For many “Corporatepreneurs”, aka side hustlers, aka 9-to-5ers working on the side to create their own businesses, it can be challenging to build a business network when you spend upwards of eight hours in a cubicle or office. How do you manage to make connections to grow your business when you’re working all day? Not to mention that there are only so many after-hours, or lunch networking events, that you can attend without burning yourself out in the process.
But what if, instead of struggling to develop your business network on the outside, you actually used the one you already have. What if you tapped into your current professional network instead?
“I was afraid of using my connections at work to build my business”, a friend of mine confided in me when we were chatting one day.
Like my friend, many entrepreneurs/side hustlers forego tapping into the great networking resources they have right at their fingertips. Instead, they decide to start from scratch in a brand new industry and environment, with limited time and resources. The main reason is the fear of others knowing what we do on the side, or that it may backfire on our regular careers. However, considering the sheer number of people who have a business or job on the side, and the fact that some companies even recommend it, the fear is no longer justified. If anything, it’s actually counter-intuitive nowadays.
Here are a few ways you can use the professional network you have now to build your business:
Use your casual contacts network
The Senior Accountant you casually chat with at the cafeteria about your week-end plans and the last Nordstrom shoe sale? If the conversation lends itself to it, why not mention your side gig? You may have the answer to a question s/he has, or be able to help in some way. As a general rule, always assess if the relationship is prone to such a discussion, and approach the conversation from a practical, helpful angle rather than a sales pitch.
Leverage your professional associations
Are you part of one or many professional associations or networks? Since you already have to attend meetings and events, as well as socialize with contacts you already have developed a relationship with, why not leverage them to build your own business network? One key to this is to realize that your side activities are also part of what defines you as a person. Even better, they constitute an asset, and show your innovative and creative talents. All things that make you even more of a valuable part of any professional association or group.
So when networking in these groups, don’t be afraid to present yourself as a whole, including your daytime job AND your side gig. Again, be cognizant of the timing and context you may find yourself in. But otherwise, don’t hesitate to introduce your business, ask for feedback, and grow your network this way.
Tap into your social and business groups
You know that jewelry party your co-worker invited you to last month? Or the Health and Wellness event your manager dragged you to last week, and had you try five different forms of detox potions? Your social and business groups are all opportunities to expand your own business network as well. After all, many of these groups start right in your workplace. So why not tap into them as well for your own business?
Whenever appropriate, pass out business cards and invite people to your own events. Supporting other social and business groups acquired through work is a powerful way to also get them to return the favor and support your own side pursuits as well.
Don’t forget the power of online networking
Linked In is a powerful tool to make professional connections. You may have used it to build an influential and quite large network of people who may have or will play a role in your career. As you’re building your business on the side, consider also tapping this network as a source of referral, advice and even business opportunities.
Here too, you may have to use some common sense and gut instinct to assess the proper timing and context for such conversations. However, don’t pass up the opportunity to share your business with contacts that may be instrumental for you. A good way to start would be to ask for feedback and ideas, as well as tactfully offer some help to your contacts.
Are you using your current professional network to build your business? If not, what’s preventing you from doing so?
Bio: Solange Lopes is an author, blogger and CPA. She writes about career and lifestyle topics for women at work in her blog The Corporate Sister (www.thecorporatesister.com). She’s also the author of Girl, Take Back Your Career: 7 Steps to Reclaiming Your Work.