#PinkEntrepreneurship: Networking 101


Don't tell yourself "no" before someone else has the chance to

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

APW + Squarespace Alt

Boss Babe

When we opened up the application process for our Squarespace small business scholarship in January, we asked applicants to tell us how they’d spend the $5,000 if they won. The overwhelming reply? Networking and publicity. It makes sense. The Internet is huge. It’s easier than ever to get your name out there, but it’s also harder than ever to make a splash. It can be especially difficult during the early stages of building a business, when you’re not sure you even have something to promote. Should you have better photography first? A more professional website? (Hint: there’s Squarespace for that.) More experience? What if they just don’t like your product?

The simple truth is, we all start somewhere. If you ever want an ego boost, go look at the early work of your idols and then realize that they probably started where you are right now. But it’s a mistake to believe that just because you build something awesome, people will come. Networking is a skill and an asset to your business (or career in general), and anyone who says differently… is probably your competition. But self-promotion goes against so many of the values that women are raised with. We’re taught from a young age not to take up space, or be pushy, or demand attention. So many of us often wait to be asked before we give our elevator pitch (and then fumble it, by saying we’re “kinda” doing “this thing,” but “it’s not that important or anything”). And that only results in someone else offering up their unapologetic elevator pitch first.

So how do you make a first move when you’re just getting started?

Thanks to Squarespace, we had the opportunity to interview Gilit Cooper of The Bannerie (she makes glitter banners for boss babes), for her best tips on getting your name out there when your business is still getting up off the ground. In just one year, Gilit has turned cardstock and a quick wit into a thriving business, all through smart social media outreach and word of mouth. Total spent on advertising and professional networking? Zero dollars (unless you count free banners, but we’ll get into that in a minute).

Etsy Banner_boss babes

Gilit Cooper Bio Pic

APW: Your business is about to turn a year old. How did it get started?

Gilit: I studied arts management of FIT (which is the business side of art), and I loved every part of it. But the jobs that came with that degree meant that I would have to be working all night and day. And while younger Gilit was super into that, college-graduating Gilit had one kid and another on the way, and that wasn’t the life I wanted to be leading. So I started a blog because I wanted my name to be easily searchable when I applied to jobs. As I got more into it, I started making parties prettier. I worked really hard on them, and people were always asking me to make them decorations. So one day I was sitting next to my husband on the couch and I was like, “I could make banners and I could sell them and I could make money.” So I spent the next three months reading, and researching and designing and talking to everyone. And it was the most exciting three months. I opened my store on Etsy and just went for it. It’s a very different business now than it was when I started.

APW: Can we talk about that? I feel like so many small business owners, or anyone really, feels like there will be a point when they are ready to put themselves out there. How has your business evolved since you started?

Gilit: When I went in, I had kind of a clear vision, which is so different from my vision now. Right away people were asking for custom items (also can you rush it, and can you make it like this instead?) and I always said yes because I wanted to make money. And it was a terrible idea, because I was not sleeping. And I was miserable. And I didn’t see the kids or my husband. And my brand was all over the pace. Just look at this early collection. (My stomach would just drop whenever I got an order for some of them. That’s really how I knew they were the wrong thing to sell. Your product shouldn’t make you want to barf.)

catalogue

And my first postcard. You can see I already had a thing for pink and there’s a little bit of playfulness, but there are like a million fonts (choose two!) and not much personality.

postcard

So when I stopped that and focused just on glitter letter banners, it was a game changer. This is how The Bannerie banners look now:

hey girl2

APW: What were some of the other challenges that you originally faced when starting your business?

Gilit: There were so many in the beginning! It was very hard to figure out pricing. It’s really terrifying because you’re saying, “This is how much my work is worth.” And you don’t want to make that number too high because you want people to buy your product. But you don’t want to make it too low because your product is your time and effort and supplies.

APW: So many small business owners struggle with pricing. What’s your recommendation for finding the sweet spot?

Gilit: There are formulas online, but the second it looks “businessy” to me, my eyes cross. I need it in layman’s terms. But I found one formula that’s worked for me. The basic idea is that you want seventy percent profit. So you take the cost to make your product, divided by the price you sell it for, and you get X. Subtract X from one and you get your price. Don’t forget packaging, shipping, and everything else (and enough left over that it feels like it’s worth your time).

APW: If you’d asked me how long I thought you were in business, I would have guessed two or three years. You came out of the gate strong. How have you been able to get so much attention (and subsequently business) in such a short period of time?

Gilit: We are living in an age when you don’t have to pay for marketing if you don’t want to. There’s Instagram, and Facebook and Mailchimp and blogging (and a million other platforms). My magic formula is that I have Instagram, Pinterest, my blog and my shop. And it all points to each other. I pin from my blog and I pin from the shop and when I pin, I make sure to pin to boards that are relevant. And I make original content on Instagram. (Side note: I tend to unfollow people who just regram other people’s stuff. Make original content!) All my platforms talk about and link to and point to each other. And I try to gather people who I feel like are my people from those sources.

APW: What if you can’t hire a professional to do your branding so that you can have all those cohesive elements?

Gilit: The most important thing is to define who you are. You know in high school when you made those little spider charts with the circle in the middle? I made a little circle that says “Bannerie” and I put a bunch of words around it that described the company. Then refine it and refine it again and refine it one more time. And the words you’re left with, those are your brand. And you stick to that brand, and everything you do sticks to it. I know that I’m supposed to be “cheeky and empowering and girly.”

Bannerie-11

APW: Speaking of girly, do you struggle getting people to take your business seriously when it is so girly?

Gilit: I struggle saying with a straight face, “I sell glitter banners.” Oh cute, is the response I get a lot, which can be so belittling. Like, That’s adorable of you, little girl. That cute little side thing that you do.

APW: How do you combat feedback like that? I feel like those kinds of remarks can be so devastating when you’re first starting out, because in the early stages, you’re just looking for any signs of encouragement.

Gilit: I would encourage this for anyone: I call it my awesome folder. And any time anything awesome happens, I take a screenshot. And any time something shitty happens, I look at my folder and it makes me feel better.

APW: Okay, so let’s talk about networking in more actionable terms. Can you breakdown the how of networking? How do you reach out to people you’ve never met and who probably have no idea who you are?

Gilit: First, look at the people and companies that mesh with your brand. Those should be the people you’re reaching out to (and figuring out the who is really the first step). But next and most important: Be genuine. I know that just sounds like words, but I mean it with every ounce of myself. People are smart and they can sniff out a fake from a mile away. If you are constantly like, “Oh your product is so cute. It kind of looks like my product, will you come look at me?” Yeah, maybe I will. But that’s not genuine. If you’re someone who comments all the time, and your comments are thoughtful and responsive, then I will take a look at your work for real. I share ideas I genuinely believe in. I share companies I genuinely love. And I share myself very genuinely. Also, if you can find a way to completely inhabit yourself and be comfortable with who you are, then it kind of makes everything easier in marketing. Because if you know who you are, then you don’t have to try hard to be something. You just… do you. And people respond to that.

APW: So much of early networking is basically asking other people to pay attention to you. How do you ask people for things when you don’t know them and they probably have a dozen other people asking for things?

Gilit: On the receiving end, I don’t like when people dance around. Tell me what you want. Be straightforward. Include a link to your store. Include photos of your work, make it easy for someone to say yes to you. I have asked people to include me as part of the network that connects bloggers and brands. And I’ve asked to be part of somebody’s swag bag (that part got easier because I eventually realized I was giving free stuff).

APW: Do you advise giving away things for free when you start networking?

Gilit: YES. But not beyond what you can. Always know your bottom line. And be smart about what you’re giving away. Find someone who is bigger than you and give them something for free. As I’ve been getting bigger and needing the publicity less, I’ve been very selective of who I’ve been giving things to.

APW: How big of a fish should you go after when you’re just starting?

Gilit: I always go for bigger than I am, but not so big that there’s no way they can hear me.

APW: And what if they say no?

Gilit: What’s that saying? Don’t say no before someone else has the chance to? If people aren’t into your business, they will say no. But that shouldn’t stop you from wanting things. Check out 100 No’s. The first time you send out an email asking for something is so scary. But eventually, “no” loses its power (which is kind of empowering in and of itself).

APW: Since lots of our readers are just starting businesses now, can you tell us what your biggest mistakes were in your first year of business?

Gilit: One: Saying yes way too often. Or not knowing how to say no. Two: Not setting boundaries. It’s a mistake in life, and in business. I needed boundaries for myself and for customers. I think the best piece of advice I got was to envision my life, not just my business. What do I want my life to look like? I don’t want my life to look like I work all the time. I want it to look like working hard all day, and then closing up shop.

APW: What’s the one piece of advice on starting a business that you would give to other small businesses?

Gilit: You have to be incredibly self-disciplined. Because you are in charge of everything, and nothing will move forward if you don’t make it move forward.

Have questions about #Pinkentrepreneurship and starting a business? Leave them in the comments for next time!

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This post was sponsored by Squarespace. Thank you Squarespace for helping make the APW mission possible, and our dream of supporting #PinkEntrepreneurs a reality. The Squarespace mission is to provide creative tools that give a voice to your ideas, and a home for your business. (You can find out how the new Squarespace 7 makes that even easier by clicking right here.) In conjunction with our #PinkEntrepreneurship series, Squarespace is offering APWers a 10% discount on yearly subscriptions when you use the code APW15 at checkout. Click here to get your business website started today with a free 14-day trial from Squarespace.

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

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  • Lindsay Rae

    “So many of us often wait to be asked before we give our elevator pitch (and then fumble it, by saying we’re “kinda” doing “this thing,” but “it’s not that important or anything”).”

    THIS! Just this weekend I was with my husband’s family and my husband mentioned I was thinking of starting a business. I got so shy – totally unlike me – and completely brushed it off. When he insisted I tell them, they all said how wonderful it sounded and how great I would be at it. And you know what? I think I WOULD be great at it. Why do we do this to ourselves?

    Thanks for the inspiring and empowering post, Maddie & Gilit!

    • Gilit

      YES! I used to wait to be asked and sometimes I still do, but going for it is so empowering even when someone says not because you realize that it’s not all in someone else’s hands. Thank you so much for your comment! (I think you would be great at it too)

      • Lindsay Rae

        Thank you! :)

    • Bsquillo

      I would LOVE to see an APW article on how to craft your elevator pitch. Because my current “I’m a musician but I also have a day gig as an arts administrator but I also teach college and typically I’m working on a bunch of stuff..” could use some, uh…polishing.

      • Maddie Eisenhart

        Noted! For what it’s worth, it’s HARD, man. 90% of it is just…committing and not worrying that someone is going to challenge you on it. I think that’s where we all get stuck (I do the same thing when quoting someone prices, for example. I’m always like, “it costs this, but also XYZ and reasons and flexiblity” and blah blah blah.) When in reality, you just need to lay it down and let them pick it up.

        • Maddie Eisenhart

          Basically, it all comes down to not serving up your own rejection first, even if that’s just in your head.

          • Meg Keene

            Yes. This.

        • Gilit

          Yes! Not giving reasons. It’s hard not to, but it’s a bad habit, you don’t owe anyone a reason upfront. Keep it to yourself.

      • Kat

        Seconded! I feel like day to day I accomplish a lot of impressive things but when someone asks me what I’m all about I have a tendency to downplay my successes and kind of shut down.

      • Meg Keene

        Let me work on that! I actually wrote that particular line, because I have SUCH strong opinions about this. I hear a lot of pitches now, and I can’t tell you how many end with “but it’s not that interesting.” It’s so strange, because sometimes I’m in a position to help someone out, and they’re selling me, and then they literally tell me BUT YOU SHOULDN’T CARE BECAUSE MY BUSINESS IS ACTUALLY AWFUL. Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out what to do with my face at that point, because the U-turn is so swift.

        But, that said, I get it. When I’m in a situation where I’m not actually pitching, but it’s just social, I actually try to avoid talking about my work. 90% of the time people condescend to me, and I’d rather just avoid the whole thing. Best practices? No. But I get it.

        • Bsquillo

          Yeah, for me personally I don’t have such a problem putting myself down, but I do have a hard time explaining what I do in 15 seconds- because the work is pretty diverse, and I think it’s a little difficult for people to understand that all of my 3 jobs are professional work, and none of them are hobbies. How do you communicate “I work on a variety of creative musical projects, but I’m also really good at making spreadsheets”?

        • Megan Summers

          lol I sell landscaping mulch – I have to follow it up with, “It’s actually alot more fun than it sounds”

      • qj

        Yes! Seconded. :) It sounds like your challenges are similar to mine: how to narrate/link a couple of (seemingly unrelated but probably TOTALLY related) things together into a brief but detailed sentence that lasts 15 seconds?! (Preparing a 1-sentence description of my teaching + research + work outside of my job for a recent interview took all.night.long and lots of brainstorming with my partner, yet felt totally empowering. Surely there’s a more efficient and/or direct way to arrive at something like this)?

    • Bethany

      My fiance will do that — brush off what he does and not talk about the awards he’s won or cool events he’s gotten to consult on. He jokes that I’m his PR agent because I’m so proud of him, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember there are times not to bring up his professional successes and how he could help someone’s event/business with his skills.

  • Vilmos Kovacs

    So many great insights!

    • Gilit

      Thank you :)

  • Love this interview with Gilit! I was able to photograph her and this was after I had established a hard core social media crush on her with her bad ass Instagram posts, so I was kinda giddy. Gilit is incredibly generous small business owner and she and has firm boundaries! I also love that she isn’t afraid to share what worked/didn’twork with people on her blog and I think those things are other pivotal keys her success! I love seeing how much her business has grown in the past year and I love looking at my LADY BOSS glitter banner every single day!

    • Gilit

      You are just everything. I am so grateful to you for your photography tips, for taking my photo, for photographing my banners, for getting APW to notice me(!) and for being my friend. I love seeing everything you do and for your support. Lady bosses make the best lady boss friends.

  • Elizabeth

    This is great! Being clear and setting boundaries is so important for both sides. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a party and talking to someone being like “I can’t tell if you are being friendly, or if you want something out of me.” And if I think they do want something out of me, but they are going trying to get me to think we are friends, I feel like I’m being used and manipulated. But I’m totally guilty of doing that too because I feel like it’s rude of me to come out and say “I’d be interested in getting your help with x business thing.”

    If the networking is happening in a particular time and place and people are clear about what they want, it’s so much easier.

    • KC

      Yes! I am totally game for helping someone out. I am *not* game for being manipulated into helping someone out.

      But it’s sometimes hard to know how to frame the request without being rude or ignoring the fact that the person you are asking something of is a person, etc., and meeting their standards for interpersonal “manners” (which vary! some people are very much on the do-not-waste-my-time-just-give-me-the-bullet-points side and other people would prefer to be eased into things). I have sometimes partitioned emails into a “social; skip if uninterested” part and the “reason for this email” part, but that can get complicated as well.

      • Gilit

        I think there is a universal desire for someone to be pleasant and direct. Don’t skip the niceties but keep them short.

    • Gilit

      I TOTALLY hear you on both ends of that! You are only and can ONLY BE responsible for yourself and your thoughts and intentions so have a genuine convo and if you feel like someone is manipulating you, ditch that b*tch! I do NOT think it’s rude of you to say you’d be interested in getting someone’s help with something in fact I think it’s the perfect thing to say because it gives them the opportunity to say “yes, I’d love to!” or “I can’t” Put the ball in their court, give them a chance to say yes or no.

  • Ugh, I do not grok digital networking. Put me in front a person and say “Go” and I can spit out a decent pitch. But I’ve tried Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and they just do not gel with me. What do you post? How do you follow people when any more than like 5 exceeds the time you have to look at what they post? How do you to get people to follow you? And there seems to be this underlying pressure to always be on where my fight or flight instincts kick solidly to flee.

    • Gilit

      Is there one form of social media that works for you? If so I would just focus on that. And the rest of your questions are the content for a whole post! In the simplest terms, stay true to yourself and your brand, post what you want when it feels comfortable for you.

  • Meredith

    Great interview! This is such a good reminder on the power the word “no” really has over us (eh-um, me). I like how Gilit showed us her shop’s evolution, but I’d love to know in even further detail how she was able to commit to some of the smaller pieces of her brand (i.e. the way she shoots her photos, her fonts, etc). There are so many options out there that I get overwhelmed just making one decision. What if a better look/idea comes to my head? It can be exhausting always to trying to “maximize”.

    • Gilit

      It was SUCH an evolution and I’m working on sharing it on my blog, that being said there isn’t a lot of time in the day and I am just one person doing everything so it will take a long time for me to share. If you have a specific question, head over to the post titled “The Bannerie is One” and there’s a survey link to ask me anything. Just know that I hear you, it’s a journey, and you have to keep making the best decision in this moment. You can’t always project for the future. Good luck!

  • Kay

    Anyone else now going to make themselves an Awesome Folder?

    • I made myself an awesome list, and I feel like it’s the only natural next step.

  • Shotgun Shirley

    Love this.

  • Nichole Rocero

    This is such a great post!! Especially for a newbie like myself!! Gilit is so amazing and inspirational. I love her drive, her generosity, and her total badassness! She definitely knows her brand and isn’t afraid to use it to her advantage. She’s a great business gal and is totally getting me stoked; I feel like I just tapped into a world of biz secrets reading this interview. Amazing!! Thanks for sharing all your biz knowledge Gilit!!

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