The other day, I had lunch with two friends. Such a simple thing, but the three of us hadn’t gotten together in some time. We realized, as we chatted and ate, that all of us had made changes to our habits following covid. After the whole world shut down for a while, many things just haven’t gotten back to “normal”.
Connecting Before and After
The more I thought about the more I realized how much had indeed changed from the “before covid” days and today. Nothing is fully back to normal. I dropped my local Chamber membership as there were no networking events. And another local networking organization has not had a meeting again since before covid. There are still networking or socializing opportunities out there for me or my business, but I’m just not taking advantage of them. I have gotten into the habit of doing everything from my home office, with no need to change out of my yoga pants or ever leave the comfort of my home.
But that is to my detriment. Especially as a solopreneur, events with other business owners can be so beneficial. I am guessing I’m not the only one out there with a change in habit that hasn’t gone back to the norm. Let’s talk about the value of personal connections and why we should all be making more of an effort.
When you first started your business, I bet one of the top activities was to attend some sort of networking event. Where else can you meet lots of other business owners near you with just one event? When I started my business (way back in 2005 before virtual meetings were even a twinkle in Bill Gates’ eye), I joined the local Chamber of Commerce and another entrepreneurs networking group. I got my first client out of the networking group and made many fruitful connections at the Chamber.
From there I joined a BNI group, committing to monthly meetings with the same group of business owners. I learned a LOT. My “elevator pitch” was vastly improved, and I did a much better job explaining what I did and for whom. I haven’t been in that group for years now, but I still value those connections.
Slowly, I started to figure out which networking events were good for finding potential new customers, and which ones were good for finding potential new referral sources. And, of course, which ones were just good for socializing!
The challenge, for introverts like me – and, well, everyone who hasn’t been to an event in a long time – is getting back into the habit of attending these events.
First, we have the whole pandemic/endemic thing to address – what is the health risk and is it worth it? Do we shake hands or just nod? Do we hug those we’ve known for a while and haven’t seen? Is a buffet really safe?
Then we have the clothing issue – what the heck are people wearing these days? How dressed up should we be? And do those old ‘work clothes’ still fit?
Finally, we have the networking issue. We are all out of practice with our ‘pitch’. We aren’t used to seeing everyone’s ENTIRE body anymore. And we may not remember what our peers look like in person without a mask on anymore.
What’s your best bet? Weigh the pros and the cons. If you are a social animal, you might gladly take on the risks and issues in exchange for some human conversation. If you are more introverted, consider who else will be attending this event and if they could be a potential customer or referral source.
Connecting with Peer Groups
Beyond events where your goal is to grow your business, there are other activities that can be equally as beneficial to your business growth that don’t introduce you to customers or referral sources. As a matter of fact, I happen to think that these group meetings are even more vital.
I’m talking about meeting with peer groups in a formal setting – like a Business Owner Roundtable Group or CEO Peer Group. Or perhaps you are in a mastermind group, which is similar.
Once your business gets a bit more established and you start to feel like you have some steady income, then it’s time for you to get strategic about growth. That doesn’t mean you can stop looking for customers and referral sources – it just means that there are other issues to deal with as well.
A peer group can be a great place to discuss those issues and compare notes with other businesses of a similar size. How do you go about hiring a manager? Do your employees need more training? Are you outgrowing your space? How do you plan for long term growth?
Challenges of Peer Groups
Peer groups help members focus on longer term issues and hold them accountable to making progress on set goals. One meeting you might be learning from others to address a huge issue, and another meeting you could be assisting someone else with their own issue. The give and take is part of the benefit of the group.
If there is such value in these groups, then why aren’t there more of them? There are a few key challenges.
First you have to find businesses of a similar size in non-competing (and ideally non-referring) industries. And convince all these business owners that giving up half a day each month is worth the time spent away from putting out fires and answering sales calls. (Hint: It is!)
Next, you need to find a time that everyone is available to meet, a private location for the meetings, and a commitment from all the members to consistently show up.
Finally, it helps to have a facilitator or key organizer – someone in charge. The facilitator’s job is to set the agenda, keep people on time and on topic, and initiate and manage the discussion.
The Value of Work Friends
Whether you connect with other business owners through a networking group, association, peer group, or some other format, there is huge value in these connections. So, if you have taken time off from seeking these opportunities, it’s time to put that back on your agenda.
The connections you make at events could lead you to your best customer, or a referral source that brings in revenue for years. You could meet a business owner who ultimately becomes a great partner as you grow your businesses together.
These fellow business owners could also become your mentors (or mentees), your own personal ‘board of advisors’, your cheerleading section, your shoulder to cry on, and your guide for navigating new business growth.
This is especially true for solopreneurs and other business owners who make all the business decisions themselves. It’s lonely being in charge, even if you work with a bunch of people. Networking events and peer groups give you the opportunity to connect with other people who ‘get it’ – who understand your stresses and challenges. They can also be there to celebrate your wins and push you to achieve more. And, perhaps also, they can become your good friends!
My passion is to help growth-minded entrepreneurs like you find ways to plan for your version of a successful future. I do this through courses, consulting, and a community of like-minded people. Reach out for a free ½ hour conversation if you’re curious to learn more!
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