It's Business and It's Personal: The Networking Challenge
Becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t easy for me as I’m sure it isn’t for many others.
I started my business out of desperation when I couldn’t find a job. Although I had worked for many years before in communications for an established company, had a degree in English and now a post-graduate certificate in Corporate Communications and Public Relations no one was hiring me. I tried selling my knowledge and services in marketing and public relations to entrepreneurs and it worked! Slowly and painstakingly I started to build a business. Lots of trial and error, many, many hours of unpaid work, networking and investment later I am proud of what I have accomplished. Eventually people noticed the good advice and assistance I was providing for their businesses and they started to pay me for it.
The largest hurdle I encountered with initially starting the business was accepting that my family and friends couldn’t help me and that I had to build much of what makes a business successful on my own. I discovered that entrepreneurs received the most value from my services but I didn’t know any entrepreneurs and my closest friends and family members didn’t know any either. This meant that I had to build a whole new network of friends, colleagues, collaborators and clients from scratch. Networking has turned out to be the biggest asset of my business and it was my biggest weakness starting out.
How did I build a network from scratch? I used a few simple techniques to build a network and market myself and you can too!
Good old fashioned self-promotion lets people know what I do and how it can help them.
- Whenever an appropriate conversation comes up about branding, social media, public relations or marketing I mention my business.
- I join every twitter chat I can find about business, communications, marketing, entrepreneurship or public relations and contribute my insight and advice to the conversation.
- I join a number of business groups on Facebook and gave tips when anyone posts a question I can answer.
- I wear a t-shirt that says “entrepreneur” so that strangers will ask me about my business and what I do.
Eventually, all of these techniques work! Telling new people what you do over and over and over again helps you get clear about your objectives and it piques the interest of the people who are looking for the help only you can provide.
Networking events are a great opportunity to meet a variety of professionals that could be clients or contributors to your business. I found that after attending a number of these events I started to meet some of the same people at each one. These people became my new community. Now some of the networking event regulars have become the videographer I work with on special projects, the graphic designer my clients love, the connection to my most loyal interns and the colleague who refers the most reliable clients. These people have become my new network of supporters, collaborators and friends who have the power to propel my business forward.
I have always been an enthusiastic volunteer for a number of organizations including Sickle Cell Awareness Group of Ontario, Zimele Canada and West Neighbourhood House. Through volunteering my skills in the area I charge for, more people within the organization have become aware of what I do professionally. Building relationships and demonstrating what I can do has both benefitted the organization and has made more potential customers aware in my business.
I’m very proud of the work I’ve done for my clients through Black Leopard Public Relations. I never thought I could run my own business, never thought it was an option. My goal with everything that I do (through Black Leopard Public Relations, the Entrepreneur Store, Leopard Lit and Entrepreneur Events) is to encourage and support others to pursue entrepreneurship as an option. The unstable economy demands that you develop entrepreneurial skills. You never know when you’ll be out of a job. You are never too old or too young. You can be a mom, dad or have other responsibilities. You can do it! You can start from scratch and build something amazing.
Building a personal network was the greatest challenge I met in creating my company and now it is becoming my greatest strength. My advice to anyone starting a business in an area where their friends and family cannot help is that even if you are not given a way in you can make one.