This week, we had the privilege of interviewing Ann Baron, who started Northern Colorado Community, a small business dedicated to networking. Ann’s history is impressive, and her experience is broad. Without a doubt, Ann has some valuable wisdom to share with us. She has 20 years of experience in the business world, and started Northern Colorado Community after having served as Business Development Manager at the Loveland Chamber, working as a Business Consultant for the Small Business Development Center, doing sales with the Fort Collins Downtown Business Association, serving on the board of a non-profit, and more.
Through all her positions, a passion arose for “promoting and connecting small businesses.” Already connecting businesses and meeting with business people, it was a natural progression to launch Northern Colorado Community. Ann said, “I love being a resource and organizing events where business owners can connect. Plus, I make sure my events are fun!” Her regional business networking group brings together businesses in the area with memberships for only $14/month, and offers things like Business After Hours, Business Before Hours, Lunch & Learns, and Business Expos.
I asked Ann if she could share some successful networking stories, and she told me about a person new to the area who attended one of her events and was quickly immersed in the community. She added, “I have introduced [this person] to many key decision makers and launched their business more than any other organization they have ever been involved with in over 20 years of business.”
Ann believes that communities exist to support, encourage, and inspire one another. She feels that many small businesses are run by solo entrepreneurs who are often isolated and need other business people to advise them and discuss ideas and solutions. She says, “Co-working can facilitate synchronicity and exciting outcomes for everyone. When you are by yourself, you can become “stuck” or start talking to yourself, but in a co-working environment you have others to bounce ideas off of.”
Furthermore, Ann shared some advice for small business owners and entrepreneurs, which largely had to do with personal goal setting and being intentional to set up meetings. She said, “When you are self-employed, no one is kicking your butt to get you to work or make quotas. You must set your own goals and work schedule. It is too easy to do laundry, walk the dog or let time get away from you.” She also said it’s important to just get out of your house or office to meet people. For instance, scheduling at least one meeting or networking appointment per day will help you connect with others and get your day started. She also suggested that using some type of social media is a must, and that if you don’t like it, you can hire someone to do it for you. She uses Facebook, emails, and Meet Up to get her news out.
There are, of course, challenges involved in networking, and Ann believes that the hurdles mostly depend on your personality. Extroverts tend to “vomit” and talk over everyone around them. She advises those with outgoing personalities to intentionally slow down and listen to others. Try to really get to know a few people instead of talking to everyone in the room. On the other hand, Ann knows that simply getting out to network is usually a challenge for introverts, so she suggests seeing if someone else you know is also attending the event. However, that doesn’t mean you and your friend should stick together during the entire event; rather, ask the friend to introduce you to other business people they know.
So, with those challenges in mind, how can people become better at networking? “First of all, listen and care about the other person above yourself. Many people are anxious to share all about themselves or their business, but fail to build the connection with the other person first. Listen and see if you can mutually support one another’s business,” says Ann. She also recommends just enjoying the networking event and trying to be relaxed. More specifically, she says that you should decide ahead of time how many people you want to meet and follow up with after the event. It doesn’t have to be a large number, maybe it’s just two or three, but you must follow up with them within 24 hours. Another practical piece of advice: bring a sample of your product or service to networking events if you have one, so you can show others.
Ann’s parting words of wisdom: “Be kind to yourself.” She elaborates, “You will have up and down days. Instead of thinking, you are a terrible person remember to write down what is going right in your business. I keep a “gratitude” jar where I write down what I am grateful for each day. Enjoy the steps along the way. Remember what you are passionate about and how you are serving others. Each person has wonderful gifts and skills, therefore remember you are amazing. There is only one you.”