independence

Networking for Small Businesses

Our theme for July is “Independence Doesn’t Have to Mean Alone,” and in our last post, we shared a few ways business owners can delegate their work rather than spread themselves too thin. This post is about making connections as a small business owner, or, as some like to call it, networking.

For introverts like myself, networking can be a bit of a challenge. But I know the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Networking has a few different purposes. First, it’s a tool for expanding your business and gaining potential customers. Second, it’s a way to meet and share experiences with other entrepreneurs. When networking, I find it helpful to think, “I’m about to meet some people who are in a similar boat as me. I bet some of them have cool stories and I could come away from this with interesting, new connections.”

Here are four helpful guidelines for successful networking:

Set a Goal. Plan to attend a certain number of events per month and talk to X number of people at each event. Or, reach out to a specific number of new people every week via email. These goals can make the whole networking experience a bit more fun, too. Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Remember to follow up with your connections — that’s just as important as meeting them in the first place.

Have Something Ready. One of my greatest weaknesses in networking — and meeting people in general — is that I can become easily flustered. Something as simple as “So what do you do?” will result in me doing a lot of mumbling and rambling — “ramumbling,” if you will.

Know that at any networking event, at least one person is going to ask you what you do. Be prepared with an answer. This may also be a good reason to work on your elevator speech. You don’t need to sound like a robot, but you should sound prepared.

Also, keep your business cards at the ready for anyone who may ask for one.

Participate in Groups. Online groups can be found via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or even Twitter. Participation can occur in a few different ways. You can create your own post within a group in which you share a cool resource, ask a question about something you need help with, or seek opinions on a challenge you face. Also, read posts made by others and respond with comments that are helpful and/or pertinent.

Stepping away from the internet, you can join the local chamber of commerce, Rotary, or any other business-oriented or volunteer organization. It’s a great way to meet local people who do business within your community.

A warning: Don’t approach these groups with a sales pitch. Growing your business is a good goal, but networking is more about fostering relationships.

Stay in Touch. Congrats, you’ve met a ton of new people through your networking! But, how are you staying in touch with them?

Nicole has a favorite app for staying in touch, which lets her know when it’s been a while since she has reached out to someone. Or, you may create a system (spreadsheet, flowchart, sticky notes) just to reach out to people, follow up about something from your conversation, maybe invite them to grab a coffee.

As a shy introvert, I find that following up with others can be just as difficult as making the first contact. But I try to keep in mind that comfort zones equal stagnation. It’s like the advice on water sources found in the wilderness: Drinking running water is usually okay, but standing/stagnant water … you gotta watch out for that stuff. (Sorry for the digression — I’m ramumbling again.)

For those who need help with networking (like me), check out this video I made last fall about networking for the shy introvert:

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

5 Things Every New Business Should Know

Starting a new business? There are probably some things that you find uncertain, and others you just don’t have the hang of yet. While there’s no cookie-cutter approach we can offer budding entrepreneurs, there are some general tips to keep in mind. Here are five:

Failure/Rejection (on small scales) are probably in your near future, and that’s a good thing. There are more lessons to be learned in rough waters than when it’s smooth sailing. Remember Newton’s First Law: An object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. A little adversity here and there will not break your business — depending on how it’s handled, it can actually help your business grow. There’s something to be said for a healthy amount of risk-taking, too.

The first 2 years are usually the hardest. This is a good stat to keep in mind as you develop your business plan, especially budget-wise. Remember — if things don’t go the way you planned, don’t worry. It’s fairly common for businesses to struggle in their early, formative years.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a small business owner, you’re probably used to doing things on your own. However, that doesn’t mean you need to isolate yourself. There are lots of resources for small business owners. Remember to ask people in your network for advice.

Take a look at our post on Automating, Delegating, and Outsourcing to develop ways to include others in your day-to-day work life.

Show, Don’t Tell. To build both your business’ trust and reputation, showing is better than telling. Marketing and advertising are important to spread the word about your business, but performance and delivering quality products and services are more important. No amount of advertising makes up for a poor product, and there’s no substitute for trust.

Learn to be efficient with your time. It can be easy to become a martyr for your business. But isn’t it better to work smarter, not harder? Part of this involves delegating and outsourcing as mentioned earlier. Take charge of your schedule in a way that’s productive but keeps your sanity intact. Develop systems, stay organized, and jettison anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

Here are some posts we’ve written regarding efficiency, including systems and getting organized.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Automating, Outsourcing, & Delegating

Being independent means you are in charge of doing it all, right? Sure…if you want to go crazy and lose sleep/hair over it.

The truth is, you may think of yourself as a “one man show” but this kind of attitude can a) get pretty lonely when things get tough, and b) can actually hurt your business rather than help it. Here are three ways you can let other people/businesses/services help you, so you can keep doing what you love and help your business thrive:

Automating

Automating is for the truly mindless things that no one needs to do in a real way. There is a love/hate relationship with automation in the content marketing world, but I think there’s room for compromise. You can’t automate everything, but you should automate some things.

Some non-marketing things you can automate for your business include:

  • recurring bill payments (i.e. utilities)
  • frequent orders (if you’re running a restaurant and go through a certain amount of napkins, salt, avocados, etc every month)
  • scheduling/booking
  • accepting payments
  • tracking purchases

Online, you can automate your social media content. We use social media scheduling software to get content ready for posting ahead of time. However, it’s really important to update/refresh content and log in to these accounts to stay up to date on activity. What if someone comments on one of your scheduled posts and no one has answered them? Every now and then you might want to update people with something time relevant like specials, recent orders, seasonal things-whatever you can think of. For more tips on automating social media, take a look at one of our old blog posts When Automated Marketing Goes Wrong. There are also tools like Zapier and IFTTT which can help you connect things up (ex: when someone fills out your contact form and opts in for email updates, they automatically are added to your email marketing list).

Delegating

Delegating is for something you’d like to keep ‘in the family’ but don’t want to do yourself. If you have employees or even part time/freelancers that you work with, delegating can be a great way to move some work off your plate so that you can focus on other things to grow your business. Going back to the social media updates, you could delegate the logging in and responding to inquiries to another person entirely.

Some things you can delegate include:

  • tasks you are inefficient at (ex: scheduling meetings)
  • tasks you need regularly
  • tasks that have little to do with your business (ex: cleaning the office bathroom)

Some business owners tend to feel a bit guilty and/or bottle-neck when it comes to certain tasks of the business. The tough love answer for bottlenecking is, unless you’re okay with limiting growth of the business, it’s not going to serve you well. For new hires and relationships with freelancers, you should definitely have a trial/training period, and set up some sort of annual (or other frequency) review process. When it comes to the everyday tasks, though, it’s better to hand over the ropes and be available as a resource without limiting the flow of work that gets done.

And if you feel “guilty” about delegating, think back to the early days of your business when it was you performing the gruntwork AND trying to grow a business. You’ve been “in the trenches” before, and I’m going to assume you’d be willing to jump back in if you needed to. The thing is, in order for you to take your business to the next level and keep growing, at some point you have to hand those things off to someone else (and be okay with it).

Outsourcing

Outsourcing is for things you either can’t efficiently or shouldn’t logically do in house. There are some things that are generally a pain, and that you’ve probably had to handle on your own in the early days of business. But at some point, there are certain tasks you can straight up outsource so that you don’t have to be in charge of them anymore. Some things you may want to outsource include payroll, logo design, bookkeeping, etc.

Think of the things you can do but maybe don’t enjoy doing or maybe just don’t love doing. Is it possible to hire someone else to take care of it for you? Again, don’t let guilt or the feeling of “well, I’m the business owner so I should care/be doing this myself…” stop you from outsourcing. It’s one of those things that will free up your time, which can go into other areas of your business. Outsourcing, just like delegating, prevents you from spreading yourself too thin and stunting the growth of your business as a result.

Stay tuned for our other posts about Independence and Business this month!

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.