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To All the Social Entrepreneurs Out There, Keep Going

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Recently a good friend of mine and I were sharing our New Year’s resolutions. Once she told me what she was planning, she also added that she felt like she was only now catching up to me and that I was ahead of my time.

This is because when we met over five years ago, I had been working in the sustainable and ethical fashion industry for quite a few years. I started working in that industry long before it was even remotely “mainstream”. I informed my friend all about the industry and really helped her to become aware of the true cost of the clothing she was buying, as well as how she could find brands that she wanted to support.

Also, back then, meditation and yoga were a big part of my life too and had been for many years. I knew the positive effects it had on my mental health and I would tell anyone who would listen. It wasn’t anywhere near as popular as it is now in Western culture. Can you remember a time when there wasn’t a yoga studio in every suburb?

And this is why my friend thinks I am ahead of my time. Her resolutions for 2021 are to do with living more simply and in tune with nature and reducing her impact on the environment. She recognises that I was not just talking about things that were not common years ago, but I was also making them a part of my everyday life.

“If you aren’t making a difference in other people’s lives, you shouldn’t be in business. It’s that simple.” – Richard Branson

A decade ago when I started working in the sustainable and ethical fashion industry, I had no friends or no connections in the industry. Although I had just finished studying fashion design, it wasn’t a subject that was taught or even mentioned in the curriculum. None of my fellow students were interested in it and none of my teachers knew anything about it. I literally had to start my research from scratch.

But I was so passionate about it that I educated myself. I volunteered with organisations and I took on research assignments. I even spent time in Europe to learn about their sustainable and ethical fashion industry, which was way ahead of Australia’s at that time.

In terms of work, I was working for companies that had sustainability and ethics at their heart, as well as working on starting my own. It was actually really hard in the beginning to find these companies as social enterprises were a very niche thing. But it was also empowering to know that I was at the forefront of massive changes to an entire industry. I believed in it so much and I knew that big changes were going to occur.

And they have. While the fashion industry is nowhere near perfect, there have certainly been a lot of developments in the last decade, including the call for more transparency from brands about their supply chains and more sustainable fashion brands emerging. It has been great to witness and be a part of.

This was all my very first foray into social entrepreneurship. And I have never looked back. My friends and family didn’t understand what I was doing then and they mostly still don’t. Even today I get questioned as to why I won’t take anyone’s money and don’t understand that I can’t support the work of all types of businesses. But ever since I learnt what social entrepreneurship was and why it is so important to the future of humanity and our planet, I haven’t looked back. I have only learnt who I can and can’t talk to it about.

“The job of a social entrepreneur is to recognize when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck.” – Bill Drayton

So this is just my reminder to all the other social entrepreneurs out there. Not everyone will be supportive of what you do. Not everyone will understand it or even want to try to understand it. And that can hurt when it is your close friends and family. People will try to put you down and tell you your idea is not going to work. They won’t believe that you can actually create change in the world.

But their opinions aren’t a reflection on you. As a social entrepreneur you are working on something that is different to the usual way of doing business. You are going into relatively new territory. But you don’t have anything to prove to others. All you have to remember is that your work will make a positive difference in the world.

So keep searching for role models who have gone before you and are an inspiration. Keep expanding your network to include other social entrepreneurs in any industry. Keep researching and educating yourself about the advantages and why we need to change the way we do business.

Eventually, social entrepreneurship will be the normal way of doing business and you can look back and be proud that you were ahead of your time too.

Shannon Threlfall is the founder of The Founder’s Vision, a platform for news, business strategy, consulting, online courses, collaboration and more. This is a platform for WOMXN entrepreneurs who have a massive vision for their business and see the world differently. We are leading a movement to revolutionise the business world and create a new economy that has diversity and social entrepreneurship at its heart.

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Then this article is a great place to start. Networking isn’t hard on paper…you go along to online and in-person meetings, make new connections and build relationships, and those relationships lead to more work so you can grow your business! The challenge is that in reality, it isn’t quite so straightforward, as our emotions get involved and make things much tougher.

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Here’s a few tips to help you embrace every business networking opportunity you get, so you can grow your business and achieve your goals.

Rock up with confidence

If you want to keep those nerves at bay and ooze confidence at networking get-togethers, you’ll need to downplay it rather than seeing it as a big occasion. Try not to put pressure on yourself and see it as a casual meet-up with a bunch of people with similar goals to you. To help you relax in the run-up to the event, be sure to set achievable goals and expectations before you go.

Keep your chin up and your goals in mind – positivity is key. One easy goal for your first networking meeting is very simply to speak to one other person and see where the conversation goes. Introduce yourself and your business, but take the time to listen to their story, too. It’ll only take a few minutes and will be over before you know it, so it’s nothing to fear. You may even enjoy it and want to speak to a few more people, too!

“You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie

Where to go networking

If you’ve never been networking before, it might not be very easy to find a group – but only because there’s so much choice and you don’t know where to start your search! Groups come in different sizes and styles, so it’s important to find one that suits you and your business. Informal, formal, big, small… the choice is yours.

For your first meeting, start small to ease yourself in – a big group could prove too daunting, and stop you from feeling comfortable enough to get involved. After all, you want to make a strong first impression!

If you’re wondering which group to opt for in the long-term, give a few a go! Get a feel for them, speak to as many people as you can, and see which one suits! You’ll know when a group feels right for you, and you can see where those all-important relationships are most likely to be built. If a group doesn’t feel like the right for you, give a different one a go.

Get more leads and referrals

This will happen for you, as long as you put the effort into building those relationships. If you take the time to get to know people, and then check in with them and support them, they’ll see you as a trustworthy and reliable contact who they can call on. And when they feel that way, those leads and referrals you’re looking for will come a-knocking.

Once you’ve made relationships with people who you trust, and they’ve had a positive experience working with you, you can even ask for referrals! But don’t rush this, as you don’t want to inadvertently push people away or try and force the relationship along too quickly.

When you do get an opportunity to work with someone you’ve met at a networking group, go above and beyond to offer more value than they’re expecting, as then, they’ll be much more likely recommend you and introduce you to more of their contacts!

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By investing your time and effort in networking, you will gain more business through the relationships you make, and you will be able to grow your business.

We know that it’s not easy, going networking for the very first time. And that’s why we want to give you all the advice and tools that you need so you can walk in with confidence and make the most of the opportunity.

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