business cards

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:



Five Tips For Organizing Your Contacts

When’s your grandmother’s birthday? What’s your neighbor’s cell phone number? What’s your college roommate’s mailing address?

I only know one of these pieces of information by heart and, like most people, I have to rely on my contacts list for the other two.

Unless you’re my mom (who is the most organized person I can think of), you probably don’t have this information as ‘at hand’ as you want to have it. If so, this post is for you.

Tip 1: Determine every place you keep contact information, then pick ‘the one’.

Let me use my case as the example:

  1. I rip corners off envelopes when people send me stuff so I have their mailing address. These are in a pile on my desk (if I got them at work) or my dresser (if I got them at home). They are in the same piles as business cards people give me.
  2. I have all email going into one Gmail interface.
  3. I text people/meet people in real life and put them into my phone contacts.
  4. I use a CRM for work and have people in there who I’ve classified by relationship (business contact, family, etc.) that syncs with my phone and email to track what information/contact has been made and when. (Note: not as creepy as it sounds.)
  5. I have a Rolodex on my desk which, besides being something everyone can laugh at and revealer of my middle aged-ness, has business cards in it and is full.
  6. I rely very heavily on Facebook for birthday reminders and those people not on Facebook, my mom is kind enough to text me about.

Clearly I have some decisions to make but one thing is true: I will never feel organized until everything is in one place, whether it’s a paper system or digital one. I’d love to know, say, my client’s birthdays, but before getting ambitious I have to pull everything into one system. You do, too.

If you decide on paper, it’s time to find a nice address book or Rolodex and start going through your lists in all your digital places.

If you decide on digital, you need to pick one system that is the main system (ex: Gmail) and then merge/import your data from the other systems in. Most programs will let you export to a .csv file (comma separated value, like a text file with commas where lines of a table would be) that can be imported in. Googling something like ‘merge Hotmail contacts into contacts on iPhone’ should give you some options, or hire a nerd to do this once you understand what all the moving pieces are.



Tip 2: Clean duplicates or people who shouldn’t be there.

Once everything is in one system, it’ll be very easy to clean duplicates (since the system will either automatically do it or make it easier to spot because alphabetically, they’ll be right next to each other).

The one thing technology can’t do is delete those people who shouldn’t be there, like ex-boyfriends or deceased relatives (I have other places for both but I don’t need ‘David OKCupid’ to appear every time I look for my colleague Dave’s number). Lost time, people.

Tip 3: Make it work everywhere.

Let’s say you picked Gmail contacts and have cleaned them out. It won’t do much good until you put them on your iPhone too. Or the Mail application on your phone. And anywhere else you need to regularly access them.



Tip 4: Create process when you add a new contact.

Yay, you met a new friend when you went out for drinks. Now what?

Well, ideally you have a system for adding her into your contacts. Yes, maybe it takes an extra two minutes to look up her birthday on Facebook and type in her mailing address as you put her into your Gmail contacts but the first time you need to look up her email address and it’s actually there, you’ll be grateful.

If this sounds tedious to you, you can use a website like Upwork and hire someone who does this periodic data entry/finding for you, then you can email them and say ‘Add so and so to my contacts.’

Tip 5: Periodically clean out.

Just because you met that cool Australian guy at the youth hostel and traveled Rome when you were 20 does not mean he needs to be in your contacts. (Bye, Chris.) By periodically cleaning out people you aren’t planning to stay in touch with you will make your list a lot more manageable. Fun fact: Australian Chris I’m sure continues to exist despite the fact I deleted him the other day.

If you want to remember these people, maybe write a short story about them or make a fun ‘Random People I Once Knew’ Google Doc and stick them there. Your contacts list is a living document and your past, while an important part of you life, shouldn’t exist there.

Having an organized contacts list will make you feel in control of your entire life and who knows, maybe I’ll be texting people to let them know about birthdays one day soon, impressing my friends and family with my organization.