lean toward more creative prints for my shirts and feel more open to display my quirkiness/creativity in any situation, because it represents me as a business owner as well.
Even though I’m not a fashionista, I do put in effort when it comes to how I look. As a solopreneur, you are literally your entire business, so it’s important to look the part!
Tip: I pin outfits I like on Pinterest for inspiration for when I have my first book signing or just for every day wear:
Use Digital Tools
Whether your business is in the digital space or not, it is important to take advantage of all the digital tools available.
Having an active LinkedIn presence is crucial (I could also argue for Twitter and a Facebook page as well, but just stick to LinkedIn if you don’t have time to update all regularly). If you don’t have a profile already (over 300 million around the world do), start one and import contacts you know from your email and other social networks.
This app is only available currently on iOS, but it is awesome. When they asked me to try it out via a Triberr campaign, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In my own words, CityHour allows you to set up meetings with people that are in your local area that you have similar goals or interests with. While it doesn’t have a huge presence in Kansas City yet, whenever I travel to Chicago or San Francisco this year, I’m definitely going to see if I can set up any meetings while I’m there. You can set your open availability as well and people can request to set up meetings with you (which is perfect when I’m in a certain city for conferences and only have specific availability).
Meetup.com is a networking site that allows you to see what groups and events are in your area. I love it because it is so hard at times to find places to put myself out there as a solopreneur, since I don’t have coworkers or people I see in person on a regular basis. Meetup.com is also great for personal networking, as there are a ton of activities for almost any interest.
This goes back to “being your business” and is important in any aspect of networking. When you are meeting people for the first time or getting to know them, it is important to have some common ground to talk about besides the weather. If you are regularly meeting people in your industry, it’s important to always be learning more about your industry. Listen to audiobooks or read for 20-60 minutes per day (both blogs and books) so you’ll always have something current to talk about.
For personal and professional networking, staying up-to-date with current events is also key. It can help you further conversation but also shows you as someone that is current with what is happening around them, something that people look for both in a personal and in a professional relationship. If a person is out of date, others may subconsciously ask themselves what else the person may be falling behind on.
Schedule reading time into your daily routine (I do this as part of my Miracle Morning, a book I’m planning to review) and it becomes easy to do.
While networking won’t always be easy, taking strides to better yourself and present yourself as the successful solopreneur you are (or want to be, if you’re just starting out) can make a huge difference!