I have always been good at talking to people. My whole life. It really didn’t matter who it was either. I was an innately curious child growing up, and the only way I could satisfy that curiosity was to ask questions and lots of them. It’s only fitting that I took Broadcast Journalism in college too, right? The fact that I could, or rather would, talk to anyone definitely helped my journalism career. It also allowed me to meet and develop friendships I might not have otherwise. When you’re 12, talking to your neighbor about your babysitting gigs isn’t necessarily considered networking; nor is posting those babysitting flyers at the local corner store. When you’re in your 30’s and doing that, it’s a different story. All that talking you did in your formative years suddenly becomes a plus.
Networking: A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.
Networking has really helped our business garner a lot of attention and publicity since the beginning, and for very little effort on our part. When we first started, we had so many questions and things we felt like we needed to know but not really anyone to count on. Our families were supportive but we needed a little more guidance. Advice from people that had been in our shoes before and had made it out alive. We slowly started reaching out to people that we wanted to meet, companies we admired and business folk that were doing what we wished for our company. I must preface this by saying that the people we reached out to were people we genuinely liked, products we already used or were fans of. People can smell BS from a mile away so we only connected with people we respected and admired. People that we wanted to mentor us. In our case many of the people we reached out to have become great friends. And all it took was a phone call or email. You really just never know.
Like I mentioned earlier, some amazing opportunities came our way when we started ‘networking’ and connecting with our peers. One such person was Aly Johnson of Aly Dahl Designs. She was coming off her own media blitz and recent success in the world of celebrities. I messaged her right away, telling her how happy and excited we were for her. We were friends instantly. It was also Aly that helped us get some of our own invitations to celebrity events later that year. Who knows if it may have happened otherwise…or at least that quickly. All because I am good at “gabbing” as my hubby likes to call it.
Whichever networking you do, try to make it as authentic as possible. All of our networking still consists of just getting out in the public eye. Having coffee and meeting people. Promoting our company. Keep in mind that what worked for us might not work for you. Here are some networking tips that we still use:
- Business networking groups. It could be a Women in Business, Small Business, or Young Entrepreneur group. Join it. Most of them meet about once a month, usually at a coffee shop. It’s a fantastic way to meet other like-minded people going through a lot of the same stuff. You have someone other than your spouse/family to bounce ideas off of. When you’re new to the business world, sometimes your confidence is a little lacking. Chatting with your business peers makes you feel a little less alone. That’s a victory in our books, especially early on.
- Always have business cards handy. ALWAYS. Living in a town with a lot of young families, we always wanted to be ready to promote our business should the opportunity arise. I can guarantee that the day you’re waiting for Fed Ex to deliver your new business cards will be the day you need them most. Plan ahead when ordering and make sure that you always have 5-10 of them in your handbag. Now, not to be completely contradictory, DON’T give them out to everyone you come across. Investing in some good business cards can get a little pricey, especially if you order extras, so use them cautiously. We always found when we had a table at a craft market that people looked at our business cards, but didn’t take one. Our postcards, on the other hand, were a hit. That being said, when someone orders off our website, a business card is always included unless they have ordered from us before.
- Good supply of other marketing materials. The smaller events we did allowed us to really get our feet wet. We learned which marketing materials we really needed. In our case, at those sorts of events, the business cards didn’t seem to do the trick. What people ended up liking and raving about were our postcards; we could never have enough of those. Vistaprint was good, as we were able to order a whole bunch of marketing materials with our logo splashed all over it for a great price.
- Get your business out there somehow. Sell at a farmer’s market/craft fair, donate an item to a cause you support, and/or start a Facebook page. Exploit your new business. In the early days your budget will be small, if at all, so these tasks will fall to you. We started doing small local fairs and markets and met so many people that way. It was an amazing way to get our products out there. Looking back, some of those events (two in particular) weren’t a financial success, but we made some very interesting connections with other businesses.
- Retail accounts. Obviously, in order to drive consumers to your website, where you will earn 100% of the profit, you need exposure. Retail accounts certainly can help get your brand noticed a little. Consumers may equate that with, “You must be good”. The more people talk about your product, your company, and your brand, the more they seem to want it. In the end, the more opportunities people have to see your product or try it, the more likely they are to buy it. It’s all exposure and networking. A two-for-one deal!
- Facebook/Twitter. If you don’t have one of these accounts, GET ONE! This is the easiest and probably the cheapest way to market and promote your business. Take some nice photos of your products and create a business page. It doesn’t matter if you only have a few photos (we did in the beginning). Try to post consistently. Invite people to your page and ask them to ‘like’ you without overdoing it. Generally we like to stick with info about upcoming sales or deals and new product notifications, but have thrown in seasonal blurbs and various contests. This is how we are communicating these days, so the quicker you can find your way around the social media sites, the better you will be. You have a captive audience when you are online.
So those are just a few of our networking ideas, many of which we still use regularly. It’s harder to find the time as your company grows, but well worth it. I never would have thought when I got out of the journalism business that I would still be able to find a use for all my talking…I’m glad I was.