One of the early activities that I mastered in starting my own business was the art of networking. Seems easy and intuitive, right?
As I mentioned in my inaugural post, at about the time I went back to school to study Interior Decorating I started to do ad hoc project work.
The work I was doing was right up my alley. A mix of design, managing trades and logistics. I love making order out of chaos and this project was no exception. As the project wrapped up I started thinking about what my next move was. I had learned a ton, had a solid lessons learned list and was keen to keep going.
My instincts were telling me that there was a real need for small and medium sized business owners to have someone help them with their space needs leaving them to focus on running their company. The question was … how do I take my idea, figure out if it is viable, then turn it into reality?
I had a bunch of questions ranging from is the niche I am looking at too narrow? How much should I charge and how (hourly/fee)? How do I set up a business name, website, banking, tax info? How can I learn more about the industry?
I needed to ground my business idea by talking to people already in the interior design/decorating, construction, project management fields and other small business owners. That meant “networking”. Ick. Really? It sounded so pushy, so gauche. Don’t get me wrong, I can talk with the best of them but for whatever reason the idea of reaching out to people I didn’t know and ask for information gave me hives.
To get a better handle on this networking thing, I reached out to my fabulous neighbour Jill Donahue who, through her own consulting company, Excellerate, teaches people how to (ethically) influence. She is the networking queen and I sat down with her to pick her brain a little about this whole networking thing. She had three key suggestions:
1. Set up Informational Interviews
I wasn’t looking for a job, merely information but I was a little stuck on my approach with people I didn’t know. Jill suggested some helpful language to frame what I was looking for: “I’m trying to … “, “I have this idea and wanted to bounce some ideas off you … “or ” Tell me about your experience … “.
2. Ask for an Introduction
At the conclusion of your informational interview ask if you can be introduced to other people that might help you. Think of it as you complete one interview and walk away with information and three new people to talk to.
3. Leverage Linkedin for Networking
Jill suggested to adopt and leverage Linkedin as a way to network with like-minded professionals. Admittedly, I’ve been more successful with my Twitter networking but since attending a seminar on Linkedin have made progress on my profile.
Armed with the gameplan I developed with Jill, I set out to talk to people and ground my business idea. I found that once I started my information interview process it got easier and I was pleasantly surprised by how willing people were to talk to me. I’ve since expanded my business to include residential interior decorating and have applied the same approach to learn more in that space.
Now, networking isn’t such a big thing but rather just a conversation and act of information sharing. I’ve found by asking people about themselves and their business it often leads to asking me what I do – and a few referrals have come my way because of it!
Did networking ever make you nervous? What is your approach?