When I started gr8nola, I had a full-time job, didn’t have any fancy equipment or professional help and was fueled by the idea that I had a delicious and healthy product others would enjoy as much as my friends and family did.
Because my half-decade journey to becoming an entrepreneur has seen a few missteps and many incredible triumphs, I get asked quite often to share my wisdom and learnings with others—particularly those starting their own businesses.
The biggest piece of advice for entrepreneurs: Network
A gr8 product can’t stand on its own—you need to combine it with an impressive network.
“Networking,” however, goes way deeper than just a cold email here or there. It’s about actively choosing to meet new people and maintaining relationships over a long period of time.
When I started gr8nola, I had no choice but to network, especially because I needed help nailing down the basics of my business. This included steps like how to sell a food product, how to find vendors and manufacturers and how to get the hang of industry regulations. Not being afraid to reach out to people I knew and didn’t know to ask for help was truly instrumental in getting gr8nola off the ground.
Even more importantly, I learned the value of networking when you don’t immediately need something, because you never know where those random connections will lead you. One person could lead you to another person who leads you to another person, and that person way down the line could be responsible for your big break and another huge opportunity.
Case in point: gr8nola’s first big client was Google, which came about because I posted about my business on Facebook. A friend from my former life in the tech industry saw my post and invited me to partake in the company’s Micro Kitchen Fair, where googlers vote on the snack brands they want in the office. I couldn’t believe it when they voted for gr8nola! Looking back on the experience now, I wasn’t necessarily looking for something specific when I posted about my company, and if I hadn’t responded to my friend’s random inquiry, there’s no telling where my business would be now. I was open to any and all forms of networking, and it paid off dividends.
Another example that comes to mind is when I did a segment on the Health Coach Institute’s Better Than Ever podcast. An HCI student happened to listen in and reached out because she was inspired by my story. With no agenda and an eagerness to connect as aspiring business owners in the health space, I responded to learn about her story. I was happy to make a friend who understood the struggles of starting a business from scratch, but I had no idea at that time she also worked for Microsoft. Eventually, that connection—built on a shared love of health and wellness—organically blossomed into another client for gr8nola.
So, what’s the best way to network? Here are three networking lessons learned that were game-changers for me and my business.
1. Start a Blog or Newsletter
My Founder’s Stories were an easy way to share updates that kept people in the loop. As an added bonus, these blog posts do well on personal social media networks and professional sites like LinkedIn.
If a blog feels like too much legwork, send periodic email updates to your network of what’s new or exciting in your professional life. Even if you don’t have immediate needs, stay on top of people’s minds by sharing posts and stories.
2. Give Yourself Goals
Set a goal to meet X number of people every month, or even do Y number of coffee meetups. Networking tends to be the first thing many of us bump off our to-do lists when we’re busy (because let’s be honest, it falls into that “important but not urgent” list of things in life). Setting a goal or number will drive you to do it, and when you can measure your quantitative network growth, you’ll be able to hold yourself more accountable.
3. Carry Business Cards (and Samples!)
This tip may sound obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people don’t follow it: Keep your brand on hand! Always have business cards with you (including social media handles!), and if you have a physical product, make sure you have samples ready to pass out since you never know who you might run into. Giving people you meet something tangible will help you stick out in their minds, and it’s way easier to connect if you don’t have to dig through your bag looking for a pen. Plus, in my line of work, no one turns down a delicious snack.
For all of my fellow entrepreneurs out there, stop the excuses and start putting networking first. After all, I don’t know where my business would be without a few chance encounters and quick follow-ups.