Networking : The First Volley of Marketing

I've wondered: how come people seem to be successful when other products may be better and hidden in obscurity? A few years ago, I went to a talk for aspiring writers (one session from an ongoing group). My wife and I sat through it. At the end of the talks, they had a mixer. We left when the talks were done. I was asked: "How come these people seem to have book deals?" My answer: the mixer. Sitting in a crowd and amassing knowledge is swell. Sitting at home and doing something wonderful is nifty. But the difference-- the ignition added to knowledge and good execution-- the difference is taking what you know and what you do, and getting it past the first check point. That first check point is approval: approval from decision makers and influential people.
To geek out: you need to hit them when their shields are down. If you are in a crowd, you're a face in the audience. If you send in emails or submissions, you're in a crowd on a desktop in what could be a busy office-- one where you don't stand out. If you're posting comments online, well, swell: you're part of the gigabytes of data made every few seconds online. If you speak one-on-one with people when they're not at work you're engaging them. When you ask them for something, you're challenging them to try to have the nerve to turn you down.
Victoria (where I live), has a disproportionate ratio of panhandlers. I've come to the sad realization that the difference between many of the entrepreneurs and many of the panhandlers is location and delivery. People who hide out in their businesses or clutch to a support beam with an open baseball cap: they don't get much business. I had one panhandlers step up and be conversational: he opened with a general question, then moved into the pitch. While the beggar in the shadows was easy to ignore, the one engaging me was much harder to dismiss out of hand. He challenged me to turn him down. Personal interaction in an unfamiliar setting (location and situation) can catch people off guard and make them open to your ideas and make it harder for them to dismiss you.
At WordCamp Victoria, I went to a great talk by David Hutchinson about building relationships to get your best content. His work involved going back to the basics of journalism: personal contact; build and maintain trust; and capitalizing on the material when its crucial.
When you are trying to build your genius idea into that first $10,000 of revenue, you may find yourself lacking. You might not hold all of the skills it takes to pull off what you're planning. The phrase, "No man is an island." is very true. You will not hold all of the skills required to be a success. You can gain all the skills you need if you develop one key skill: networking.
Rely on the skill of being social. Move into circles of people where you could make professional relationships-- mixers, conferences and the like. They are likely there for the same reason as you, so it's not like you're there under false pretenses. Go. Mingle.
Have a conversation with everyone you can. Wedge in an excuse to start talking. Ask about them and steer the questions towards what you're interested in. There are lots of good tips for how to start a conversation. This is a good place to start.
Get people interested in what you're doing by telling about the cool stuff you do. C'mon: some part has to be cool. Tell them about that part; or build up to a big finish about what you and why it's cool.
Networking can accomplish a few things:
  • Give your idea a litmus test. Maybe it's not ready to come out of the oven and some suggestions could steer your concept.
  • Get help from others (more on that coming here).
  • Promote and publicize your idea. This benefit comes with a caveat. If you have an idea: talk about the idea. If you have a product: talk about the product. If your idea for a product isn't ready, don't try to sell it. People will say "I'd like to see that." If the idea is new or seemingly nonviable / impossible, they're not showing interest. They're calling your bluff.
  • Despite the above, getting your idea out there is a way to mark your territory: you can announce what you're doing. If someone else is doing something similar, maybe there's room for collaboration. Maybe you can establish yourself as the lead horse.
  • You may get in touch with people who can supply your business or be supplied by your business.
  • Some of these events are attended by government people with programs meant to help entrepreneurs: help them spend your tax dollars-- on what you're doing.
  • Generate buzz that can filter up the tree in the direction of media, potential supporters and potential customers of your service.
When you make contact, you don't want a one-night stand. Start to build a relationship. Follow up with your contacts to chat with them about what you're doing, what they're doing and how you can collaborate or involve them in what you're doing. Networking and trust building a take-a-penny-leave-a-penny situation. You shouldn't go in with the idea that you're going to shake down your contact for all of their available resources; nor should you become someone's lackey. Expect there to be some give and take as an outcome of successive networking. I've answered questions from people I'm in contact and the reverse has happened too. If you don't have the personal bandwidth to be open to helping others to get specialty help in return, you should be conservative with putting yourself out there.