Before COVID, I was an in-person networking machine. Hard to believe since I could be the poster child for social anxiety, but it is true.
Once lockdowns were in place during the height of COVID, the last thing I wanted to do was participate in virtual networking events.
Even now, I still avoid them for a number of reasons:
- As mentioned above, I am an introvert with social anxiety (not be confused with social anxiety disorder). I’m already having to get myself out the door with a metaphorical cattle prod to do in-person events, I’m not subjecting myself to socializing with strangers in the privacy of my own home!
- As a Tech Manager, I spend all day at my desk, why on earth would I want do it and trap myself in an unpaid meeting where I am either muted the entire time, waiting my turn to talk, or trying not to talk over someone else?
- When having an in-person conversation, you can read social cues a lot easier as well as escape an awkward situation versus trying to find a polite way to end a Zoom call (and like “I’m going into a tunnel” – using “Oops, my internet lost connection” can only work so many times).
- In-person connections are easier for the conversationally challenged! You can use things within your environment to help extend the conversation if you run out of topics, pull someone else into the conversation, or as mentioned in point #3, use your environment to end the conversation when it has been exhausted.
In-person networking provides the opportunity to not only meet and collaborate with likeminded people in my area, but also extend the possibility of friendship to those who would understand my plight as an entrepreneur.
Not sure what I mean?
Have you ever had a conversation with a spouse, significant other, sibling, or good friend about owning your own business and what all of that entails? For those of you who have, how long does it take before the person on the receiving end gets that glazed over look in their eyes?
I get it and it is understandable – working for someone and working for yourself are two different beasts. Having lived both lives, I would have never guessed just HOW MUCH goes into being an entrepreneur. How can I possibly expect others to comprehend something I myself didn’t get until I took on the role.
Enter the need for entrepreneur friends and why I mentioned networking above.
When I attend a networking event of fellow entrepreneurs, it is like being surrounded by kindred spirits – especially if you are in the same niche.
The struggles, the frustrations, the commitment, the sacrifice – they get it and not only do they get it, they are actually invested in the conversation, sharing their own trials and tribulations, hilarious stories, and realizations!
With entrepreneur friends, mentioning that you are spending all weekend working in your business doesn’t conjure a gasp of sheer disbelief.
In fact, it isn’t even a surprise! If anything you get a nod of understanding, a reminder to take a break and make time for yourself with a quiet air of “we get it – you do what you got to do!”
Need another reason?
Fellow entrepreneurs are a wealthy stream of ideas, referrals, and inspiration.
I meet a good friend of mine who is also an entrepreneur once a month for breakfast. Not only do we spend this time sharing, comparing, and venting – we also bounce ideas off each other and the input provided is priceless.
Who else, but a fellow entrepreneur, would have insight on marketing, freelancer recommendations, software recommendations, and other elements they use to help their business.
Sure, I can call up my best friends (one works as financial forecaster and the other is in biopharmaceuticals) and ask them which CRM they prefer or if they have a copywriter they would recommend. Once the dead silence is finally broken and the response is either laughter or just simply “Why would you ask me that?” or “How would I know?” (said with love, of course), I will quickly be reminded why having an entrepreneur friend is a must.
So where can you make these amazing new friends?
Honestly, it depends on your area. I can only speak for Massachusetts and even that is limited to north of Boston.
If you are in the Massachusetts area – I would recommend checking out the Women’s Business League, Boston Business Women, Polka Dots Powerhouse, or your local BNI chapter.
With the exception of BBW, most of these organizations are nationwide.
Another option for your local area is Meetup.
Before the pandemic, I found a wonderful entrepreneur lunch group in New Hampshire by using the key words “women entrepreneurs” in their search. It didn’t survive COVID but new groups are popping up every day (or you could start your own!)
If you are still having trouble finding groups, here are a few more websites to check out (some are also available as apps on your smartphone):
Does this mean you should only have entrepreneur friends?
No! In fact, it probably isn’t healthy if you did. You are all cut from the same cloth which means, while you may all possess incredible and admirable work ethics, you more than likely have similar bad work habits and will only be enablers for one another (yes I am projecting as I can only speak from experience and that is exactly what we do).
Having a healthy blend of entrepreneur and non-entrepreneur friends provides a much needed balance in a world where you can easily get loss and not know which way is up.
Image attribution: Image Property of BNI – bni-fh.com
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash