(Cue Wonder Years theme song and classic TV flashback blur.)
It was the second week of January. The year was 1987, and there was a bitter chill in the air (actually, I don’t remember what the weather was like, but let’s just pretend it was freezing… and there was a hail storm… and a blizzard, because that’s how I felt). I walked through the doors of Skiles Test Elementary the first day after Winter Break and as the hall filled with joyous students discussing their Christmas bounties, I had never felt so alone. An unfamiliar anxiety fell over me. It was official. I was the “new kid”.
If you ask my mom, she’ll tell you that in general, I have always been a very outgoing individual. I started doing community theater, performing in school talent shows and church plays at a young age. But there is something about social environments (specifically those where I don’t know anyone else) that just makes my entire body tense up, even to this day. My inner voice starts going nuts, my mind starts planning exit strategies, and I just feel genuinely out of place. Some of you reading this may find this difficult to believe because you’ve seen me as a panelist and presenter at your business conference (or performing spoken word poetry at venues around the nation in a former life). But I must confess, I am definitely a transitional introvert… and yes, I just made up that term to sound all scientific. Depending on the environment, sometimes I will adapt. Other times I will retreat.
Oddly enough, I have always been far more comfortable talking to a room of 3,000 strangers than an intimate setting where there are only 30 people. And of course THIS is the situation I most recently found myself in. In my quest to build new business relationships in a new city, I have been visiting professional networking website LinkedIn a lot more lately. I recently found an industry event that I decided might be a good place to meet more business connections, so I registered online and started to get mentally prepared. The day of the event, as soon as I walked through those doors, it felt like my first day at Skiles Test Elementary all over again. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than a grown man having a flashback to fourth grade in a small room full of strangers.
Even for those of you who are extroverts, the challenges of networking and building relationships to grow your business can be intimidating. Here are 6 things that you can do to make the most out of professional networking events (and relieve some of the anxiety):
1. PREPARE - As soon as you find out about a networking event, make sure that you add the event to your calendar and do some research on the person or organization that is sponsoring the networking event. This information could prove valuable once you’re at the event.
2. CHECK - Well in advance of the event, make sure you stock your business card stash. Running out of business cards at a networking event is like running out of gas while driving or something. Just don’t do it, okay?
3. PLAN - If you aren’t naturally outgoing, this one will definitely help you. Develop your 30 second pitch, or an elevator pitch as some call it. This is designed to be the 30 second conversation that you’d have if you somehow end up on an elevator with Donald Trump, Russell Simmons, Oprah or Sean Combs… or *insert your favorite mogul here*. The idea is to come up with a statement that expresses who you are, what you do and why your brand is important to the universe (or why they should pay attention to/invest in you). Thirty seconds is long enough to peak interest, but short enough to not step into the realms of conversation domination.
4. ARRIVE EARLY - Showing up before the networking event begins is good for a few reasons. First off, in the business world, punctuality is a celebrated trait. It lets people know that you respect their time and take your brand seriously. Timeliness will also give you an opportunity to talk to other early arrivers as a warm up to test out your 30 second pitch. Walking in after everyone has already cliqued up for conversations will make the event more stressful, and you’ll look like the awkward nerd who bumps the DJ table in the middle of the Sadie Hawkins dance.
5. RELAX & ENJOY - This isn’t a job interview (though it could turn into one), so don’t go with a long list of expectations. Be yourself, relax and just see what happens.
6. FOLLOW UP - If you happen to hit it off with a few of the individuals at the networking event, make sure that you trade business cards. This will make it easy for you to reach them again in the future, as well as add them on your social networking websites like Twitter and LinkedIn. I suggest sending an email about a week later to follow up with them.
Joseph ALLEN IMAGERY Woods is an entrepreneur and artist from Indianapolis, Indiana. Nearly a decade ago, he started what would later become The Allen Imagery Design Group (TheAIDG), a creative hub for business development. Today, Mr. Woods is a sought after speaker and brand consultant who has assisted directly in the growth of over one hundred brands across the United States.
If you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse. Of course there will be those who say, “what if I’m just staying exactly the same?” And my answer would be: If you aren’t getting better, you’re getting worse. I don’t believe that there is a middle ground when it comes to your entrepreneurship.
There will be days when you feel as though you are two steps from reaching your next phase of your dream, and other days you will feel like someone has knocked you down a flight of stairs… and that’s okay. If you choose to stand still on the stairs [whether because of fear or lack of direction or whatever else], the fact is that you are NOT progressing. In the business world, progression can be defined by increasing the number of customers or clients you have from last quarter, increasing revenue, branching out into new markets etc., but ultimately, your company’s definition may vary. As an entrepreneur, YOU are in charge of the direction and growth that your company experiences.
With anything you’re planting, your growth is often based on how and where you’re planting. There are some plants that require direct sunlight and lots or water, then there are others that need to be planted in the shade to thrive. Even the Bible has a parable about sowing seeds on different types of land. The key is finding fertile ground that will have the nourishment to provide growth opportunities to your plants. The business world is no different.
With that said, we are growing - this is the last blog post in the Entrepreneurship 101 series. We want TheAIDG blog to be a showcase of all of our work, and we’ve been told that sometimes the Entrepreneurship 101 posts get lost in the mix.
It’s always been a great honor consulting others in growing their brands, and now I will be able to more broadly. MRPRECEDENT.COM presents: Entrepreneur Garden [http://entrepreneurgarden.tumblr.com/]. This very special blog will house the Entrepreneurship 101 series archives, as well as continue offering a unique perspective on building your brand, marketing and entrepreneurship in general.
WHAT’S NEW? We will have a constant stream of business and motivational quotes and will continue to strive to inspire you on a daily basis. One of the cool new features of the Entrepreneur Garden is that it will feature special guest writers periodically who will offer a unique perspective to entrepreneurship. Another feature is that now, you will be able to ASK QUESTIONS. Whether it’s just something that you don’t understand, or if you need advice, we are here to help you grow! Questions may be submitted via the blog, or via email: EntrepreneurGarden@gmail.com. We look forward to this new endeavor and hope that it leads to your growth and ours.
-Joseph ALLEN IMAGERY Woods
Why are you here?
More so, the real question is why are you an entrepreneur? Seriously, what was the deciding factor that made you say, “I am not going to take my talents to South Beach, but instead, I will buy some sand and create my own.” Okay, maybe that wasn’t your quote… But what was the thing that made you decide to turn your back on a world of guaranteed paychecks and health insurance to instead sit in your home office for hours on end trying to become better at what you’ve always wanted to do?
For most of us, it is the joy that comes along with being our own boss… not having to answer to anyone [unless you have a spouse and a mortgage and a light bill and a car payment and children in private school and ……..…] Uhhm.. never mind. Maybe we still have to answer to SOMEONE, perhaps just indirectly. Maybe for you it was the freedom that comes with setting your own hours [which for most entrepreneurs is way more than eight per day, so you actually are LOSING free time].
The point is, before you can fully commit to entrepreneurship, you have to do some serious soul searching. Figure out why you are really doing it. This life is not all glamour and smiles. There will be low moments of frustration and borderline depression that will be contrasted at times by the moments of triumph and growth. If you’re going to do this - FOR REAL - then dig in and prepare for the light AND the shadows. It’s a beautiful life with a lot of ugly days.
“But remember this—if you give little, you will get little. A farmer who plants just a few seeds will get only a small crop, but if he plants much, he will reap much.” -2 Cor. 9:6 (TLB)
When sitting down with potential clients, whether in brand building consultations, or to assist in their quest to improve the graphic elements of their organizations, we always find it interesting that their first concerns are often costs. Not what their returns on the initial investments will be.. Not our reputation and track record with our other clients.. Not what the quality of the finished products will be.. But COST. As an entrepreneurs, trust me, we get it. TheAIDG doesn’t have some unlimited credit limit or ever-expanding bank account, but we do understand the importance of planting seeds.
In what ways are you getting out the messages that your company is the company that your potential customers should be using? What is it about your service or product that makes you the clear choice in your industry? What are you investing? Or in this case, WHAT ARE YOU PLANTING? In the same way that farmers have to plant with a plan, you will need to as well.
Sometimes your planting will be investing an hour per day to do strategic social media implementation across several platforms. More often than not, your planting will take place in the form of networking with potential clients/customers. You will need to carefully water and tend to these relationships if you want them to grow into meaningful, long lasting harvests.. (please keep your fertilizer to a minimum though).. Find a networking event that is open to the public, show up confident with custom business cards in hand –yes, CUSTOM (that is unless you’re not unique, and in that case your cards won’t need to be either), and plant them directly into the hands of your future clients, customers, colleagues and friends. (My personal weekly goal is to plant TEN business cards in fertile land.)
In business (and in life), you get back what you put out.. So, change clothes and get out into the garden so we can plant successes.
This will sound REALLY odd coming from someone who is writing a blog post at 3:45am.. But in order for your business to succeed, you must have hours of operation. In the same way that I can not just jump up and go to Macy’s right now (unless I have a desire to be arrested for trespassing/breaking and entering etc.), there should be limits on how much you work, even when you are the only employee of your company. (Thank GOD that TheAIDG is more than one person!!) Some of you require more sleep than others to stay balanced, and that’s okay.. we really don’t want you to lose your edge or start going off on your customers.. Just figure out how much time you can realistically devote to developing your business and also schedule times to hang with your family and friends as well.. if your dream kills your quality of life, it will soon become a nightmare.
You have to work harder than everyone else.. especially if ur based at home. Work as if your life depends on it. BECAUSE. IT. DOES.
The customer is NOT always right.. but the customer has the money. In the words of the ancient prophets of the Wu-Tang Clan, CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME.. C.R.E.A.M.. As a business owner, it is your job to separate the customer from his money.. so.. maybe he IS right afterall :)
Deciding to start your own business is a big deal. No one will take you seriously if YOU dont take yourself seriously.. and even if you do, they STILL might not. Take the necessary steps to legitimize your business.. #NoShortCuts #NoDaysOff