As I looked around the room, I realized that I knew everyone there. And that a year ago, I knew none of them.
About three years ago I left the security of a corporate job for the gig life – the no sales, no money, 100% commission existence of a travel consultant – and purchased a Dream Vacations travel agency franchise. As an introvert, I embraced the prospect of working from home; I’d let all my friends and family know what I was doing via email and Facebook, and I would take care of their vacation travel needs. I would also have freedom of movement to help parents and other family members who might need me.
It was a perfect plan.
And it worked! My friends and family were FANTASTIC! Loyal bookers, repeat clients and strong referrers. And I appreciate every one of them! At first it was plenty, since even the simplest booking took some time to research. Although I have years of corporate travel and event planning, there was still a lot to learn about leisure travel. However, as I became more proficient, I had extra time and ability but no extra clients! I’ve always had a small but close circle of friends, but I needed to move outside of that.
I needed to meet more people to expand my network and grow my client base.
However, as an introvert, I’m uncomfortable with small talk and never know what to say, and I’m reluctant to just walk up to a group of people and try to start a conversation. So I stalled, always with an excuse for not attending this or that networking event.
Then late last summer my husband left his job to join me in our business. Now we had a monthly income goal we needed to meet, and what I was doing before wouldn’t cut it. Since the last quarter of the year is a quiet time for travel professionals, I made a plan to focus totally on networking. I was already a member of a local Masterminds of Biz (MOB) chapter, but since they met at the same time as Springdale Chamber’s Morning Brew, I decided to leave that MOB group and start a new one.
I added the weekly meetings to my calendar, along with every MOB chapter’s meeting, Morning Brew, Creative Referral Network, Central Referral Connection – and any other networking event I could find. We made sure we each hit about five networking events each week – sometimes together, often separately. We also had one-on-one meetings with many of the people we met, learning about them and their businesses.
As our sphere of influence increased, we gained so much more than sales and referrals.
First, I realized there was something more important to me than increasing my own business – learning how I could help others increase THEIR business. Years ago I took a Strengthsfinder exam and it told me I am a “Connector.” I know it’s true because my brain is always putting people and projects together. I get great fulfillment from seeing two people I introduced teaming up and succeeding.
The biggest benefit of networking, however, is the people in that room. As I looked around I realized something even more important. Not only did I know so many more people, some of these former strangers I now call friends.
Debby has an Organizational Management degree from John Brown University and over 20 years’ experience with corporate travel and event planning. A native of California, she moved to Northwest Arkansas when she was ten, where she met and fell in love with her high school sweetheart Monroe. Shortly after graduation they married and left for 20 years of Navy life, along with their daughter Miranda, returning in 2001 when Monroe retired. After 13 years in various roles at Central States Manufacturing, Debby decided to retire early to pursue and share her passion for travel with Northwest Arkansas. Her favorite destinations are Alaska, Hawaii, Aruba … and wherever she is currently traveling.