How Getting Out of My Comfort Zone, Networking, & Collaborating Has Changed My Business

Just over a year ago I felt like I was living in my own little bubble. I worked in social media management and also served as the virtual right hand babe to an Influencer from LA, it was such a unique job and I was sure no one else was doing anything like it. I mean I didn’t even know this job existed, I kind of just made it up.

I had 2 limiting beliefs. 1. People didn’t get my job or they judged me for working in social media, how millennial of me. 2. No one around me did anything similar to what I was doing.

I followed a few girls on Instagram who were virtual assistants or social media account managers but it felt like because they were in LA, or just in the states in general that they must know more than me.

I isolated myself because I didn’t think there were people in my city that I could work with.

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Networking as an Introvert

When I think of Networking I imagine a big conference room with those high tables you stand at. Wearing something that I’m at least a little bit uncomfortable in and a tacky name tag pinned to my chest. I imagine looking around, having no one to talk to, praying someone will approach me, praying even harder that we’ll get along.. Ugh. Basically my worst nightmare.

To be honest the only situations where I would consider attending a networking event were if I was going with someone I knew, orrr if I knew at least 5 other people who were going to be there, which pretty much defeats the purpose. Or I’d go if I felt like I was in a position of authority within the group ie. people would want to talk to me. Basically I didn’t want to be out of my comfort zone, so when I kept hearing how important Networking was I freaked out, shrivelled up and ignored it.

Now, I am someone who can easily make conversation. I’m not shy per-say but I would be hesitant to start a conversation with a stranger. As much as I talk on my Instagram stories, expose my life and my insecurities on social media I am, by definition an Introvert. I get my energy when I’m alone, and I come home from social situations drained. And so, networking just wasn’t a priority.

Cue Jessica Sparks.

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If you don’t know her Jessica Sparks in a bubbly little firecracker who grew up not to far from me. We met at summer camp when we were 12 but didn’t stay in touch. In June of 2018 we reconnected and even planned 2 big projects together. Jess was ALWAYS talking about collaboration.

Because our collaboration was so successful I figured, I really need to try more of this.

Networking vs. Collaboration

Let’s quickly discuss the different between Networking and Collaboration. Networking is having discussions with people, getting to know who they are and what they are up to. Collaboration, to me, is working on a project together, big or small. This can be an Instagram post, a blog post, a podcast interview or something bigger, like an event.

The biggest aha moment for me was when I realized that I could Network on a 1:1 basis. “You mean having coffee with someone counts as Networking?!”…well yeah duh. THAT I can handle. I’m trying to remember what I thought going into my first coffee date with a stranger. It was Christina Anania, the cutest Holistic Nutritionist you will ever meet. We got a coffee, sat down in the busy cafe, asked each other a ton of questions and the scheduled hour quickly turned into an hour and a half. In the year to follow we’ve had multiple photoshoot dates and even spoke on a panel together.

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Fast forward to now and I’ve had almost a dozen of these coffee or brunch dates. I think I like them because they are, for the most part, really predictable. You’ll be there for about an hour, you’ll chat, you’ll ask each other questions, the end. There’s no obligation to become best friends. You’re both adults, I think you can manage an hour of conversation. And don’t doubt yourself, dont, trust me you CAN talk for an hour!

Networking has lead to me to TONS of opportunities for panels, new clients and workshops. That’s money in my pocket because I spent a few hours of my time with a stranger.

Benefits of Networking and Collaborations

ONE. You gets a different point of view. In this freelance life it can be really hard to know what other people are doing. What are they offering? What are they charging? How do they onboard clients? What does their workflow look like? What are their favourite resources for learning or for business? A one hour conversation can set off lightbulbs for you or spark completely new ideas.

TWO. Collaborations specifically are a great way to practice quote ‘group work’. You know, like those projects I HATED in University. The ones where I’d say, okay yes I’ll do the majority of the work, just do what I tell you. Yeah, I’m Enneagram 3, shocker I know. But when you collaborate with someone in your industry who actually cares about the project it’s a whole different world, it’s fun and exciting and there are always great lessons learned along the way!

THREE. Networking and collaborating expand your network not just by 1 person but ten fold. It leads to referrals, new connections and maybe even a shoutout on social media.

How Can I Start Networking and Collaborating?

First up, share you location on Instagram. There’s nothing worse to me then when I’m looking at someone’s profile and I can’t figure out where they live. I’m like girl I want to be friends, where you at?! I’m not saying to list your house address just make sure someone can easily figure out which city you are in. Even if all your work with clients CAN be done virtually sharing your location is important to open up opportunity for collaborations and referrals.

Second, don’t feel like you have to only network with people who have the same job as you. Reach out and get together with people whose services compliment yours in order to create referral opportunities. I love networking with people who are in my industry or who offer services that are in the same realm as mine but are things that I don’t actually offer. I would always rather refer a client to someone I actually know and like versus someone that I know OF that does the work they are looking for.

Asking someone to go for coffee can maybe be a little intimidating, I mean you’re meeting a total stranger who you’ve been keeping tabs on on the internet.. But what’s the worst case scenario? They say no. In which case, no big deal.

But there is one thing I think we need to keep in mind. What value do you have to offer them? What are you bringing to the table? I get that you want to have coffee with people that you want to learn from, but remember their years of experience, education and expertise are incredibly valuable along with their time. So chances are if you want to talk to someone because you want their job and you want to ‘pick their brain’ they might; say no, ignore you, or gently explain that this what they get paid for. Having a coffee date with a peer is a lot different than asking someone as a mentor. So just keep that in mind :)

My last tip for your upcoming networking dates that I’m sure you’re already daydreaming about is to follow up after the meeting. Thank them for their time and if there were any resources you discussed sharing send those over asap. Make a note to support the people you’ve collaborated with to well, be a kind human, and stay top of mind for referrals.

Networking has been a game changer for my business in 2018 and 2019. I truly enjoy it and it is part of business strategy. The next step for me is virtual coffee dates. Seems even more weird and awkward then in real life but I know it will be beneficial. And at least if I get shut down the chances of me running into that person are slim to none.

Before I sign off I wanted to share some of the gems I’ve collaborated and networked with over the last year. These are all girls I barely knew before getting together for a coffee! Check em out, click their pic to head to their website or find their IG handles below the photos!

Cassidy of @BrainsAndBronzed a Winnipeg Life & Style Blogger

Cassidy of @BrainsAndBronzed a Winnipeg Life & Style Blogger

Rachel of @RachelSmallerPhotography - Lifestyle, Wedding and Commercial

Rachel of @RachelSmallerPhotography - Lifestyle, Wedding and Commercial

Cara of @RoseHipConsulting - Natural Products Consultant for Branding and Development

Cara of @RoseHipConsulting - Natural Products Consultant for Branding and Development

Vivian of @FreeSpiritBebe & @PebbleAndDime - a Jill of all trades

Vivian of @FreeSpiritBebe & @PebbleAndDime - a Jill of all trades

Whitney of @ModerNourishment - Wellness blog & events

Whitney of @ModerNourishment - Wellness blog & events

Gabrielle of @DesignOnHerMind - Interior design and lifestyle blog

Gabrielle of @DesignOnHerMind - Interior design and lifestyle blog

Kirsten of @BuckNakedKitchen - Simple whole foods recipes

Kirsten of @BuckNakedKitchen - Simple whole foods recipes

Aislynn of @AislynnPalmer - Winnipeg Photographer

Aislynn of @AislynnPalmer - Winnipeg Photographer

Rachel of @TableSpaceCo - CEO of a co-working space in Winnipeg

Rachel of @TableSpaceCo - CEO of a co-working space in Winnipeg

Raegen of @RaegJules - PR expert and Freelance Writer. Blogs at @whatcomesnext.co

Raegen of @RaegJules - PR expert and Freelance Writer. Blogs at @whatcomesnext.co

Christina of @EatsByTee - Registered Holistic Nutritionist specializing in Mental Health and Gut Health

Christina of @EatsByTee - Registered Holistic Nutritionist specializing in Mental Health and Gut Health

Johanna of @Johanna.Seier - Found of The Fit Girl Gang

Johanna of @Johanna.Seier - Found of The Fit Girl Gang

Jackie of @OwlsAtDawnPhotography - Winnipeg photography for local health/wellness entrepreneurs and p

Jackie of @OwlsAtDawnPhotography - Winnipeg photography for local health/wellness entrepreneurs and p

Jessica of @Jes.Sparks - Found of Original Spark - a blog telling stories of small business owners, and entrepreneurs in South West Manitoba

Jessica of @Jes.Sparks - Found of Original Spark - a blog telling stories of small business owners, and entrepreneurs in South West Manitoba

As I collected these photos I felt so PROUD of all these stunning, ambitious, powerful women. And so so lucky to now be able say, “Yeah, I know her!”.

Chat soon,

xx.

Jo