At the end of 2014, I left my career to go “out on my own” as a professional speaker, expanding a side business that began in 2009. I was passionate about teaching people how to build great professional networks and strong, welcoming communities.
It wasn't out of nowhere. My signature session, Art of the Schmooze, had been getting rave reviews and I knew there was more I could offer if I wasn't balancing a full-time job and an increasing number of speaking engagements.
This meant that after 15 years, I was no longer going to be working in an office surrounded by colleagues.
But was I “out on my own”?
As I’m nearing the end of my first year as a solopreneur, I’m reflecting on my journey and can’t help but notice all the ways I was not “out on my own” this year.
From beta readers willing to provide feedback when I was first starting to write a blog, to technical support as I upgraded my website, to word of mouth promotion of my trainings, to being willing to be interviewed for On the Schmooze my soon-to-be launched podcast, to general encouragement and unending belief that I can and should be building this business – I have felt tremendous support from my network.
Support has come from expected corners – my closest friends who were invited to my wedding in 2013; and very unexpected corners – virtual strangers who I only know through social media or briefly met at a networking event years ago.
To be successful I have had to
reach out beyond my inner circle.
“Strength of weak ties”
It’s absolutely true that I would have felt alone in these endeavors if I had not been building my professional network before making this leap. Since I moved to Boston in September 2002, without a job and staying in a friend’s spare room, I have experienced the power of “weak ties.”
Not having many close friends in Boston would have prevented me from launching my career and finding a place to call home, if I had limited my job hunt and apartment search only to them. In “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell calls this the “strength of weak ties.” If you only ask for help from your strongest ties (close friends and family) and they can’t offer any leads you are out of luck.
Being open to making new connections and recognizing the importance of having a strong professional and personal network, has made it possible for me to ask for assistance from an incredibly diverse and talented network of people.
Why were so many
people willing to help me?
Giving rides to the airport
But why would “weak ties” want to help me? Because I’ve become known as someone who helps others.
Many years ago, my mother questioned why I was willing to meet someone for coffee and help them think through their career or business questions – without charging them. She was concerned I was giving away too much information, the proverbial “why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free.”
I explained it was like giving rides to the airport; you only do it if you have a relationship and the resources of a car and time. The person you are driving knows you are doing them a favor. If you do this regularly you become known as the kind of person who is willing to drive someone to the airport. Then, when you need a ride, someone will step forward to help you – and it’s entirely likely that it’s someone who never directly received support from you.
For over a decade, I’ve been literally and metaphorically “giving rides to the airport” in Boston.
I call this my Philosophy of Abundance: “Giving away knowledge does not deplete you of knowledge. In fact, it opens up endless possibilities.” [click to tweet] Read more about this in a recent blog post.
That's right, people want to help you.
You know this to be true, because you’ve felt the benefits of helping others. It feels good. There is scientific evidence that donating to charity or helping a friend releases “feel-good” neurotransmitters in our brains, which makes us want to keep helping others so we can get that “helper’s high.”
What prevents us from helping? We’re not asked. That’s right, if you resist asking for support you deny your friends the opportunity to get a boost of “feel-good” oxytocin.
Actually, it goes a step further than that. Research shows that anyone who witnesses a friend helping you will also get a good feeling and that will in turn make them want to go out and do something altruistic.
Help get that cycle of good deeds going by asking for what you need!
Let me demonstrate.
I’m about to become a stay at home dad.
My wife and I are expecting our first child in just a few weeks. I feel incredibly fortunate. My decision to leave my career in nonprofit development and focus on my business as a professional speaker led me to this moment, when I can choose to stay home with our child.
Ways you can help…
- I would love to be in touch with other entrepreneurs who are stay at home parents. Contact me so we can chat!
- Join my email list. This allows us to have a two-way conversation (reply to any email I send). You’ll also be the first to hear about the launch of my podcast, On the Schmooze. I’ve been interviewing talented people from different fields, exploring how they built strong networks, and overcame challenges on their way to becoming successful leaders. I cannot wait to share these interviews with you!
- Read, comment, like, and share my weekly blog posts on LinkedIn.
Now, doesn’t that feel good? Thank you.
In the comments
Share what you find challenging about networking. Maybe your question will end up as the topic of a future blog post!
Robbie Samuels has been recognized as a networking expert by Inc. and Lifehacker, and profiled in “Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It” by Dorie Clark. Check out “On the Schmooze” his new podcast.