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Hi and welcome to episode 20 of startup marketing. Today we’re going to be talking networking. What is it, why is it important and how do you make it enjoyable? Because I know what some people are thinking: networking is scary and the idea of making small talk with strangers in order to try and make sales seems awful. I know, because I can tell you I’ve been there too. 

So let’s dive in.

Networking is a great way to boost business because: it creates opportunities for partnerships which bring visibility to your business. You may not meet your next client at a networking event, but you could meet someone who can help boost visibility to your brand. For example, I met a gal who owns her own life-coach business at an event. Her immediate response when I told her what I do was: “I have to get your info because I lead my clients to their passion and purpose in life, but a lot of times, they need someone who can help them get started on the business portion of things!” Bingo. I’ve got a new referral source. 

In addition, you’ll meet people who can help you grow professionally. Whether it’s through giving you advice about how to level up in your career or by answering a question about how to solve a problem you’re facing. A network of people have more expertise and advice that can offer you support. 

One thing I’ve also found over the past two weeks is that networking seriously increases my confidence as well. In my very first virtual event, I met a gal who would be a great client for me. She introduced herself and explained what she was working on and I thought, oh, I could totally help you. As soon as I was done introducing myself, she had questions for me that I was able to answer and then she took my contact information so she could reach out to me in a couple of months when she’s ready to start working on her marketing plan. Pro tip: when someone asks for your information, get theirs as well. This way, if you don’t hear back from them, you can follow up, potentially saving you from losing a lead. You never know, maybe their kid will spill coffee all over the notebook where they wrote down your information, so they lose it. Or they accidentally throw it away. You’d hate to lose a potential lead because you left the ball totally in their court. You want the opportunity to provide a gentle nudge later if you need to. 

When people think of networking, I think they generally think about attending luncheons where they have to sit for a long time and chit chat with people they may or may not have anything in common with. And they think of it as going in and trying to make a sale; like cold calling but in person. Gross. No wonder it sounds awful! Truth be told, that’s kinda how I thought of networking. When I was in the corporate world, we had a lady who was fantastic at networking and part of her role at the company was to go out and network. She made it look so easy! Everywhere we went, she knew someone. Or knew someone who knew someone. Whenever she talked about her position, she spoke to networking in terms of trying to bring new business to the credit union. What I wasn’t paying attention to (quite honestly, because I didn’t have to) was that she wasn’t going out and selling to people, she was forming relationships. 

Looking back, when I think about how she described her interactions, they definitely weren’t about selling. She approached networking events as ways to build relationships and make connections, then, if it was appropriate, she let those new connections know that she had a wealth of information they might find valuable and she could help connect them with people to help their businesses. Now that doesn’t sound too bad!

Networking isn’t about selling, it’s about making authentic connections and speaking to your “why” first, then your services. A lesson I learned quickly over the past few months.

Now, I’ve been plugging away at Authentic for seven months now. Things are going well, but growth and client acquisition has been slow. Unlike the coaches I see in Instagram ads, I am not having explosive growth. I’m not going to make $300k my first year. And quite honestly, it’s so frustrating to me to see those kinds of ads because man, do they make me feel like I should be way farther ahead than I am. In reality, there’s a bunch of reasons why growth for me has been slow. As I was starting to really get traction, my kids started staying home because of covid and I was homeschooling them. So my days went from 8 hours of uninterrupted work time to just a few or even a couple of hours to get things done. On top of that, I was super pregnant, so sitting at my desk for long periods of time was hard anyway. Instead of stressing about it, I decided to give myself some grace and just take it slow. 

My original plan in building Authentic was to use a well thought out content strategy to gain visibility and start attracting clients. This podcast and my social media accounts were the backbone of my plan. But those channels take time to grow and even more time to start generating leads. At least for me. When I went full time into Authentic in January, it was several months sooner than my husband and I had planned. Thankfully, we were pretty well prepared financially, but losing out on my salary from my full time job, did have an impact. My cushion to start getting clients shrunk a little. so, that meant that when I started working again a few weeks ago after our daughter was born (still at part time because our kids are still home), I had to find a way to start getting referrals faster than relying on just my content strategy. 

I’m still in startup mode, so dropping a lot of money on social media ads doesn’t feel great to me right now. It makes me nervous because I’m not an expert at placing those kinds of ads and generating results. Now, you don’t have to be an expert to start doing those ads, but you do have to have some revenue you’re willing to part with and the time to monitor and tweak those ads to make them perform well and generate some ROI. Right now, those aren’t the best choice for me. My capacity to learn how to do them well is small and I don’t want to pour money in to ads. 

Instead, I’ve got a strategy to start networking. It includes three prongs: paid networking groups, utilizing my current network and free Facebook/LinkedIn groups. That’s because it’s more manageable for me to pay some monthly fees to some networking groups. Parting with $30/month is much better than the amount of money I’ve learned needs to go into social ads. So, I joined two online networking groups. And I’m not talking about free Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

Although I’m sure there are great free networking groups in those spaces, I’ve found it to be a challenging place to be because it’s so crowded. There are so many people trying to stay totally online with their business (no judgement, I’m there too) that it seems like you have to live on social media so you can be one of the first to provide advice on a post before there’s already 200 comments similar to what you’d say. It’s a little bit exhausting. And, often it feels like there’s a mix of people who know how to network well and people who just want a sale. Sigh. 

Free groups are definitely a place you want to spend time in, but paid networking groups are a great option because they often have in-person (or virtual networking events right now) where you can really get quality time in front of people who can build a good referral network for you. In the past two weeks, I’ve had more success with in person paid membership networking groups than I’ve had in seven months of trying to work those free groups. 

Before we dive into in-person networking, let’s talk about how to interact in free groups and how to utilize your current personal network. 

Look for free groups on Facebook and LinkedIn that you can participate in. You want a mix of some that are specific to your industry because you’ll be able to get advice from those folks as well as connect with people who have different but complementary skills to offer than you do. For example, I might connect with a web developer in an industry group who could refer clients to me for marketing strategy. Likewise, I can do the same. The key here is that we’re not competing with each other, but likely have clients who could benefit from both of our services. It’s also why you want to connect with people who have complimentary skills on Instagram, but that’s a whole other show. You also want to find groups where your ideal customer will live. 

Once you find these groups, it’s all about adding value. Answer questions, refer to resources, try to build connections before throwing out your sales pitch. 

The next step in my networking plan is to utilize my current network. The night that I was up late panicking about finding clients, like, yesterday, I thought I had this giant hole where I should have a professional network. I frantically started making a list. What friends and former colleagues could help me out? I had recently updated my services and product offerings to include training packages for creating a marketing strategy and teaching my social media process. So I started crawling through my LinkedIn connections and adding my other small business friends to the list. I thought about who these training packages could fit and anyone who might know someone who might know someone who’d want to sign up, made the list. By the end of my panic list-making session, I had about 50 people I was confident could pass along my training package or utilize it themselves. The next morning, I started reaching out to each of them. 

If you’re nervous about getting out in front of strangers, practice pitching yourself and going through your elevator speech with your friends and the network of people who know you. You know they want you to succeed and you can tweak it as you find the verbiage that works for you. I started out by letting them know I had updated my product offering, explained what it was in one sentence, then asked if I could send them an email with my pricing guide for it and if they could pass it along to anyone they know who might find it beneficial. I was met with an overwhelming amount of excitement and encouragement, which gave me an immediate boost of confidence and reassurance that this would work out. 

The most successful referral I’ve had came from my friend Anneliese, who owns her own quilting business. She shared my information on a weekly thread specifically designed for networking opportunities and pitching in one of her quilt groups along with the before and after stats of the emails I helped her create and I received three consultation bookings within a few days. 

So, my friends, utilize anyone and everyone who might know someone who might know someone that could utilize your services or be a good customer for you. Your friends and family want to see you succeed and you never know who’s connected to your next future client. 

The last piece to my networking plan is joining membership-based networking groups. Networking in person or virtually right now is critical to small business growth because it’s how you expand your ability to find new customers. 

I won’t lie, I was pretty nervous to go into networking groups. I’m not really one who’s great at small talk and I thought that’s what I’d have to be doing. But, one big change in my mindset totally flipped the script for me and helped me get excited about going to these networking events. I stopped thinking of them as a place to find new customers to a place where I could find people who could refer customers to me. I approached the virtual networking events that I was attending with a service mindset instead of a sales mindset. Thinking to myself how I could add value to the people I’d meet such as, answering a question for them about marketing or being able to refer them to a resource I used to help build my business. It’s the same approach I take with my email and social media channels: add value, but for some reason, it took me a long time to think about applying that in person. Which, in hindsight, seems silly to me. 

So my advice here if you’re nervous about networking or you’re not sure how to approach it: think of it as a way to form new relationships, not make sales. Approach it with a service mindset to offer value to those you meet and you’ll walk away with people who want to make referrals to you (and referrals lead to sales!). 

Ok, so we’ve established that networking is really good for your business, but where do you find the right groups and how do you come prepared for success?

First, have your elevator pitch ready so when it comes time to introduce yourself, you’ve got something short, sweet, and most importantly, succinct and descriptive ready to go. When I introduce myself, I say that I’m Katlynn Pyatt, a marketing coach that helps women entrepreneurs brand, market and grow their small businesses. 

Next, I have my five-minute explanation at the ready. In most of the virtual events I’ve attended, you typically break out into small groups where you get a few minutes to talk about yourself. This actually goes by really fast, so I suggest rehearsing it a few times to make sure you can get the most impactful points across as quickly as possible so you leave some time for questions. Here, I speak to why I started my own business (just one quick sentence), why I focus on small businesses (a couple of quick sentences) and results that I’ve achieved (the majority of my time). 

I added in the results I’ve achieved after an ah-hah moment after seeing the responses to my friend’s post and talking with my former boss. When she shared my contact information, she shared those before and after stats that I mentioned. It seems obvious, but I had totally forgotten about qualifying my results when pitching myself. Two days later, I’m texting back and forth with my former boss (asking him to refer me to potential clients) and as I’m doing a deep dive into what I do now, he says “This is a very intriguing concept you’ve got going. You’re like a professional organizer. That combined with your marketing expertise, this is super valuable. Look at what you were able to do in your time at Centris (that’s our former corporate job). You organized the entire department and transformed their efficiency which allowed for so much more production, leading to record sales years.” He’s not wrong. It’s something we’re both extremely proud of. Through his vision and my efforts to organize and execute a solid marketing strategy, we were able to quadruple the number of campaigns my team was able to produce in a year and the results showed when the organization closed the year with their highest sales in their 85 year history. That’s pretty powerful. 

The next day I was on a networking call and I included this stat in my five minute schpeel and it was impressive. Immediately after, I had two women as for my contact info so we could talk about a potential coaching relationship. One of them also has clients she could refer to me. Winning. 

Finally, have a few bullet points of what’s working well for you or what you’re seeing work well within your industry at the ready. This is how you help add value. So when someone presents a challenge they’re facing, you’ve got some advice ready to go. Try not to be shy and defer to others to start the conversation. Try to lead it with your awesomeness. Talk about what you did and the results you’ve gotten. Or, talk about what you’ve seen others do and the results they’ve gotten. When you can add value and demonstrate results, people pay attention. It peeks their curiosity and you’ll find yourself with new connections. Either of people who want to work with you (all without doing a sales pitch!) or people who know people who can benefit from your products or services. 

So, there you have it. My three step approach to networking and how I’m getting the best results yet out of any marketing to date. I’ve created a free networking guide that you can download at getauthenticbranding.com/resources. And as always, if you’ve enjoyed this episode, please rate, review and subscribe to help other business owners like you find this podcast. 

Until next time!