There’s no underplaying the importance of networking to entrepreneurs — especially entrepreneurs who are just beginning their venture. The good thing about networking is that you already know how to do it — you’ve been talking and building relationships your entire life! Sure, business networking may be a little more complicated than that, but when it comes down to it, we’ve been networking since we could talk!
Networking is the act of forming connections with others in your community to exchange some type of information, action, or mutually beneficial relationship. To put it in cooking terms, networking is like the baking soda that allows your food to rise. Without it, your food (i.e. your business) will remain flat. Baking soda allows your food to develop in taste, appearance, and aroma, tempting new customers to try your product — just like networking.
Building a Food Business is a Long Journey
Your business is on a journey and the people you meet along the way are not strangers — they’re colleagues that can lift you up and expand your opportunities. You never know who you’re going to meet, which is why being professional and self-promotional about your business is so important. Rachel Smith, owner of Cakes by Rach in Utah, knows quite a bit about networking and attributes her business success to her networking skills. She’s even reached a point in her business where the majority of her business is sourced through networking relationships and word of mouth!
Rachel shared ways that you can master the basics of networking with three tactics: developing your confidence, identifying your target market, and seeing CEOs as friends.
Developing Confidence As a Food Business Owner
If you’re struggling with confidence, you’re not alone! Many entrepreneurs face a phenomenon called imposter syndrome — the idea that you don’t deserve what you’ve accomplished, or that you’re not supposed to be where you are. Imposter syndrome often causes low self-confidence and the inability to believe in yourself, your skills, or the results of your hard work. In order to build confidence, Rachel explains that entrepreneurs need to conquer imposter syndrome and reestablish their worth. A great way to do this is by practicing self-affirming exercises. Remember who you are and how amazing you are. Why do you deserve a seat at the table? What do you have to offer to the world? Identify who you are, who you want to become, and what your goals are. This is made even easier when you’ve got a solid brand foundation under your business.
Don’t let the fear of failing prevent you from dreaming big. Set your goals high so you always have something to chase and work towards. Let go of the imposter syndrome that’s holding you back and stopping you from being the entrepreneur you truly are. You are your business’s biggest spokesperson — no one is going to support or value your brand as much as you do!
Early in her business, Rachel struggled with confidence and imposter syndrome, but she began building her confidence at local events. She challenged herself to step out from behind the table she was working at and networked with attendees. After the event, she had a ton of people reach out to her because they remembered talking to her and wanted to be a part of her journey. Your business doesn’t speak for itself — you must find the confidence to speak up for your business and show why you belong at the table.
Finding Your Ideal Customer Is Key
You’ve probably been told that you need to “find your target market” many times, but what does that even mean?
A target market is extremely important in marketing because it identifies exactly who your product or service is aimed towards. Establishing your ideal customer saves you time, money, and the hassle of going after the wrong customers.
To identify your target market, think of who you want to consume your product. Is it local families at a farmers market? Kids at a birthday party? High-end wedding venue managers? You get to decide who's a good fit for your product and where you want to be.
Another exercise to use to find your ideal target market is thinking about your passions. Look at your life and who you’re surrounded by. In Rachel’s case, she realized that she always loved the finer things in life, like high tea, getting dressed up, or just making everyday life fancy. When she was choosing her target market, she knew she wanted to cater to the high-end wedding venues in her area. She revised her marketing strategy and branding to show she belonged at these places. Marketing and networking with the right people comes down to finding your niche (the smaller and more specific the better) and getting yourself into the places where those people hang out.
See Your CEOs As Friends
The CEO title might be intimidating. After all, CEOs are the ones in charge, making the big decisions that can ultimately affect your business. But let’s remember that you’re the CEO of your business too!
You are just as important as they are. Look at the CEOs you interact with in your business — wedding venue managers, grocery store owners, local boutique owners, or any other authoritative figure — as your partners. Being open and creating a relationship with them will help build a friendship, and after all, friends help friends!
To get you started, Rachel shared some tips to help you befriend the CEOs that you interact with as a business owner:
- It's more than a sale: Business is more than a sale, it's about creating and forming relationships.
- Compliment their business: Just like you, they’ve worked so hard and are passionate about their line of work (it’ll also work in your favor!).
- Connect as friends: Find a commonality or interest in their life and talk about more than just business.
- Be open: As an entrepreneur, you’ve had your share of struggles. Be open about them and your journey. You never know what’s going to resonate with them!
- Be part of each other’s team: Help and support them and they’ll show it back to you.
- Build them up: Give them their space to shine and show them how you will help make them shine.
- Treat them with respect: They’re hiring you, but you both deserve respect. It’s a mutual benefit so treat it as such and always be kind and professional.
Make a Business Networking Plan
So now we’ve established the mechanisms behind networking and some tricks to get you in action, but where are you going to start?
It’s time to make a plan! Who are you going to connect with? Start by identifying the people you want to connect with. Google is a great place to begin! Come up with four or five names you want to add to your network and just go for it.
Every relationship starts with a simple hello — introduce yourself and explain why you’re reaching out. Remember your confidence and why you belong there. Offer to give them samples and show off your portfolio. Speak up for your business — it’s not going to speak for itself!
Rachel even interviewed some of the top wedding venues in her area to get the venue’s perspective on what they look for in potential business partnerships.
Q: What makes a baker stand out to you?
A: They take the time to practice and educate themselves. Also, they’re very personable and take care of the client as well as we do.
Q: What are the things you look for when booking a vendor?
A: Their food is beautiful, both in looks and aroma. They have a professional website showcasing a variety of styles, looks, flavors, and skills
Q: What makes you want to partner up with a vendor and want to recommend them to your clients?
A: Hearing back from clients that the vendor met or exceeded their expectations - word of mouth is super important! And they’re reliable, taking care of their clients.
Q: What makes a good vendor in your eyes?
A: Loves what they do - they’re kind and engage with their clients. Also promoting their business and being confident in their work stands!
Q: What do you not like that some vendors do?
A: Ask how to get on their preferred vendor list - not a good pickup line! It’s more about building connections than making the sale. Be transparent about why you’re there but we want to get to know you, not just your business.
Q: How can a baking vendor benefit your business?
A: We love social media - connect on Instagram and be engaging, commenting, and sharing our posts - it’s a great way for us both to grow our following!
Q: Any overall advice?
A: Don’t be afraid to reach out but be patient, we’re working too. Provide your social media so we can see your work and better yet drop off some samples! We’d love to try them!
Networking isn’t the easiest skill to master, but the payoffs from having a strong network are worth the effort! Remember to find your confidence, identify your target audience and befriend those CEOs (they’re people, too!).
Learn more about building your web of connections in Rachel’s full Camp Castiron session: