You probably hear all the time just how great networking is for small business owners. But is it really as beneficial — and necessary — as people claim? To find out, we went right to the very best source we could think of: small business owner Jessica Ulrich.
Jessica started two companies out of her home: MJ Paperie, a stationery and party styling boutique as well as Jessica Haley Weddings & Style, a wedding-planning business. As some of you may know, when you work out of a home office, your daily interactions are often pretty limited, making it hard to create valuable connections that can help propel your business forward.
Find out how Jessica combated this problem and score some great tips on how to network like a pro — even if you hate networking!
Creating a Community
Yes, Jessica wholeheartedly agrees, networking is both beneficial and necessary if you want to build a stronger, and more profitable, business. “I attended a small workshop for “paper-preneuers” and small business owners called the Stationary Academy,” Jessica said. “I discovered the workshop through Twitter and grabbed one of the last spots. Attendees ranged from brand-new designers to experienced stationary shop owners and heavy hitters in the wedding and paper industries.
“It was a small group, so we all got the chance to get to know one another. We didn’t just become valuable connections – we became friends. Since the workshop, we’ve created a closed group on Facebook where we quiz each other on all kinds of issues from marketing to printing.
“Nearly a year later, this Facebook group is still active and I’ve maintained a close relationship with all of the members. The opportunities this tight-knit community has provided me with are endless. I’ve even had the chance to participate in styled shoots that have been published on national blogs like Style Me Pretty and The Wedding Chicks.
“But, most importantly, I’ve learned how to refine my own business. With the knowledge I gained from the community, I rebranded my current shop, MJ Paperie. I also launched a new business and blog altogether. I couldn’t have done it without the guidance of the group.
“We’re each other’s advocates and cheerleaders. That is so important when running your own business. I work from home, so it’s nice to feel like I have people to bounce ideas off of – they know what goes into this business and can help guide me in the right direction.”
Honing Your Networking Skills
We know… we know… some people just hate networking even though they’re plenty aware of just how beneficial it can be. So, if you’re feeling a little shy or nervous about attending your first networking event or workshop, know that this is normal and plenty of other people feel the exact same way as you.
But as Jessica’s story has shown us, attending even just one industry-specific networking event can open up doors for your business that you’d probably never have access to otherwise.
Ready to overcome your networking fears? Jessica shared the following tips that’ll help you become a better and more confident networker today:
- Have a strong handshake and a smile on your face. Be genuinely interested in the person you’re speaking to – sometimes those things go further than your elevator pitch!
- Not sure what to say? Ask people questions about their business and themselves. Pretty soon they’ll return the favor and you’ll be networking… naturally!
- Still not sure where to start? Simply ask the person what they do. Then ask when and how they got started. After this, questions and comments should start coming a little more easily on their own as you learn more about the person and their business.
- Be willing to introduce your peers to other people you’ve met. Little gestures like this don’t go unnoticed — and they’ll start introducing you to people they’ve met as well.
- Put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and step out of your comfort zone. Yes, this means leaving the corner.
- Check sites like Meetup and local business associations to find networking events in your area — and make looking for these types of events, as well as attending them, a part of your regular, monthly routine.