Networking . . . It CAN be fun!

By Jan Andersen, ATM-S

Networking was something I never thought I wanted to do. . .

It sounded too much like selling to me and, even though I enjoyed selling Avon, I am not a pushy person.  That was how I saw networking then.  My customers all came through people I already knew who referred me to their friends who referred me to their friends and so on.  At the time I didn’t realize I was already networking.

Words like marketing, promotion, etc. are positives, especially when you think about how you can apply them to your work.  We network all of the time; we just don’t realize how often.  The babysitter you found because your friend raved about her, the restaurant you heard about from a mom at the PTA meeting, the book you found to take on your vacation because your librarian told you it was a great read.  All of these are examples of networking.

The first time I saw networking in action happened in a bookstore in Southern California where I am from.  I’d read an ad in the store’s newsletter telling about a new group that was forming.  They were looking for folks who had their own businesses or were interested in starting them and wanted to connect with others to share information and spread the word.  I decided to check it out and that’s where I first heard the phrase, “Who do you know who…?”

When you ask someone “Do you know someone who is interested in new authors?” you are asking a closed question that makes it easy to answer with a quick “No.”By asking “Who do you know who is interested in new authors?”  you give the person time to think about who might be able to help you with what you need.  You might just get a much better response.

Think of the networking possibilities in your own life.  You have just written an essay you want to have published, a poem you think a magazine might be interested in, a short story or novel or non-fiction article you’ve worked hard to finish.  Now it is done, you’ve edited, polished and worked it over until you are satisfied it is your best work.  Who do you submit it to?  Or, you have submitted it and it has been accepted.  Now you want to make sure it is read by as many people as possible once it gets out there.  What better way to do that than networking?

This is when you think about all of the people in your life; family, friends, businesses you frequent, coworkers, clubs, church members, etc.  All of them know other people.  You can start by telling them what you have written, then ask “Who do you know who would be interested in reading my writing?”  It is likely they will be thinking of people, even before you ask them that question.

Now you follow up by asking them to share your great news with their friends, families, coworkers, etc. You can also ask them to help you out by purchasing the magazine or book in which your writing is published.  If your work is published online, perhaps they can provide a review to encourage other readers.

If you have written a novel, the more people who know about it, the more sales come your way.  You put the information out there and ask the question, “Who do you know who….?”   This is how networking works and how it can help you.

You may say, “That’s great, but I don’t know very many people.”  Let me go back to my days with Avon for a minute.  When I started selling, I didn’t know enough people to make my business a full-time venture, which was my goal.  Some people knock on doors; that’s not my style.  I love meeting people, but I hate being pressured into buying anything so I started with a few friends I felt comfortable approaching.

After I gained a bit of confidence, I took some books to my Toastmasters meeting.  From there I began to think about the people I saw daily, weekly, monthly and offered books to them.  I didn’t push and little by little my business grew.  Then that “word of mouth” phenomenon kicked in and I started getting calls from people who were friends of friends of friends.

Another thing to consider is the way you communicate.  Is it easier for you to talk with people in person?  Send an e-mail or letter?  Call or text?  Use Facebook?  Twitter?  Start with whatever style is most comfortable for you and go from there.  I joined Toastmasters because while I was setting up my Avon business I was also presenting a series of my own workshops and I wanted to feel more at ease speaking to groups.  Both of these also proved to be good resources for my business.

Think about what form of communication you feel most comfortable with and begin there.  Consider clubs such as Toastmasters, Soroptomist, etc., especially if the idea of actually talking to folks in person about your writing sounds too scary.

Who is in your address book?  What clubs, church groups, social and/or community organizations are you involved with?  Make a list of everyone you can think of with whom you come in contact; bank, post office, supermarket, doctor’s office, those are just a few.  All of these are potential customers, readers for your writing.  If you keep track of who you have contacted, you can let them know, with a friendly note, when your next project is ready for publication.  Remember too, a warm “Thank you!” goes a long way.

Also recognize that once you have something out there for others to read, they will know you and it will be easier to contact your audience the next time you publish your work.

Do you have a website?  A blog?  These offer a huge opportunity to network even more quickly and efficiently.  If you don’t have either of those, not to worry.  I know several people who (gasp!) don’t have computers and they function just fine.  We tend to think everyone is technologically savvy and have the latest gadgets, but many of us – myself included – are not.

Sometimes you can also find a local networking group for small businesses.  If you are serious about becoming published, consider visiting a meeting and taking note of who is there and what their needs are.  Can you offer them help in any way?  Copywriting?  Proofreading?  Graphics?  Are you computer savvy and can offer assistance to someone who needs help with their computer?  Consider bartering services.  In payment for your help, the business person can help get your name and what you do out to as many people as they know.  This equals more contacts for you.

Writer’s groups are often a great way to meet and connect with other writers.  If you are a beginning writer and need suggestions, a good writer’s group can be invaluable.  If you are more experienced, a writer’s group can be a good source of feedback for your work.  An important thing to look for in a writer’s group is one that has a good general structure with people who are supportive of each other.  Balance is key; you want support and encouragement, balanced with honest feedback and suggestions.

Finally, SDAA is a perfect example of networking!  We are a new organization aimed at writers of all levels of experience.  Here you have an opportunity to connect with other writers, join or start a writer’s group in your area and find useful tools to help you get your words out in the world to be read.  Isn’t that the hope of all writers – to be heard, read and respected?  Now, let’s get out there and start networking!

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