Are you an introverted entrepreneur? Do you think networking isn’t necessary in your field? Unfortunately, many small business owners can’t avoid it for long. An entrepreneur’s network of personal and professional contacts is one of the key factors in success, particularly in the pre-startup period. But no matter what stage of the small business lifecycle you’re in now, you’ll eventually need a good accountant, a lead on a qualified intern, or a good word to someone who can get your foot in a new door.
Here are some creative solutions for those who balk at the thought of networking:
Yes, we know, social networking has been around for years. You most likely already have a professional Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram account for your business. But are those channels working for you, or against you? It’s never too late to draft or re-draft your social media strategy. Get inspiration from those who have seen success (but don’t copy), or take training that incorporates the latest trends, news, and strategies – companies such as Later offer free webinars and videos full of good social media advice for small business owners. Apps like Mixer are geared specifically towards creatives. In the era of influencers and vloggers, it’s easier than ever before to get connected online.
When you think “networking,” you likely imagine a large event space with dozens of people milling around, looking nervous. But what if we told you that an intimate dinner of fewer than a dozen people, or an invitation-only gathering in a hip cocktail lounge can both count as networking? Companies like Dent and Mashable have realized that networking in small groups or more interesting locations can make it more appealing to those who get heart palpitations at the thought of traditional meet-and-greets.
Weave your interests into it.
Whether your business is outside of an office environment, or you simply want something different, try incorporating something you already like into your networking. For example, if you’re a freelance programmer, why not join forces with other programmers you know to sponsor a local, weekend-long codeathon for charity? Photographers can hold monthly meetups to visit local galleries and art studios. Do you and one of your long-term clients share a love of fancy coffee? Invite them and a few of their colleagues to a coffee tasting at your favourite roaster – you’ll have fun and the inevitable shop talk will feel natural. Networking can be enjoyable if you attach it to an event you’ll enjoy anyway.
Start something yourself.
Many solopreneurs and those in creative fields often report a feeling of isolation from others in their industry. Does that sound like you? Do you wish more people in your field got together to exchange ideas and information? Well, why not be the one to start it? Many people are surprised at how much more comfortable they are at an event if they’re the ones hosting. They have more control, and usually have a few welcome logistical things to occupy the part of their brain that would normally be feeling anxiety over business cards. By starting your own networking event, you’ll be able to create the environment that makes you comfortable – as well as the other networking-avoiders you may invite!
What about you? Do you have any creative tips for networking you’d like to share?