This Week In Business

Networking 2.0… Because It's Not Just About Meeting People

So I had lunch today with a great woman named Jennifer who wanted to talk with me about the Maine Women's Fund, a non-profit group she works with. Her sister in Florida had forwarded her my blog on the off chance we would know each other. We emailed back and forth and agreed to meet when she was in town.

Card1711 I think most people but especially those new in their career or geographic area often hear about the importance of networking. Most people think they can just hand their business cards out and call it a day but I think there is some prep work we all should do a little more often pre-networking and targeted networking. Allow me to explain.

Pre-networking: A Period of Reflection

Kelly at Almost Frugal had a post today about how she would describe herself (five adjectives)and how these traits help her and deter her from reaching goals. When we network, I don't think most of us are thinking of our traits. I responded to Kelly's post and a few hours later, I was having lunch with Jennifer and thinking about how my traits would affect the work I could do with the organization. I found myself checking in with my goals and traits silently throughout the meal. Not wanting to take time off from work turned into an opportunity to call into a Maine Women's Fund meeting rather then going there for a lunch. Knowing that I love being social  opened the door to some possible internet PR work. If I hadn't kept my goals and traits (not wanting to miss work and being social) in mind, I may have prematurely volunteered to do anything for this organization rather then digging just below the surface to make sure my offers matched with my interests.

Jennifer and I also talked about the personal goals/networking pairing at lunch. The New Girls Network through her organization helps women not only network but trains them in leadership and goal setting skills. She used an example of philanthropy goals. If the environment was an issue important to you, would you just write a $20 check to any environmental organization that sent you a mailing? Or would you think further of your goals and values and then make a calculated decision?

In the pre-networking stage, it's valuable to think of your traits, skills, and goals. No, you don't have to deeply examine them before any interaction but being mindful helps you make better decisions. It kept me from overcommitting and allows me to work with myself rather then against my goals and skills.

Targeted Networking

So it's one thing to go to a business event and collect business cards but thinking internally about what is the best network for you takes a little more effort. Nancy Marshall (the Maine PR Maven) recently helped create a network for Maine non-profits to share resources. Meanwhile I've been thinking of my pet project, a network of Maine bloggers. It's all about people coming together over a common goal and sometimes, the network opportunities exist (great) and sometimes you have to create them.

Don't get my wrong, I love knowing lots of people on Twitter and Myspace (and now Facebook) but being mindful of your audience and where they'll be is your job when you're promoting yourself!

I did an exercise at a conference I went to where we had to picture our typical business client. Are they male or female? How old are they? What kind of car do they drive? You get the idea. Think of the person you want to know about you or your work and think of as many of their traits as possible. Then think about where they hang out. And you should go hang out there! (This applies to both physical and online locations.)

Save yourself (and the people you talk to) the time and effort by thinking about what you want to be/do and focus your efforts on things that'll help you get there. That said, any relationship could end up being pretty valuable so  just update that Facebook profile every once in awhile.

As a step towards my goal of getting better at Facebook, my friend Randy is going to show me how to add flair to my page so I'll look cooler. Now that's networking!

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Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Making Money On The Side: Body Shop At Home Consultant

My friend Jessica wanted to host a make-up party but was worried her apartment was too small to have ten women over. My old house was like this and before I even thought about it, I said, “Well, you can have it at my house!” (Technically Sean’s house that I live in but still kind of mine, right?)

I knew it was going to be a Body Shop party. You may have never been to this specific party but no doubt you’ve been going to parties like this for years. You show up and the consultant gives you a presentation about cooking gadgets, Tupperware, bedroom toys, jewelry, etc. and you all sort of chat and out of either guilt or being actually impressed with the product, you purchase.

As the party host, you get gifts on a sliding scale based on how much everyone buys. (I think Jessica got around $60 of stuff for hosting the party and us spending around $400 total; as the “cohost”, I got to just arrange the living room and not feel guilty about buying a small amount.)

The consultant makes the initial investment of $150 for the selling kit then books parties. She makes a commission off the products she sells and since every party is an attempt to book more parties, she gets to line up more jobs. She also makes money by having other consultants work under her and getting some of their commission in exchange for training and helping them book gigs. I think she mentioned while she was unpacking making around $100-$200 on a typical night. Not bad.

I had a good time and having ten women in my house I didn’t know, I was in my element. It inserted some novelty into my otherwise boring Wednesday night and I was taught (once and for all) how to do a smokey eye.

These “parties” kind of work like a pyramid scheme: the whole goal of always booking two to three more parties from the initial party. If you are outgoing and like the products, however, I can see being a consultant as an excellent way to make some money on the side. Courtney (our consultant) is mom to three kids and is a part time art teacher at a K-8 school. She does this to make a little extra money and since she schedules her own parties, she can still be on her family’s schedule.

My tips are if you are going to a party like this, either buy something you actually need or buy a gift with someone specific in mind. Otherwise, you can easily overspend. (See friends encouraging you to buy things from the last post.) But again think of this as a form of entertainment something like a lunch with friends at a cafe or a movie and spend accordingly. This is entertainment, after all, but do it the Breaking Even way by having fun with friends without breaking the bank.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Job Resources From The Web

You know how sometimes, your horoscope seems to eerily correspond to what's going on in your life? A similar thing happened to me but instead of communing with Miss Cleo, the magic was with my RSS reader.

While I was going through this job contemplation process these last two weeks, it seemed articles about finding jobs popped up in my RSS reader almost daily. Also, during this time I had friends and family sending things my way to help. I like to consider myself a compiler of useful content so here are some of the more useful links that have come my way.

There are some neat online training videos at to help make yourself just a little more marketable. There are courses of substantial length about most things tech, from custom CSS to databases (of which I know anything about—I just tried to pick things that sounded smart). By length, I mean hours of video on a particular topic. (Ten hours of custom CSS? Now that's what I call a fun weekend!) You have to pay to use but at $25 a month, it's a little more hands-on then you and the instruction manual but a lot less expensive then a college course on the subject. As things are moving more and more online, more IT knowledge couldn't hurt anyone, though I may be a little biased. (via my friend Mike)

The 30 Best Websites for Job Hunters turned out to be a list of the most popular job boards online, as voted on by their users. If you are posting on job boards, this may help to try one you haven't tried yet or maybe don't even know about. (from CNN Money) Full disclosure: I have never gotten a job off a job board so I'm more skeptical about this method of finding employment.

A very recently launched website combines the function of a job board with the ease of social networking and an eHarmony-esque matching service. (An added surprise: if you have a LinkedIn profile, it'll transfer all your profile information into its system for you.) After creating a "profile", the site will match you with jobs that are a good fit. Check out this link if you are interesting in learning more about the site (via Xconomy).

Then, of course, right around the the day of my informational interview, Get Rich Slowly sung the praises of informational interviews as a tool towards job search success. The only reason I got the interviews at all is that I met someone from at an alumni networking event. He was kind enough to ask for my resume and forward it to some key individuals on my behalf. To summarize, informational interviews do work as a low-pressure way to meet with the kind of companies you want to work for.

Happy hunting!

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Getting Up In My Business

SMBIZ4ME Governor's Regional Business Conference Was Interesting, Worth A Day Off

I took the day off work Wednesday to attend the SMBIZ4ME Conference for a few reasons: 1) It was only a half hour's drive away. 2) I heard it was going to be good from a few people. and 3) It only cost $25 and one day off to attend. As someone who has already heavily invested in my brain but knows little about business, I figured the price and the opportunity to network with people in the area would be invaluable. It was.

Smbiz4me The vendors set up over breakfast and gave me something to do when I first walked in and was getting my bearings. (I can be social; I just sometimes need to ease into it). I made a few good connections with some Maine publications that were at least theoretically interested in my writing as well as met the guy behind Mainecreates is a social networking site for Mainers involved in the creative economy. (I got on the site to set up a profile when I got home but I see I will be charged for it after a year, which I'm not really down with. But it is a good idea so I set up my own account there.)

In my first seminar, I met Melanie Brooks, who just got hired at It's a division of MaineToday (another newspaper) but it's focused on business content. She's a blogger, I'm a blogger. She suggested I crosspost on their site. So I'm trying that out to see if that'll be a good use of energy. (Really I want to end up as one of their featured bloggers, I'm competitive like that.) Melanie was fun, energetic, and into blogging; she seems like the kind of person I'd hang out with if I lived closer to Portland, though though the blogosphere can at least be a virtual friend.

All this happened in the first two hours. Did I mention there was all the free coffee I could drink and croissants I could eat? (Out of restraint, I had one croissant, ladies and gentlemen, with an apple chaser).

Meeting a lot of people who are all either thinking about or running their own businesses and having to give my "elevator speech" about my blogging consulting/web content creation business allowed me to not only realize that I actually did have a good, original idea but that I do really believe that I can do it.

As with any event of this nature, there is some golf clapping, boring speech listening, corporate sponsors to thank profusely, and a couple snotty people but that was all minor. (One PR woman in my last seminar seemed ridiculously jealous of me and conducted herself in such a way that I wondered, is she actually a PR person?)

Overall though, I met some wonderful people and got some great ideas. I left feeling energized, even though being nice and civil to people you barely know all day can be fairly exhausting.

Have you had a rockin' professional development day recently?

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Headed Back To College…

Use Those Networking Opportunities At Your College

batesWhen I went to college, I just concentrated on getting through the semester. I fell asleep while studying my chemistry book (talk about sleep lines!) and took what I thought were challenging and interesting classes. I worked as a lifeguard in my hometown in the summers to make book and fun money for the year. I had a couple small campus jobs to supplement the “fun money”. My parents paid for my college and told me my job was to study and get the best grades possible. So I did. I thought I was pretty motivated at that point in my life, until yesterday.

I sat in a room yesterday with fifty to sixty students who gave up one day of their weekend to network with alumni. They had taken summer internships relative to what they wanted to do. They took notes, nodded at what you were saying seeming genuinely interested. They asked thoughtful questions. They knew going in that they might not get job offers; they just wanted to meet us. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been in that room. But I was there yesterday.

BATEScene was set up by Bate’s Office of Career Services. I got invited because I have a creative career, both in my “day job” and with this blog. I was part of small group discussions but at the beginning when everyone was listening, we had to give our names, our job titles/companies, and one piece of advice we would give people about to graduate. The good news is I had a two and a half hour drive to think about this.

My friend Michaela always tells me she admires how I always “put myself out there” and I thought about that a lot yesterday. I didn’t realize that other people didn’t do that. I looked back on how I got a newspaper job, how I met a long term boyfriend online, how I got someone to publish my first article. No matter how awful the date was or who told me it was too hard to get published, I kept going. When it got to be my turn to speak, I knew what to say.

I encouraged them to internalize what they wanted and tell everyone they knew. I want people to visit this blog for example. It’s in my email signature. I published the address to it in my company newsletter. I tell people upon meeting them about it. “Coca Cola didn’t become a household name but sending a couple emails then hanging out in its dorm room. Coca Cola told you that it was Coca Cola over and over again until you believed it.” I thought this may have been too corny but a few people chuckled. I guess I am a little corny. But persistance pays off.

On the personal finance front, questions of money came up indirectly. In a small group discussion, I encouraged students to start a savings account beginning with their first job. (They were very concerned with liking their first job and how long they should stay at it.) I told them that they should save even $20, whatever they could afford, and have it automatically taken out. I told them that if they ever felt like they wanted to leave their job (or even were faced with a financially difficult situation) that having that cushion would make them feel so much better. “Plus I mean $20. That’s lunch. You’ll just buy something stupid with it and be happy for five minutes.” I kick myself for not starting saving at my last job, which was higher paying than my current one. But what can you do except tell people open to hearing it who are about to enter the same part of their lives.

I not only met some great students but also other people in related fields. I networked, I ate in the new dining hall, I saw my friend Sarah (who got me involved in this). If your college does any networking event like this, whether you are a student or an alum, it’s very worthwhile to go. Networking may get you your next job, allow for a travel opportunity, or even get one more person to read your blog. You may also just get to meet interesting people and have a free lunch. You may even be able to help someone out.

My college’s networking event was well worth the five hours of driving. And how many things can you say that about?

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Free Business Workshop Series

I don’t have a self improvement category on this blog because I think (or at least hope!) the vien of self improvement runs throughout. I think if you are reading this, you either appreciate my quest towards self improvement or you constantly work towards self improvement yourself.

My friend Jessica told me about a series of seminars being given at our local community college called The Basics Of Starting A Business. This morning is the last morning but the three week course has forced me to learn more about the business behind writing.

Now I may have three bachelors degrees but I have never taken a business course. (Though, don’t get me wrong, a geology major and being able to speak French together have been pretty fun at parties, and have collectively gotten me where I am.)  I have not been implicated in my family’s hardware business. In short, no knowledge and not much experience in business.

I have, however, always enjoyed jobs where I could set my own goals and schedule. In those environments, I have worked hard and really thrived. Also I’ve always wanted to write and be paid for it. Launching a part-time freelance business seems like a logical thing for me to be doing. I figured a free seminar may help keep me on track and working towards really doing this.

The class is being given by Women, Work, and Community, though even if this organization isn’t in your area, you should try local community colleges and business women’s organizations for possible resources like this. The series of three seminars and three hours at a time and have forced me to do things like finally buy a shorter domain name (Read more about the changeover to Breaking Even, Inc. here.) and figure out how much I should charge people for my work (if you’re a freelance writer, here’s a good collection of links I happened upon about how much to charge).

Essentially, the course is forcing me to write a business plan. It is also forcing me to meet other people in the area starting their own businesses that I would have not otherwise met. I know I could go online and find a web page on it but having to have homework done is making me finally put things on paper.

I hope you take advantage of free education opportunities where you live. (Not that I’m biased or anything but a good place to start is your local paper’s community calendar.) Many free cultural and learning opportunities probably exist that you never even knew about. Keep learning always; your mind (and perhaps eventually your wallet) will thank you.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.
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