I work from home, and I’ve learned the hard way that remote life isn’t exactly ripe with opportunities to network and make connections. And for someone like me—who leans heavily toward the extroverted side of the spectrum and craves human interaction—that can be a real challenge.
Don’t get me wrong—I love, love, love what I do and business has been going extremely well. But lately, I’ve been feeling kind of blah; unmotivated and a little bit antsy. And I know a lot of that has to do with the fact that on most days, between the hours of 8 AM and 6 PM, the only conversations I have are with my dog (and while he is certainly the most adorable and wonderful creature on the planet, even I have to admit conversation isn’t one of his strong suits).
So I got to thinking: What if I channeled the restlessness I’ve been feeling into really putting myself out there and creating networking opportunities for myself? What if I made building my network more than just a vague goal hanging out in the back of my mind? What kind of connections would I make? How would my business—and, more importantly, the way I feel about my business—change?
And that, my friends, is how the idea for a networking challenge was born.
The 30-Day Networking Challenge
I’m a “go big or go home” kind of person, so once I got the idea, I decided to go all in and push forward with a 30-day networking challenge. The rules? Every day for a month—that’s 30 straight days—I would try to make at least one new business connection. And when I say business connection, I mean meaningful business connection; sending a random email and crossing my fingers wasn’t going to cut it.
In order to count toward my goal, the connection would either need to a) happen in person or, if that wasn’t geographically possible, b) include a meaningful phone or email exchange.
Now, in order to even come close to hitting my goal, I knew I was going to have to attack this challenge from every angle. Here are a few of the strategies I used to drum up a high volume of potential new connections:
- I tapped into my existing network for referrals. One of the easiest ways to meet new people is getting introduced by people you already know—which is why I immediately put out the word that I was looking for new connections. I reached out to a ton of people in my existing network to see if they had any referrals—for potential clients, other writers or creatives, or just anyone who might be interesting (and mutually advantageous) to meet.
- I scoured the internet in search of networking events. I’m new-ish to the Portland (Oregon) area, so one of my main goals of this challenge was to establish a broader network within my own city. So in order to extend my reach, I searched for any networking events that could plug me into the business scene here.
- I pitched big. I also made a commitment to pitch companies that I’ve been dying to work with—even if the thought of pitching was seriously scary.
- I attended my first industry conference. This 30-day challenge just so happened to coincide with the Association of Writers and Writing Program’s 2019 Conference—my first large-scale industry event (and an awesome opportunity to network with other writers).
Spoiler alert: I didn’t make 30 new business connections in 30 days. Not even close, actually. As it turns out, connecting with a new person every single day for a month straight is pretty darn near impossible (as it turns out, most people aren’t about networking on a Sunday).
But wait! I’m still counting the experiment as a resounding success. It’s kind of like that saying by Norman Vincent Peale (author of The Power of Positive Thinking): “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Did I fall short of my goal? Yes. But because I set the bar so high, I still ended up getting out of my comfort zone, putting myself out there, and making a lot more connections than I would have otherwise.
I also learned a ton (which is always a success in my book), especially about what works for me—and what doesn’t—when it comes to networking and making new connections.
Let’s kick things off on a positive note and start with what I consider to be the major successes of this challenge:
As mentioned, at the beginning of the challenge, I reached out to just about everyone in my network to see who they might be able to connect me with—and one of those people was my friend, Karen.
Karen is one of those people who you just want to be around; she’s funny, she’s warm, and she makes friends everywhere she goes—which means her network extends to pretty much all of Portland. She immediately started thinking of ways she might be able to help me make connections, including a local Freelance Fridays get-together she attends often.
When I joined the group on the very first Friday of my challenge, I got to check out a brand-new co-working space in town (complete with free coffee and an epic view of the Portland skyline) and meet a handful of other women who work remotely. I’m already planning a puppy play date with the woman who runs the meeting, who’s pretty plugged into the Portland networking scene—and, in my book, there’s no connection more meaningful than a dog-related one. Plus, I plan to keep working Freelance Fridays into my schedule once a month or so.
Another friend put me in touch with Mary Blalock, a Portland-based career coach (and my meaningful connection for day 15). Mary is one of the founders of Ladies’ Night, a local networking group for women and non-binary folks, and she ended up inviting me to one of their events—a panel on women in AR, VR, and AI here in Portland.
Honestly, this event was way out of my comfort zone; my knowledge of virtual/augmented reality and artificial intelligence hovers somewhere around zero (plus, if I’m being honest, I think robots are kind of scary). But it ended up being amazing. Not only did I meet a bunch of cool women from a number of industries (including the head of a local artists’ retreat and a UX designer for all things VR), but it also got me thinking about opportunities I didn’t even know existed (apparently, writing for virtual worlds is an actual thing—and now that I have connections at some of the VR startups here in Portland, it’s definitely something I plan to pursue!).
I write for some pretty incredible brands and outlets (including The Muse!). But I also struggle with a serious case of imposter syndrome. No matter how many impressive clients I add to my roster, I still get really nervous reaching out to others I’m itching to work with. More often than not, that nervousness translates to inaction.
One of the biggest successes of my 30-day networking challenge was pushing through those feelings and going after “stretch” clients. I sent pitches to eight companies I’ve had on my “dream client” list—and ended up scheduling calls with three of them. If that’s not a success, I don’t know what is!
Now that we covered what worked well for me in this challenge, let’s take a look at some of the things that didn’t go so well:
Tapping My Network for Referrals
When I kicked off this challenge, I thought that my existing network would be a gold mine of new potential connections. But while some people definitely came through, a lot of emails and messages I sent out didn’t get much of a response.
Some wrote, “Let me think about it and get back to you!”—and then never got back to me. Others said they didn’t really know anyone who would be a good fit. And some just didn’t respond at all.
What I learned is that, at least in my experience, unless people a) know you really well, or b) know someone who would be a slam dunk for you to connect with, they’re not going to jump at the chance to make professional introductions.
I didn’t hit my goal, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make as many connections as possible—and, if I’m being honest, it was totally exhausting!
If I could go back and start the challenge over again, I would take it slowly and ease into things; the experience was like going from zero to 100 on the networking scale—and, at times, the pressure felt really overwhelming.
I thought that the writing conference I attended would be the perfect opportunity to network. (I mean, when else would I be in a giant hall with thousands of other writers?) And while I definitely enjoyed the event, I didn’t actually feel like it was the best environment for networking. Because there were so many people, a lot of the connections I made felt rushed and superficial—in most cases, I was sure both of us would forget the interaction by the time we made it to our next panels.
Conferences might be a great networking opportunity for some people, but for me, smaller events (like 100 people or less) are a much better fit.
Want to Do Your Own Networking Challenge?
I learned a lot of lessons during this 30-day networking challenge—and, in retrospect, there are a few things I’d do differently. If you’re thinking about doing your own challenge, here are a few tips:
- Get out of your comfort zone and attend events you wouldn’t normally go to. It’s great to go to events that feel exactly in line with who you are and what you do, but putting yourself out there in new and unexpected ways can really broaden your perspective. Plus, you never know who you might meet!
- Focus your challenge on action-oriented goals, not results-oriented goals. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so the fact that I didn’t connect with 30 people in 30 days was a real bummer. But you can’t control other people, so if you want to feel successful with your own challenge, I highly suggest making it more action-oriented (like “I will send out 10 new client emails a day”) rather than results-oriented (like “I will get five new client responses a day”). Focusing on the process will help you get the most out of your challenge—regardless of the results.
- Think of ways you can help the people you connect with. Networking is a two-way street—so if you meet someone, make sure you think about how you can help them in their career, too.
The 30-day networking challenge had its share of ups and downs. Even though it didn’t pan out exactly the way I’d hoped or planned, I still consider it a massive success. I set the intention to put myself out there and create networking opportunities for myself—which is exactly what I did. And while I didn’t hit my original goal, I did make a handful of quality connections.
I also feel more deeply rooted in the business community here in Portland—and my goal moving forward is to continue to become a bigger part of that community through more intentional networking. But, for my own sanity, I think I’ll do it at a slightly more manageable pace.
Photo of people talking at a networking event courtesy of Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images.
Deanna deBara is a freelance writer living in Portland, OR. When she's not busy building her business or typing away at her keyboard, she enjoys spending time hiking in the Pacific Northwest, traveling with her soon-to-be husband, or doting on her dog, Bennett. You can follow her on Twitter (she's a newbie!) at @Deanna_deBara.More from this Author