One of the most common questions I get when someone finds out that I've been self-employed for 12 years is, “How do you get new business?” Before I answer that, let's see if we can agree on a couple of things...
First of all, the US economy (GNP) in 2003 was somewhere in the ballpark of $7 Trillion ($7,000,000,000,000). That's a LOT of money! Yet I hear so many people whine that "we're in a recession (or a depression)", "there's no jobs", "no companies are spending any money". Now listen carefully, because I'm only going to say this once... BULL! There's plenty of money out there, businesses are spending it, and there is work to be done. What's lacking in this country is some creativity in getting in front of it. Get serious. If there was a company out there willing to pay your desired rate to do work for them, you wouldn't care if everyone else was doing layoffs, because the only economy you need to worry about is your own family's one. Likewise if everyone else were hiring and you got fired, you wouldn't just sit around cheering your neighbors for being productive and keeping “the economy” running. You'd get out there and find some income for you and your family. The only question is, are you hungry enough to discipline yourself to do what needs to be done?
So here's how I find work: I LOOK for it. I check the newspaper want-ads. I check online job listings. I contact people I know. And most important, I make new contacts. How? By getting out of my house/office and meeting new people. For example, last week was Microsoft DevDays right here in Seattle. What a great opportunity to meet people! This event was held all around the country. I hope that if there was one near you, you went. And there are still a couple more yet to be held. I went with the intent to learn something new, and to meet new people. I was fortunate that I did not know anyone at the event before I went, so I didn't have any friends to hang out with and hide. I had to either be a loner, all the while beating myself up for not getting any new contacts, or I had to meet some people.
There are a couple of secrets to business networking, and I'll share them with you here. The biggest secret is to not keep yourself a secret. Remember, most of the people there are surrounded by strangers, so be friendly, put a smile on your face, reach your hand out and say, “HI”. You'd be surprised how many people will say HI back and you can start a conversation. I like to ask people questions that they already know the answer to like, “What's your name?”, and “Where do you work?”. After they tell me where they work, what do you think 99% of the people then say to me? They ask me where I work. So I tell them I'm self-employed, and the name of my company is Infoneering. If the conversation goes a little farther and they seem like a nice person I might want to work with in the future I'll ask if they have a card and give them one of mine. (You do have business cards, don't you?)
Here's another secret: Come Early and Stay Late. The final session for DevDays wrapped up almost exactly at 5:00. Of the approximately 600 people in attendance, I'd say about 599 of them made a dash for their cars. Are you kidding me?! 5:00PM, downtown Seattle, do you have any idea how bad traffic will be? Why rush out there just to wait in it? Stick around and maybe you'll meet someone new, or at least a more relaxed trip home. I did. I saw Doug Seven who had been presenting most of the day in the track I took. I asked him if he had a couple of minutes to chat and he did, so I asked him questions about what his experiences were like as a speaker and an author. As we were talking, Jim Blizzard from Microsoft came by to discuss post-conference activities with Doug, and invited me to come along. So I did. And in the process got to talk with all of the speakers from DevDays and get to know them better, including Paul Murphy, another Microsoft evangelist. Were any offers made or contracts signed? No, of course not. That's not what this was all about. I had a good time, made some new friends, and who knows, maybe down the road we'll do business together.
And here's one final secret: You can meet people anywhere. A month ago I was taking a First Aid course and chatting with the guy next to me who I got partnered up with for the exercises. At the end of the course we're talking a little more and I find out that he's a key person with a huge IT and management consulting firm that is also a global alliance partner of Microsoft's. We chatted for a few more minutes, exchanged cards with the intent to meet over coffee and get to know each other and our businesses better. Maybe it'll lead somewhere, maybe it won't. But it certainly would not if I had just kept to myself and wouldn't say HI. Everywhere you go, you might meet someone. Just remember to smile once in a while.