Last year, I was invited to speak at a Girlboss conference. This was a huge deal for me. I’d been a fan for years and never thought I’d ever be tapped for a speaking opportunity. When I received a request to speak on a panel at the conference, it felt random to me. It turns out that I had been referred to them by the co-worker of an old employee of mine, who I’d met once. If I never hired that developer, and kept up with her over the years, I would have never gotten that opportunity.
At some point in everyone’s life, a network will come in handy. Whether you need a job, clients, advice or funding for your next venture, a network can propel you to the next level. The problem is, you’ll never know who, why or when. Sometimes it feels like luck but from my experience, it's mostly as a result of your network.
Here’s the problem, I’m a huge introvert. I enjoy my space, working in silos and suck at networking at events. My network has come through for me many times, but never when I want, need, or expect it to. When I first met that developer, I was meeting her for a reason. I wanted her to work for me. I could not have predicted that she would have created an opportunity for me later. Therein lies where I personally go wrong with my approach to networking; I only ever want to meet people when I need something now - a mistake I still make.
A network is like a plant. First, you have to plant the seed, then you have to tend to it - feed it, water it, spend time with it - and over time, it will grow. You can’t force it to be fully grown so you can pluck the flowers, juicy fruits or vegetables when you want it. You have to wait for it to be ripe and ready for the picking. And this has been the hardest lesson to learn.
Building a network is not just having people to call when you need something, it’s also having people who know what you’re capable of - and that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. One of those ways was getting tapped for a conference without ever needing to ask. Another has been having people who believe in me enough that they’re willing to invest financially in something I'm building. That has been the case for my latest venture, You & Sundry: the first social parlor for the LGBTQ+ community.
When I first started the fundraising journey for You & Sundry, I felt the pains of what not having a network of other founders or investors felt like. Almost every investor says a warm intro is the best way but I had none. If I had spent the first few months building rapport with this particular community and those close to it, I might have had different results. The problem was that I couldn't see the importance of carving out time just to meet people, without having an ask. This was not only important, but in this particular case, it was a lesson in patience.
After 4 months of cold emails, pitch meetings and never raising a dime, I realized that in order to raise money, I had to either build a new network or tap into my existing one. So I decided to start tapping into my own by running an investment crowdfunding campaign on Wefunder - a platform that allows anyone to be an angel investor with as little as $100.
In the first week we raised over $20,000 - and that was not by accident. It was the result of the network I’d built over the years as a designer and developer. These people were not investors in the traditional sense, they were just individuals that already knew me, my work and what I was capable of. This was the moment I truly understood the importance and power of building a network - before you need it.
But how? Start by meeting people before you “need” them. Attend events related to who you are, what you do or what you want to do. If you’re an introvert, learn how to navigate these spaces in a way that’s comfortable. Because sometimes, getting what you want is about who you know and how much they know you.