by Jessica Thiefels | Featured Contributor
In July 2018, I was able to turn my side gig of 2.5 years into a full-time business: an organic content marketing agency. The day that happened I knew I needed to start networking. I needed to meet people, learn from them, and soak up all the entrepreneur vibes I could.
I signed up for four events, one for each week of July and I’ve been networking ever since. I’ll admit, I’m not a “networking” person and the thought of attending all of these events at first scared me—a lot. Don’t we all despise the awkward situation when you walk-up to a group, and then stand quietly until someone asks you something?
While there’s been plenty of that in the last year, there’s also been so much that I didn’t anticipate. Not only have I met some incredible women and started my own monthly gathering, but I’ve earned clients, gotten speaking gigs and and been lucky enough to learn from other successful entrepreneurs.
I’ve gotten so much out my experience of networking that I’m here to implore you to do the same. Spend time doing the awkward standing, the nervous talking and life-changing learning and you will undoubtedly reap the benefits.
#1: New Service Offerings Can Come From Other People
If you want to expand your business, networking is a great way to find new ideas—and new clients. My newest service offering didn’t come from me. It came from someone I met at a networking event. After the event, she told me that she was looking for 1-on-1 social media coaching. Though I had never offered coaching like this before, my response was: “I can definitely do that!”
I had never even considered that as a service offering, but I left with a new client, for a brand offering. We worked together for 7 months and she was the perfect first client for this new service. Along the way, I created a new page for my site and have had a variety of clients since.
#2: Networking is a Chance to Learn
I look at networking as less of an opportunity to pitch myself—though it is, and I do—but more as a chance to learn from others. There’s so much collective wisdom in a room full of business owners. Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or running your very first business.
The key is listening to other people’s stories and tuning in for nuggets of wisdom as they learn about your story too. Instead of jumping right to the pitch, let the conversation happen naturally. Not only is this a chance to learn from them, but you may be able to provide value before asking for something from them too.
#3: It’s All About Making Connections
People often put a lot of pressure on networking. “I must meet a new client or sign a new deal or it’s not worth it!” When you take the “network” out of networking, though, you miss the value of it.
For example, I’ve had lunch with people who I met at business networking events, but we don’t talk business. We talk about life and the things that light us up. Those connections—the ones that have expanded past business—are the ones I now rely on regularly for advice and support. If you’re authentic and open to truly connecting, you’ll find you get much more out networking.
#4: A Lot of People “Need That!”
I can’t tell you how many people have learned about my business and said, “Oh! I need that so bad!” Exciting, right? Kind of. It’s exciting to hear that your service is in need, but it doesn’t mean the person who said it is a great lead. I’ve had calls with a number of people after events and very few have panned out to a client relationship.
That’s not to say networking isn’t valuable for driving leads. The key is keeping your expectations neutral. This allows you to be more relaxed, open and conversational, which drives great business down the line.
#5: It’s Refreshing!
If you’re a solopreneur like me, you may quickly realize that sitting in your office, behind a screen all day, can make you go crazy. Not to mention, it’s easy to doubt yourself and your success when the predominant voice you’re hearing is your own—we’re our own worst critics.
One of the first things I learned when I started attending events was how refreshing it is. Talking to other business owners and entrepreneurs always brings such important perspective. I quickly realized that everyone has the same doubts, worries, and fears as me.
Networking: Just Do It
I didn’t do networking for a long time because I was too nervous. I’m so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone because the experiences have been life-changing. You can find networking events on MeetUp, Facebook and through your own personal network. Sign up for one, go in with a courageous heart and an open mind, and let it work its magic. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.
Jessica Thiefels is founder and CEO of Jessica Thiefels Consulting, an organic content marketing agency for mid-size B2B businesses outsourcing content marketing. She’s been writing for more than 10 years and has been featured in top publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur and Fast Company. She also regularly contributes to Virgin, Business Insider, Glassdoor, Score.org and more. Follow her on Twitter, @JThiefels and Instagram, @HowtoMastertheArt, and connect on LinkedIn.