Thursday, May 21, 2009

Networking is NOT a Dirty Word

Every day you have a choice: you can build a bridge, or you can build a wall. What are you building today??

I came across this saying years ago, but I've learned to live by it, because it's inspired me to change my life. It's made me a networker.

I frequent several message boards, some for jewelry, some for business, and some just because. And I often hear people say that they are too shy to sell their work, too afraid to talk to other designers, too nervous to get out and approach stores. And I understand all those too reasons, because I used to be just like that. I spent many years being introverted and afraid to open up to people. The idea of interacting - what if I opened my mouth and something really stupid came out? That scared me so much that I often chose to stay home, rather than go out and socialize.

But then I started my own business. And I realized that if *I* didn?t do all the things I feared, no one would, so how would the business ever grow and succeed? And really, wasn't I tired of being so scared? Fed up with being afraid to talk to people? Hadn't I wondered what I might be missing? Well, yes, yes, and yes. I realized that I wanted my business to succeed *more* than I wanted to stay at home and build walls. So I started going out more often, and when people asked me what I did for a living, I looked them straight in the eye and said, I'm a jewelry designer. And amazingly, that often led to further discussion (after all, it's not the standard answer in the world of corporate types). I didn?t even have to try to make conversation; it just seemed to flow on its own. And once I'd done that often enough, I managed to become quite good at networking. And so can you! All of you, out there, maybe lacking in confidence to sell your work, promote it, or even discuss it in casual conversation.

When you network, doors open and opportunities multiply. Offers are extended. Information and tips are shared. I have three friends here in Georgia who own their own businesses (two also make jewelry, and one, Amy Parrish, makes fabulous sweaters out of vintage fabrics. You can see them at And I met two of them by teaching. Yep - the girl who was afraid of her own shadow learned to actually face a group of students and teach them jewelry techniques. I met both Amy and Beth when they took some of my classes, and we've become friends since then. I met Jeannie through our realtor. One day when he was showing us houses, he mentioned that he knew another jewelry designer in the metro area. He gave me her e-mail address and suggested I contact her. So I did, not knowing if she would even respond -
but she did, and that led to another friendship. We all share tips and strategies, information about shows, sources (like printers, get the picture) and it's helped my business, and I hope I've helped theirs.

My friendship with Beth led to my first consignment store. Their monthly checks tide me over during the slower seasons, when I don't do shows. My friendship with Amy led to another consignment store. My friendship with Jeannie has led to at least one, and possibly two, teaching opportunities. Would I have had these opportunities otherwise? Maybe. But it's highly unlikely that I would have known about them if I was sitting at home!

Don?t forget to help those whose paths cross yours. That?s the other thing about networking ? it goes both ways. If you only network to better yourself, you won't get very far with it. But if you know of an opportunity that?s not right for you, but *is* right for someone else, tell them. Let them know about the great store just down the street from the place where you wholesale your work, since you don?t want to saturate the market. Suggest people who might be interested in events for which you don?t have the time. Work for the greater good, not just your own, and watch how much of what you give comes back to you in some way.

So how can you become a networker extraordinaire? Start by getting out more often. Stand tall, smile, and be proud of what you do. Viewing every occasion as an opportunity, instead of something to be endured. Be interested in what others have to say, and don't be shy about sharing a bit about yourself when asked. Project confidence until you really start to feel confident inside. It might take a while, but one day you'll wake up and realize that your confidence has grown, because you?ve been feeding it. Do something that scares you (even if it only scares you a little bit). Once you get through something that frightens you, you'll be amazed at how easy everything else suddenly looks! Don?t squander opportunities because of your fear. Capitalize on them. Build bridges, every day.

Original post date 8/23/05

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