Over the past several weeks, we’ve covered how to identify your audience, keep your message consistent, and implement a digital marketing strategy. Now that you have the tools to craft your message, it’s time to start sharing it with your network of friends, peers, and colleagues! Networking is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get your business out there, but where do you start?
Tell a story, not a pitch
First and foremost, know how to talk about your business. When you think of networking, you probably think about an elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a common practice people use to come up with a description of their business. The original idea of the elevator pitch is this: Imagine you are in an elevator and in walks an investor; what will you tell them about your business to convince them to invest before they have to get off the elevator? It’s a good tool to have in your back pocket to be able to describe what your business is and who it creates value for in about 60 seconds or less. However, if you really want to make meaningful connections to grow your network, and in turn grow your business, you need to be able to tell a story with your business. Watch this TedTalk about how to flip around an elevator pitch to tell a story.
The best way to tell the story of your business is to start by listening. Listen to the person you’re speaking to or meeting with, and ask them questions about themselves, about their work; in the TedTalk, Michelle Golden says to ask the question, “What do you like about what you do?” Through this listening process, you will uncover what the person you’re speaking to cares about and what’s important to them. You can then take what you’ve heard and tailor your story about your business to what matters to them. This not only makes the story of your business more meaningful, but you’ve also begun to create a deeper connection with this person.
Be prepared to share
Before attending a networking event, or grabbing coffee with a new connection, make sure you’re prepared with business cards! In an increasingly digital world, you may think a physical paper business card is outdated, but they’re still an important asset in networking! If you’re at an event where you’re going to be meeting several people, you’re bound to forget a few names by the time you leave. You could pull out your phone and exchange information on the spot, but that will break up the natural flow of the meaningful conversation you’re engaging in. Business cards are quick and easy to hand out and begin to put your brand in front of consumers’ eyes. The connection between your conversation and the physical card you hand out will make you more memorable to the people you speak to. You can create business cards for free on design sites like Canva or Vistaprint, and most allow you to order prints straight from the platform! The cost for a couple of hundred cards is generally less than $100.
Find a network
With your business cards in hand and storytelling in mind, it’s time to attend some networking events! It can sometimes feel intimidating to go to an event where you likely don’t know anyone and just start talking to strangers about yourself. However, this is the one time you shouldn’t feel nervous about going up to someone and talking about your business! People go to networking events specifically to hear about other people’s business, and to talk about their own! You can find comfort in knowing that people at these events are eager to meet you and know what you do. Check out this list of networking events, and entrepreneur conferences/summits that are taking place across the Shenandoah Valley:
- Entrepreneurs Off the Clock, 3rd Wednesday of the month
- A pop-up networking series by SCCF. These community-led entrepreneur meetups will happen in three different locations simultaneously across the Valley. Those in the Northern Valley are encouraged to meet up at Winchester Brew Works, in Winchester. If you’re closer to the Central Valley, we invite you to come to Pale Fire Brewing Company, in Harrisonburg. Last but not least, if you live in the Southern Valley, come hang out with us at Heliotrope Brewery, in Lexington!
- The first Entrepreneurs Off the Clock pop-up is happening on August 17th, at 5:30 pm. Register for the event closest to you (or whichever one you’d like if you don’t mind driving!) here.
- Harrisonburg Tuesdays Together 2nd Tuesday of the month
- Hosted by Rising Tide, a society created to empower independent businesses through community over competition, these meetups are for small business owners and creative entrepreneurs in Harrisonburg, Staunton, and surrounding areas.
- The group meets on the second Tuesday of every month, time and location vary. Check out Harrisonburg Rising Tide Instagram or website for more information.
- Caffinate/Innovate, last Thursday of the month
- Grab a cup of coffee and head to The Perch at Magpie! Hear inspiring stories from entrepreneurs and business owners in the Harrisonburg area, before getting your work day started.
- Takes place at The Perch in Harrisonburg once a month on Thursdays. Check out their Instagram for updates.
- Women of Winchester Networking Luncheon, add how frequently these take place
- Women of Winchester is a group of female professionals and business owners in the Shenandoah Valley. They’re hosting a luncheon for networking and hearing from inspiring speakers on August 17th at 11 am.
- Register for the luncheon here.
- Rural Valley Women’s Summit
- Hosted by Network NOVA to build coalitions, promote democratic values, and empower voters, candidates, and elected officials. Tickets will give you access to a number of workshops (in person and virtual), panels, and networking!
- The event will take place from August 12th-13th in Waynesboro/Nellysford. Learn more here.
- Stakeholders Summit by RISE
- Defining, creating, and bringing together communities in Waynesboro. The summit will take place August 26th and 27th.
- Tickets are available at RISE Org.
Now that you have some fundamental marketing tools, knowing how to identify your audience, understanding how to keep your message consistent, new digital marketing skills, and how to network, you’re ready to start (or refresh) your marketing strategy. Have fun with it! Marketing is where you get to show off your business, and have more creativity and personality. Remember, start small with what you can handle, and take one step at a time. Good luck entrepreneur!