Yes, you can feel good about networking. Shocking, right?
If you feel sick when you think about having to network to grow your business, you’re not alone. Introverts especially hate this connection-building task. For some, it’s at least easier to get started online. For others, the thought of reaching out to someone to set up virtual coffee is daunting. I’m here to tell you that it does start to feel better with time and practice. Practice is key though.
Networking online can be fun and rewarding, especially if you go about it in a way that inspires genuine relationships. I’ve met some amazing entrepreneurs on the internet, a few of which I consider to be good friends. These friendships started in different ways, but here’s a few ideas of places you can turn to for virtual networking and relationship building as a digital entrepreneur, freelancer, or online business owner.
Do you follow someone that you think would be fun as a friend? Have stuff in common? Compatible services? Literally slide into their DMs… It works. I’ve done it. This is how I met my biz bestie actually, and now a couple years later we talk every day. I invited her to my wedding. Neat, eh?
Sure, you join group coaching programs because you need to be coached. Have you ever thought of the other benefits though? For example, meeting like-minded entrepreneurs who are at a similar spot in business as you. I’ve met some welcoming, driven, and passionate women in group coaching programs who I stay connected to long after the program is finished.
There’s a Facebook group for everything. There’s so many entrepreneur networking groups to choose from! Search for groups that discuss your interests, bring together people in your industry, or groups for compatible services or products. Actively participate in these, especially if you find any connection building posts, like a call for virtual coffee chats.
As online entrepreneurs, many of our mentors and gurus host challenges or accountability groups on a consistent basis. It’s up to you to get involved! Is a writer hosting a writing accountability group? Ask you join! An Instagram marketer is hosting a 30-day challenge? Toss your hat in the ring. You never know who you’ll meet just by making connections.
I know, this seems weird. However, I’ve become friends with past clients. I’ve also become good friends with people who I’ve hired in the past. The good thing about this is that they totally get it because they’ve had an insider look on your business. They know what you’re all about and the transition often feels natural.
Regardless of which channel you choose, the goal of networking online should be focused on relationships, not sales. Sales will come with time as your community begins to know, like, and trust you. Increase your credibility by just trying to be a good friend or peer without any alternate agenda.
After you’ve made initial connections online, it’s totally cool to ask people if they’d like to join you for virtual coffee via Zoom.
In a recent blog post, I shared that networking events IRL have been hugely beneficial for me (weird when most of my work is online!). Networking in person—even just the word—can feel icky though! And at first it’s straight up terrifying. I don’t know about you, but in the beginning I hated it. Feelings of imposter syndrome take over, the sweats start to drip, and I forget all intelligent words, which looks bad on a word person.
I got over these fears though, and you can too. Confidence is learned (I always say this!) and I know that you can learn the way too with practice.
So here are my tips to make networking events for entrepreneurs feel better…
Remember that, just like anything in business, it’s not about you! Introduce yourself briefly, but then ask about them. People like to talk about themselves, so play into that. If you ask questions first, they’re likely to be more engaged when it’s your turn to talk. Plus, don’t you want to get to know people you get along with?
Keep it concise, on brand, and interesting. How? Nail down your “elevator pitch.” Aka, that quick snippet that summarizes what you do in a way that interests people enough to ask more. This stuff really works! Just don’t recite it word by word like a robot. Try to speak naturally and conversationally.
Read reactions. Don’t assume everyone wants to know more and hijack the conversation. If after your concise introduction they don’t seem interested, it’s okay to politely part ways and move on. No harm done!
The goal isn’t to sell, so don’t try to sell everyone you meet. You want to show people your personality and lay the foundations for long term connections. Think of networking as relationship building, brand awareness, and educating rather than selling and I bet you’ll feel a lot more relaxed. No pressure!
Have fun with your conversations. If appropriate, you don’t need to stick to business! We’re all humans and lots of us enjoy talking about things that aren’t related to work. My dog often comes up in conversation, which doubles as a great ice breaker for other dog lovers.
Do bring business cards. Do make sure they look nice. Don’t throw them around like dollar bills. I like to have a handful ready to go in an outside pocket of my purse so I don’t have to dig into my wallet every time someone asks for one, but it also feels more natural than having them prepped front and center.
Make an intentional effort to talk to people you don’t know. If you know a lot of people in the room, try to chat with someone new! It’s easy to stick within our cliques, but you never know who you might meet when you’re running your own show. Circles of friends are more difficult to approach than a solo entrepreneur… Set yourself up for that connection.
Online or offline, networking is so important for entrepreneurs who want to grow their business. If you aren’t going to advocate for yourself, who will? Get out there and make some new friends.
Hopefully this helps! Leave your own tips in the comments if you have other ideas.
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