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Learn to Network Outside Your Comfort Zone

Building a community is vital for anyone in business.

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LISTEN TO ANY TOP ENTREPRENEURS or business influencers, read any business books or articles, and they will all reference the “power of networking.” It doesn’t matter what level you are at in business, if you are just starting out or a seasoned pet professional, networking and building a community around you is vital for anyone in business.

Networking is literally how I started and built my business in the pet industry. I started networking in 2002, before I was full-time in the pet industry, I was attending events that had nothing to do with my background in order to build a network of businesspeople, several of which I am still good friends with today.

Many of us got into the pet industry to work with pets and animals and not necessarily people, right? Well, as true (and funny) as that may be, you conduct business with people, so learning good networking skills and getting out there is a must. Even if you don’t like networking, here are some tips to help you get started.

Avoid the Buddy System

You should attend events alone at first — yes, alone, even if you are nervous. This will help build confidence in yourself, your business and help you talk with people you may not have otherwise.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you are nervous going to a networking event or mixer, when you get to the event, tell the host you don’t normally network, that you’re a bit nervous and ask them who they would suggest you should talk to. I usually match someone new with someone who has been coming to our events for years, to take them under their wing a bit and introduce them to other pet pros there.

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Be Genuine

You may attend networking events to try to get new clients and business, or to let people know what you do, but shoving a business card at someone you just met is not really the best approach. Be genuine in asking what their business is, what they do, what they love about their pet business and so on. Ask them for their business card and this will usually reciprocate in them asking you for your business card. Always be sincere and interested in the person you are speaking with.

Follow Up

Met someone that you had a great connection with? Follow up with an email or phone call to set up a meeting or time to chat further. Keep your followup short and to the point of why you want to meet or have an additional call. Follow up a day or two after the event and don’t be salesy or pushy. That is a complete turnoff for most people. Remember to be genuine in your followup. Also, connect with them on LinkedIn as it shows your professionalism versus just friending someone on Facebook.

The more you network and attend events, the more you will get comfortable with going, and be confident in yourself and your pet business. Attend networking events in and out of the pet industry because you never know who you may meet who could help bring your business to the next level. Happy networking!

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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