As a small business owner I am continually working to grow my professional network, but as a mom with two young children, it can be challenging so knowing when, where and with whom to network, is key. Studies show business owners who network are more likely to not only stay in business, but also to be successful in business. Knowing the right people will take you places you might not otherwise reach. So now that we all agree that growing our personal network is essential to our success, how do we do it? I’ve read the books and talked to networking experts, and here’s what I’ve come up with for us “Mompreneurs.”
Start to grow your network by reconnecting. Yep, I’m going to say it – Facebook! Nearly half of all internet users have a Facebook account, so you are likely to reconnect with childhood friends, high school and college friends, past co-workers, neighbors, the list goes on forever. The friends you haven’t kept up with are likely to be more valuable than your current contacts. Every reconnection leads to the question, “So what are you up to?” As you reconnect – always private message a quick hello, “Thank you for accepting my friend request, I have been thinking about you and wondered what you are up to these days.” Make it about them first, eventually they will ask about you.
2) Got kids?
Find kid-friendly events/activities and attend! Local fairs, parks, expos, health fairs, indoor play gyms, library events, Michael’s craft events, Home Depot and Lowes Kids DIY activities, etc. Many of these events/activities are low-cost or free. I usually try to arrive 10 minutes early so I can greet other mom’s as they are arriving and checking in, scouting out who I would like to get to know more. As the kids get involved in the activity, I sit near the person I have determined I want to get to know. Sometimes I will even have an extra bottle of water and snack bar that I can offer, so we can strike up a conversation. If the conversation and interaction goes well, instead of offering up a business card to keep in touch, I ask if we can connect on Facebook, because it’s totally non-threatening and normal to do so these days.
3) School Activities
Offer to chaperone school field trips, help with class parties, volunteer in your child’s class and help with school carnivals, as you’re always likely to meet a few parents you didn’t previously know.
4) Check out Groupon or Living Social
Look for a paint night, cooking class or the latest trend “plantnite” (where you enjoy social time and make beautiful succulent arrangements). Arrive early and work the room, so you can sit next to someone with whom you made an authentic connection. You never know to whom your next connection might lead; each connection has the potential to introduce you to your best client yet.
5) Go viral
If you are looking to expand your network, make it known to others. Think about the Facebook friends you have added over the years. Of course you might be annoyed with some of their crazy cat videos or political rants, but one of these people could be the connection between you and your next client.
The people you are closest to generally want to help you, but it might be the people you do not speak with on a regular basis who will take to your messaging. Before you send out a mass Facebook message or a tacky status post, consider a more strategic approach.
People are more likely to refer others to you if you have set parameters as to the types of people with whom you generally (or would like to) work. And be as specific as possible; by giving your contacts specific keywords, they can refer you to those who match your criteria. For example, instead of a status post like “Hey friends, I’m looking to network with a marketing professional, do you know anyone?”, try a personalized private message like “Hi Mary, I’m looking to network with a marketing professional who has retail experience, I thought of you because as an HR professional, you may have someone in your network who you could connect me with. I’d really appreciate any thoughts you might have.” The worst that can happen is they ignore or unfriend you, but they could hold the golden ticket to add to your network.
Volunteering in your community or with organizations that you are passionate about is a great way to meet new people. And the plus-side is that you go into it knowing that you share common interests.
7) Fun Fitness Classes
It’s no secret that for most of us, exercising can often feel like a chore or even a bore, but thankfully there are some workouts that both help you get your blood pumping and are extremely fun! Not only will you feel better physically, but it’s a great way to meet people. Check out Thriller Dance Classes, Pound Drumming classes, Modern Yoga, Barre Classes, Orange Theory, Spinning, or classes at your local gym.
8) Do you enjoy politics?
Attend your local City Council meetings or School Board Meetings. As with anything, in order to make true connections, you have to be consistent and attend these meetings on a regular basis. If you only go occasionally, you aren’t likely to make true connections.
9) Traditional Networking Events
The MeetUp app is a great way to find local networking events, but the key to networking means you actually have to talk to people you do not know. As you consider attending a networking group, do your research and find out who the target audience is and whether it matches what you’re looking for?
You may need to attend a few different groups to find the right fit. And make sure you have time for the group (i.e. if you’re limited on time, look for a group that meets monthly instead of weekly). When you find the right fit, commit to being an active member.
Be interested versus trying to be interesting. In order to make a connection, you can’t do all the talking, you need to be interested in the other members and ask them questions and really listen. If their answers indicate they’d be a good fit for your business and you think you’d enjoy working with them, cultivate a relationship.
Don’t just pounce on people with your business, simply use the time to connect and then invite them to coffee or lunch to connect further at a later date. Remember, this is an investment of your time over time (i.e. a marathon, not a sprint).
10) Plan Your Own Meet Up
With modern technology such as MeetUp or Facebook, it really is easy to create your own event. Be specific about who you are trying to attract. Find an inexpensive venue with both a pleasant/comfortable ambiance and ample parking. Be clear about the cost to attend the event.
Have an agenda and stick to the time allotted. It’s important that the first event goes smoothly, so you’re your attendees will not only come to your next event, they’ll bring guests, too.
I understand that all of this can be very intimidating, but to get started you must practice, practice, practice, and as you practice you’ll get more comfortable. Make networking a natural part of your day.
Before owning my own business, I was quick to get in and out of places, whereas now I tend to go to places like the grocery store and carwash at the busiest times of the day (e.g. to catch those part of the lunch hour rush or the 5:00 pm after work crowd).
I challenge myself to strike up conversations with random strangers everywhere I go and be the nicest person they have met that day. It’s important to be visible and build strong, lasting relationships with those people you add to your network. Doing so will enhance your credibility and land you those coveted referrals.