7 Valuable Lessons I Learned from Business Networking
Starting a business is exciting because as humans, our minds are exhilarated by the rush that comes with newness and creativity. Starting a business feels good.
Sustaining a business can be a whole other story, however. It’s hard work to gain momentum and then sustain the always-flowing pipeline to not just keep your proverbial or literal doors open but to thrive.
Maybe one of these three scenarios sounds familiar:
“Wait,” you think to yourself. “Doesn’t networking have the word WORK in it? Is she telling me I have to work even harder?” What the heck?
2. You’ve attended networking functions but felt out of sorts or didn’t quite know what goals to keep in mind. So, your networking efforts have been inconsistent and disconnected.
3. You’re a frequent flier in networking, but you’ve lost the zeal you used to have when you started.
Lesson 1: I discovered networking to be the single best (and most cost-effective) way to grow a business. Why? Instead of you being the only person talking about what you do, if you put the time into a couple of groups so the members get to know you, you’ll have 50 or more people talking about you. People know a whole other web of contacts than you do, so by getting involved, you have tons of people aware of you and get to know you enough to share you with their circles.
If you say, “I don’t have the time to network,” I’d say you have to look at networking as part of the job description of entrepreneurship. It’s a deliberate allocation of specific time to building relationships. I have to set a couple of hours here and there where I’m not working for others, but rather I’m working for myself and my long-term success. It’s a balance of working in and on your business that seasoned business owners learn to build profitability year-over-year while staying relevant.
The investment is low compared to other forms of marketing (groups may cost a couple of hundred dollars up to a couple thousand). And for people who wonder if they want to pay to network, I’d say if you could trade a few hundred for a lifetime client or 5, would you even think about it? There are free online spaces, but groups with members who have some investment tend to attract people who are also invested in their success and also have the budget to run effectively (as an organizer, I’ll tell you it takes a lot of hours of communication and organization weekly) and offer high-quality programming. They show up, and they understand that the goal is to show up for the team and not just themselves. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” When you want to achieve, you want to be in the space where others are aspiring for the same!
Lesson 2: I found inspiration in my networks. In a good networking group, one whose members are there for the right reasons (I watch a lot of The Bachelor, and the language has rubbed off!), you’ll find yourself meeting people who simply light up your internal fire. Through their success and overcoming stories, you’ll be inspired to move whatever mountains are between you and your next level of success.
Lesson 3: I discovered the power of visibility with credibility. I’m not talking about popularity here: I’m talking about the day you realize others see you as a thought leader and an expert. When you know your stuff and share your gifts and talents, people will naturally be drawn to the light and knowledge within you. You might find they ask you to present at another group, which increases your circle of influence more. Or, people will simply begin seeing you as a “go-to” for whatever it is you do.
Lesson 4: I learned networking keeps me sharp. Many groups have formal business education components built in (we do lots of learning in Hearts and Heels, often led by our own members!), but even through informal meets and coffees, I’ve gained a ton of knowledge or curiosity through rubbing shoulders with other business minds. You have to stay on your industry’s A-game, because success leaves no room for mediocrity. Networking will encourage you to bring your best and gain knowledge from the best (because Knowledge is Power- Does anyone remember Schoolhouse Rock?).
Lesson 5: I learned how to handle the competition. Some people look at “competition” as the dirtiest “C” word of all, but we all have competition- big fact. Macy’s and Dillards. Publix and Sprouts. McDonald’s and Chick-fil-a. You and __________.
When you network, you might meet your competition, and if you get to know them, you’ll find that you have your niche, and they have theirs. You’ll be desensitized to feeling some type of way with someone else in the room who does what you do. Networking will show you how to objectively look at yourself against your competition, acknowledge where you’re killing it, and also take a good look at where you need to improve. You might even decide to become business besties with someone you can talk “shop” with!
Lesson 6: I learned how to talk effectively about my business (and myself)! When many people come to a Hearts & Heels’ meeting for the first time, they’ll ask, “Will I have to stand up and talk about myself?” To that, I tell them, “Yes,” and affirm to them that the whole point of networking is to build relationships and community recognition. By keeping the end in mind, we can work through the little initial discomforts.
I don’t think we have such a hard time saying what our names and business names are, but rather that we don’t know HOW to present the info on the spot. Well, like anything, if you practice, you get better! Every networking “pro” you see started at a first meeting at some point stumbling through their words. What you’ll find is that as you invest your time in your groups, your communication will flow more naturally. Before long, you’ll spout off an intro without even blinking an eye. You’ll carry yourself with more confidence, and confidence is a strong draw for business!
Lesson 7: The offspring from my initial business connections backed my next business idea or business shift. Credibility goes a long way, and you’ll need your community’s support at different stages of your evolution. Business is a winding journey. If you’re just starting out, 10 years down the road will look different than today, and if you’re a vet, you know what I’m saying.
I’ve opened, closed, reopened differently, and opened a brand new venture, but guess what? I’ve established more than a decade and a half of credibility and have built my community reputation, so when I shifted gears a couple of times, I didn’t have to start from scratch. People knew who I was and what I was about and cheered me on for what was next. But to earn that, I had to first give of myself for many years to the community. Trust is earned in all aspects of life, and it is no different in business.
Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and other thought leaders in business all agree- networking is essential for your career and business. When you see your networks as a mutual relationship, where everyone first seeks to give, you’ll find win-win. It’s not fast and easy, but good things take time to grow, and your big dream deserves a community to back it!