A Networking Hack for Entrepreneurs

Becoming a speaker made it easier for me to be in the right rooms to meet the right people.

People always ask me “How do you have time to do all that you do?” The honest answer is…I don’t know. I will admit that it is truly a balancing act to manage two companies, life as a single mom, and have a personal life. It seems like every few months I am adding something else to my already full plate and in 2013 I decided to add ‘speaker’ to my list of titles.

There is a method to my madness, a strategy, this is chess not checkers. My decision to travel and speak at 2–3 conferences a month was very intentional. This lifestyle is a direct manifestation of a goal I set to expand my network and meet key people in the start up world without ‘networking’ in the traditional sense.

Believe it or not I am an introvert. I am very comfortable speaking to large groups but when it comes to an intimate setting or ‘networking’ event, I sit back and observe. I have never been a fan of approaching someone, introducing myself, and making the necessary small talk leading to the business card exchange. I have done it before but it was very forced and unnatural. The most effective way I have met people in the past was through an introduction or in a more informal setting where I had an opportunity to spark up a casual and genuine conversation. Living in Miami, many of the people I really wanted to connect with in the start up world were in NY and the Bay Area so I had to figure out the best way to meet them other than a generic email or LinkedIn request. Every time I looked on social media there was some tech conference that everyone I wanted to meet was attending, usually high priced, usually outside of Miami. All I knew was that I needed to be there.

In late 2013 I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a post from an entrepreneur that I admire named Felecia Hatcher, she wrote a few awesome books, is constantly in the media, and constantly invited to all of ‘THE’ places to be in the start up and entrepreneur community. I thought to myself ‘I am going to do that’ and set the intention in my mind that I was going to become a speaker and travel to conferences to expand my network to the build relationships I needed to raise capital and form strategic partnerships for Flat Out of Heels and Solutions Vending International.

Becoming a speaker was never a part of my original plan, but I realized that many of the people I wanted to meet were speaking at conferences and on panels and I thought the best way to connect with them would be as a peer instead of being another person waiting in line after their speech to try to get a business card. I have been an entrepreneur full time since 2001 (started 4 companies) so I can definitely shed some insight on being a founder, I have raised investment capital for all of my companies, won several pitch competitions, and brought a consumer product to market…I knew I was qualified to speak and had some great information to share, I just had to get myself out there.

Once I made up my mind and set the vision, I got to work.The first thing I did was register to attend all of the local conferences and events and volunteering to speak at them for free in order to position myself as a thought leader. In the beginning I paid to attend several conferences so I could sharpen my skills as well as meet conference organizers and corporate sponsors. After 3–6 months of doing this consistently I started to get invitations to attend conferences as a speaker.

Since 2014, I have spoken at close to 20 conferences, presented 3 keynotes, and attended countless private events and mixers reserved for speakers and VIPs that I would not have previously had access to. In most cases travel and hotel accommodations are paid and I have full access to the conferences including the VIP/green room where all of the other speakers are. I no longer have to walk up to people and introduce myself, they know who I am from the conference agenda or they heard me speak, that is good for the introvert in me.

Speaking at conferences has proven to be an amazing way to open doors to new opportunities, travel the U.S. (and soon international), and sell Flat Outs (thousands of them). I discovered that A LOT of deals gets done at conferences because people are out of the office and can schedule meetings. Just this week I was in San Francisco forRothenberg Ventures Founders Field Day, Las Vegas for Shop Talk e-commerce conference and GrowCo, New York for the Blavity EmpowerHER conference and tomorrow I fly back to Las Vegas for SPREE-Recon specialty retail entrepreneur conference to present SVI to a group of mall kiosk owners. While I was in SF I was able to meet with a potential co-founder and in Vegas I had a meeting to discuss launching an equity crowdfunding campaign and in NY I sat down with a potential investor.

Conferences are also a lot of fun…the free food, drinks, and corporate sponsored parties with top DJs and entertainment are definitely a bonus. I also love the opportunity to spend time with my peers who travel and speak as much as I do, we have a camaraderie that is amazing…we truly look out for each other, share resources, celebrate our victories and reveal our horror stories. It is a real community.

I believe that speaking and sharing information to inspire and help develop others is a part of my purpose. One day when I sell Flat Out I will become a speaker, investor, and advisor full time and travel the world to share my story of how I exited. Until then I will continue to speak on the journey and share my experiences with others while connecting with the right people to help me reach my goal.

CLICK HERE to view my Speakers Package/Bio and to book me for your next conference or event.

Serial Entrepreneur, Inventor |Founder, Flat Out of Heels |CEO, PopCom| #Speaker #Retail #SaaS www.DawnDickson.me

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