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Want to Know Who Your Real Friends Are? Start a Business

By reframing our approach to networking the chances of success increase exponentially.

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Someone in my social media network posted this recently. Her name is Angelica. She launched a line of evening wear for women and was frustrated at a lack of support from her inner circle and needed to let out a little steam. 

On some level we’ve all felt this way during difficult times, maybe sales are slow, or we just need a little push to get our mojo back. Whatever the reason we’re just not feeling the love from those around us.

This brings me to this week’s topic on how much we should or should not expect from those around us. 

Before launching my Public Relations firm I met with an advisor at the Chicago Small Business Administration to go over my business plan, earnings projections, and so on. When we got to the marketing the business part he asked: “How will you get your clients?”. Oh! Not to worry, I have a “huge” network, was the first thought that came to mind. He silently nodded when I verbalized it.

That conversation happened five years ago this month and I, like Angelica, felt unsupported at times when the clients I got were not from within my ‘huge” network.  Oddly enough, most of my clients are the result of post-business-launch networking. People I met in my new life as an entrepreneur who knew me like nothing else. 

Do Friends and Former Colleagues Owe Us Their Support?

A small jewelry store owner contacted me recently; he needed a bit of publicity to get the word out about his collections. His jewelry is stunning; his store was voted one of the top ten in Chicago on Yelp with 64 five star reviews. I was excited to take on this project, that is until I took a look at his website. I put together a proposal for him with the caveat that

I could not enact any of the publicity efforts until he had a proper website because drawing attention to his online presence as it stood would hurt more than help him. 

The trouble was, his “friend” was building a new website which due to lack of commitment was taking very, very long to complete. He was eager to get going on the publicity but as of this write up the new website has not launched. 

Perhaps he was unaware of the slew of options for building great looking websites that won’t break the bank.  The price he’s paying by remaining a hidden secret is high, one that a small business can seldom afford to pay.  Current and new customers may not think of him as gifting occasions near like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, June wedding season, and don’t forget graduation.  

Outsourcing key business elements to friends can be just as bad as expecting them to be our sole customer base. 

Working our Networks

My inbox gets flooded daily with random prospecting emails pitching everything from project management software to staffing services. They are usually a template; sometimes even my name and business are not customized. I delete them the second I open them, that is if the dull, generic subject line doesn’t trigger an immediate DELETE first. 

I hear it from every successful entrepreneur; it’s about building the relationship vs. the network. This means going more in-depth, investing more time and really understanding where the best fit comes. When our circle and network are not responding to our business prospecting efforts, they may not be deliberately ghosting us - they just don’t feel compelled to engage. They may not see the product or service you offer as meeting a current need. 

By reframing our approach to networking the chances of success increase exponentially. Here are a few things that have worked for me and fellow small business owners:  Pick up the phone and ask someone if you can buy them a cup of coffee; bring something of value to them like information about their industry, product, and competitors; don’t make the sole focus about what you are selling, learn about them. 

There may not be an immediate lead into a new business that very day but think of it as planting a seed.  Also, this person will now be more open to accepting future communications and updates and passing them on to their network. 

I asked Donna Smith Bellinger, author of the book “You Lost Me @Hello” to chime in:

"Unless I’m at a significant event, I don’t carry a lot of business cards because I don’t generally give them away. If we strike a connection and we want to take the conversation further, I have a business card at the ready, but I’m not looking for more junk email. I’m looking for people I can develop a relationship with, who share values compatible with mine or to the people I’m connected to because I understand what my contacts are looking for.”

Our networks are a two-way street. A value should be added both ways, treating it as anything else will lead to frustrated social media post.

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