On May 12, I saw a sign at the Chamber of Commerce that read, Business Expo, May 14. If starting a business has taught me one thing, it’s to be gutsy. I didn’t know if I belonged at this conference or not, and I suspected that even if I did, it was too late to register. Still, I went online that night, found the contact info, and asked if I could attend. They said I could, so my husband took the day off of work and the whole family trucked up to the mountains so that I could go.
Whew, this was a big deal for me! The conference was in a very posh hotel; I told myself that if nothing else, I’d have an excuse to enjoy the lofty environment. I nervously decided what to wear, what to bring. On the way up, I asked my husband what would make this trip worth it.
“If you make two or three contacts, if you learn something at the workshops, or if you get blog material out of it. One of the three,” he coached. The last one made me feel better; if nothing else, I was sure there would be something to write about, and it gave me a context in which to meet people, asking questions for the blog. Despite the fact that I am writing about it now, I am happy to say that I achieved all three.
One of the big things that this conference did for me was to help demystify the business world, a process that has been ongoing since I took my first tentative steps into business two years ago. I’ve always liked to believe that the pretty, slick products I bought were made by elves or concocted at night by a full moon. It’s a little bit of a letdown to find that most businesses are run by actual humans, but it’s necessary because I know all too well how human I am. I need to believe that people like me are capable of creating and marketing desirable things. Chatting with other business people and understanding how they do things is a great step in that direction.
Similarly, although I absolutely knew better, I went with the stubborn misconception at the back of my mind that business people — not me, but ‘real’ business people — are rich and big spenders. I was reminded in the very first workshop, 15 minutes after I arrived, that whatever their income level, whatever their level of experience, however established their business, everyone wanted to run their business as economically as possible, just like me. I began to feel more at home.
Finally, networking: I’m terribly shy. Networking was probably the most obvious benefit of an event like this, and I was afraid I would let it slip through my trembling fingers. My husband helped by setting the bar rather low — make two or three contacts — and once there, I realized that being there was a good thing in itself, since it was a local event and these are people I am likely to run into again, especially if I make a special effort to frequent their businesses. “You look familiar,” is a foot in the door.
However, I needn’t have worried. I’m shy, but not everyone is, and they’re all there to network. Many people said, “I’m so-and-so from such-and-such; who are you with?” I tried not to be apologetic as I nervously described my fledgling business. I neglected to wear something with pockets, but I tucked a few business cards into my name tag and was able to produce one without much fumbling every time I had the chance. I probably made something more like 20 to 30 contacts, rather than two or three.
It wasn’t that it went perfectly — there were some key connections I failed to make, and I had to leave a little before I was really ready — but for my first business expo, it was a great experience and 100% worth the effort.