Build a network to build your business

Freelance commercial copywriter Dalton Griner moved to Western North Carolina more than two years ago, figuring he’d settle in “these amazing mountains” to inspire and energize his writing. Flush with contract work from a handful of small national firms, Griner envisioned an idyllic life spent working at his computer at night while spending his days exploring the natural wonders surrounding his new home outside Cashiers.

He didn’t stay long.

His contracts eventually dried up for various reasons beyond his control, and new gigs proved scarce—especially the kind that had given him an annual income averaging around $70,000 in good years. Never having had to truly market himself or build a local network of clients, Griner felt lost. Suddenly his mountain home seemed a million miles away from the world that had provided his sustenance. Panic set in.

“So I left—poof, just like that,” he recalled by phone from the Washington, D.C., metro area. “I had to get back where I knew I could find work that I wanted and that paid well,” he added, having escaped from that area when he moved down here, after living there since 1989. “Truthfully, I had usually always gotten by on luck and good timing. A gig with one client usually would lead to another without me having to do too much. Back in North Carolina I was just coasting, and when things went sour I had nobody really to fall back on. And locally, [WNC] just doesn’t have enough corporate clients. Cold-calling in Atlanta and Charlotte didn’t pan out, because I had no network there and both areas are highly competitive for independents like me. I had some contacts in other cities, of course, but I never really had to cultivate them. So aside from them putting in a good word, there really was no good reason for them to really fight for me. The few offers I got required me to relocate to places I just didn’t want to be.”

The lesson: Whether you’re a freelancer, an entrepreneur or a small-business owner, your level of success will always be highly dependent on the network you build, he maintains.

“I spend about three-quarters of my time now on personal marketing,” says Griner, who’s now at work on two decent-paying contracts. “The main thing I’ve learned is to get my name out there wherever I can and build mutually beneficial relationships with people in my field and just generally in the corporate world. I’ve started to join a bunch of groups and organizations to help get recognized. And even though my girlfriend laughs at me, I’m now the proud owner of a sleeve of nifty business cards. I never had them before … believe it or not. Now I never leave home without them, even if I’m just going to the grocery store or something. My next step is to try and start building an online presence for myself. I’ve been old-school, and lazy, long enough.”

What Griner didn’t know when he was here is that there are actually quite a few ways for newbies and others to build a local network. Plus, there’s been an explosion of online networking sites that can give your personal marketing efforts a national reach. In addition to MySpace and Facebook, specific business sites include such dotcoms as Ryze, Biznik, LinkedIn and Fastpitch Networking.

BIZ BRIEFS

Don’t have an office? You do now: If you’re self-employed, sometimes a home office just doesn’t cut it—lack of space, lackluster technology and lack of office support can hamstring your business. Not to mention that when you have to woo a client, the kitchen table may not be the best meeting space.

Enter Asheville Executive Suites, which is taking applications for an array of executive suites and virtual offices now being readied at its 37 Haywood St. location.

No word yet on pricing or an opening date, but Director of Operations Diana Spitzer says AES will offer fully furnished office and conference spaces and related services, including state-of-the-art communications, high-level administrative support, and other office staples such as printers, copiers, faxes, scanners and postage equipment.

Users can also have personalized phone reception, secretarial services and a professional mailing address. For more information, contact Spitzer at (828) 389-2800.

Marking a golden milestone: The family-owned, independent Insurance Service of Asheville, founded by the late Jim Stickney in June 1958, is celebrating 50 years in business. The agency is now owned and managed by three of his children: James W. Stickney IV (president), Samuel M. Stickney (senior vice president) and Mary Alice S. Arthur (vice president of administration).

Stickney Sr., who was born in Cuba and emigrated to Asheville with his parents as a small child, launched the operation in the basement of the old Battery Park Hotel with nary a nickel to his name and no inheritance to be had from a family devastated by the Great Depression.

The agency, now one of the largest and oldest in Asheville, employs 20 with three divisions working out of its downtown headquarters at 480 Executive Park.

But to help build a face-to-face network, here’s a taste of what’s around locally:

Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce: Perhaps the granddaddy of all networking opportunities, the Chamber hosts weekly events for members through its Business Before Hours and Business After Hours programs. Information: www.ashevillechamber.org.
Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council: BREC creates and runs multiple networking and mentoring events year round so members can share ideas and contacts. Speakers at these monthly events have included Matthew Szulik, CEO of Red Hat Software; Tom Fisher, vice president of information technology at Qualcomm and former vice president of technology for both eBay and Gateway; and Kathy White, president of Rural Sourcing Inc. and former CIO of Cardinal Health Inc. BREC also hosts networking events such as Speed Dating for Business, Improve Your Elevator Speech and Demystifying Web Marketing. Information: www.brecnc.com.
Fletcher Area Business Association: Holds networking events throughout the year, and your business doesn’t even have to be in Fletcher in order to join. “The only requirement is to have fun!” according to the group’s Web site. Information: www.fletcherbusiness.org.
West Asheville Business Association: You do have to be a West Asheville-based business to join this group. Events alternate between social gatherings, networking dinners and informational programs throughout the year. Information: www.west-asheville.com.
The Young Professionals of Asheville: The group says it helps members by providing opportunities for business networking, personal growth, leadership development and social interaction. They help the Asheville community by volunteering their time for various projects. YPA members are involved with the ABCCM Men’s Shelter and assorted other civic organizations on a regular basis and have many social functions throughout the year. Meetings and activities are usually held at least twice a month. Information: www.ypasheville.org.

Asheville Freelance Network: AFN is an informal group of creative, independent professionals in writing, design, photography and related fields. The group’s mission is to provide support and networking opportunities for its members and to promote their services through the Web site. More than 30 writers, editors, photographers, designers and other independent professionals from Buncombe and nearby counties get together on a quarterly basis for informal networking and socializing. Information: main.nc.us/afn/home.htm.

Business Network International of Carolina: BNI has chapters all over the world, including Asheville. The organization is built upon creating business referrals and has numerous events throughout the year. The only caveat: Each chapter takes only one person per professional specialty, to increase the amount of referrals that person gets. If your specific niche is already represented, you’ll have to find another chapter, or create your own using BNI’s system. Information: www.bniconnection.com/index.php?region_id=2.

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Build a network to build your business

  1. Dan McComb

    Great summary of what’s available, Hal.

    For anyone who’s never heard of Biznik, here’s the scoop from the co-founder (full disclosure: that’s me): Unlike LinkedIn, Biznik isn’t a tool for job seekers to manage contacts. It’s a community where business owners can build relationships. And it’s the place where conversations about entrepreneurship are happening. Check it out: http://biznik.com.

  2. brebro

    Great article! I now understand that if I want to make $70,000/year free-lancing, it will be necessary to move away from here to do so, thanks!

  3. MissEmmaLee

    “Griner envisioned an idyllic life spent working at his computer at night while spending his days exploring the natural wonders surrounding his new home outside Cashiers.”

    you gotta be kidding me…

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