• Gina G. Scala

Small Business Networking: Fakes, Shoot and SCORES...

I love being my own boss but there’s a down side that a lot of office workers and others don’t see from the outside – it can be isolating. At least, that’s been my experience. Maybe it’s the nature of my business – writing, editing, etc. – that makes it so or maybe it’s because I work from home or the library most days. It’s not the same as walking into an office or storefront and having a ton of distractions, which is good – most of the time.

The solution is simple, old-school and proven: networking. Still, how often have you passed on a networking event because you just don’t have the time. You can’t see me but I am raising my hand. Month after month I received emails from my local SCORE chapter for seminars and workshops I really wanted to attend but just couldn’t find a way to put into my schedule. Finally, I found one that would work, registered and immediately blocked out the time on my calendar. And am I ever glad I did. Before I even entered the room, I connected with people.

As business professionals we already know networking isn’t a nice-to-do but a must-do; still most of us find more excuses than time to connect with people outside of our own circles. While the digital age has made it easier than ever to connect with other busy professionals I wonder if it hasn’t also made us a little lazy when it comes to networking? Why join a group that will eat more of your time when you can connect online?

Don’t get me wrong, I love networking online and sharing my knowledge (who doesn’t like giving their two cents). While the coffee might be better at my house, there’s something special (and yes sometimes scary) about moving outside your comfort zone.

SCORE Since there are so many worthwhile networking organizations in the real world, I am going to delve into them individually and periodically; no reason to overwhelm you or me with too much information. Since I am member of SCORE and have my very own mentors…well, it seems like a great place to start.

Not familiar with SCORE – no problem. It’s a non-profit organization focused on helping small business owners. Its support by the Small Business Association but its heart and soul are the more than 100,000 volunteers who willingly give their time to help new or established businesses.

I consider myself lucky because I knew of SCORE from my days as a local newspaper editor so reaching out to them was one of the first things I did. Where I failed myself and my business was not making the time to stay in touch my mentors or attend seminars/workshops – at least monthly.

The Benefits Have you ever been to a great team building event where you walked away feeling more energized about your job than you did even six months into it? Yeah, that’s what it feels like to work with a SCORE mentor. Since I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, I’ll speak for mine:

  1. No topic is off limits - Even venting brings solutions through brainstorming and the willingness of mentors to share their experience.

  2. No judgment – Whether I did something or didn’t do something (good or bad), all I get is guidance. It’s as if everything is a suggestion without the tsk, tsk, tsk that reminds me of my seventh-grade teacher.

  3. Renewed focus – You know that game squirrel dogs like to play…oh come on… the one where they are headed in one direction and then a squirrel flies by and they’re changing in that direction…well, that can sometimes be me. When I leave meetings with my SCORE mentors, I have my to-do list and I am focused but without the need to do it all in one day.

  4. Brainstorming – In the simplest and most inspiring way. Some people think their way is the only way – I am not one of those people. I may be quieter than you’d expect from a business owner and a writer but I take everything in that’s being said; I share where and when its beneficial to everyone but learning – for me – is done through listening.

Final Thought Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for yourself for as long as you can remember, check out SCORE. They have an excess of courses that are available online and in-person. I know spending time away from “actively” growing your business feels like wasted time; it’s not. You get out of life what you’re willing to put into it.