A consistent theme across all the side hustle podcasts, startup websites and news sources I voraciously consume is the critical importance of networking. This is not earth-shattering news to me, of course. I’ve spent enough years chained to a desk in someone else’s office to know that your next job is more likely to come from someone you know than from a job posting advertisement. It’s a no-brainer that who you know, and how many people you know, has a direct impact on the success of your own independent venture, as well.
I heard a tidbit about networking on a podcast this week that really resonated with me. A female entrepreneur was being interviewed about her business’ success and, I believe the question was something akin to ‘What advice would you give to someone just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey?’ To be honest, I’ve listened to so many interviews this week, I can’t even recall who said this, much less what kind of business enterprise she operates. But, her answer has been replaying in my head all week:
“Get a community around you. The most dangerous thing you can do as an entrepreneur is isolate yourself.”
This shook me. No, not because it’s a strikingly unique, never-before-heard insight. It’s certainly not that. The power of networking is common sense. It shook me because I know in my core it was my intentional isolation and failure to network beyond the scope of my clients and a handful of client referrals that were the ultimate undoing of Vuma Communications in its first iteration. I always had an excuse to avoid networking: my kid is too young, I don’t have a babysitter, I am too busy, I don’t have time to take on more clients, so why bother? Blah. Blah. Blah.
Ultimately, I did not network because it is something I simply don’t like to do. It doesn’t come naturally to me. What a lousy excuse, huh? I’m embarrassed to put it in writing. But I remind myself as I type this that the whole point of this blog venture, at least initially, is to hold myself accountable. I am sufficiently self-aware to know that making connections to promote myself and my business is a significant short-coming on my part, and I desperately want to avoid making the same mistake twice.
Walking into a room full of strangers to talk about myself is akin to that dream in which you show up for work in your birthday suit. When I was younger, I found it uncomfortable because I was riddled with self-doubt about my own legitimacy as a business owner. Even then, I knew I had the aptitude, but I perpetually felt as though I was faking it, that I was ‘playing office’ rather than operating an honest to goodness business.
Today, I have much more confidence in my own abilities. Now, I feel awkward networking because I just feel so old. Networking events always seem to be geared toward–and full of–young (to me), enthusiastic go-getters. They’re in the hippest bars in town. They take place at the same time as PTA meetings. They’re full of people who are so much more ‘with it’ than I was when I was at their age. I feel like a fuddy duddy in a mom costume. The very fact that I just used the term fuddy duddy underscores why I feel so out-of-touch.
More than that, my go-to excuse these days is that I am just so damn exhausted by the time I get home from the swirling vortex of pure chaos that is my day job that it’s all I can do to drive home with my eyes open. That’s no excuse. I realize that. I shouldn’t give my desk job that much power over my life. But the depth and breadth of my mental and physical exhaustion also serves as a flashing red warning sign about just how badly my current career is bleeding over into my personal life and well-being in a negative way.
My challenge to myself this week (and from now on) is to find a way to channel that fatigue into fuel for my own business venture. The first step in that process is to force myself out of my comfort zone and connect with other people. I haven’t made any giant leaps yet, at least not in the face-to-face kind of way. But I did go out on a limb and ask to join a closed Facebook group for women business owners. They approved my membership yesterday. (Yay, small victories!). It’s as good a jumping-off point as anywhere. So let’s watch and see where it takes me.