3: Brenda Lane – An introvert’s perspective on networking

3: Brenda Lane – An introvert’s perspective on networking
3 of 101 Conversations about How to Build a Community Around Your Business

Learn how Brenda, an introvert, approaches networking events.

Location: Denver, CO

Business: eXL Learning

How we met: I worked for her as a tutor for 3 years

Greatest business struggle right now: Building systems that make her business work more effectively

On networking:

Brenda hates networking.  She really, really hates networking. So she hasn’t done much of it.  She is part of the board of an organization in Lowry that connects businesses to each other, so she is meeting people that way. And she says that people are very friendly at the events she has gone to.  But she has still experienced uncomfortable moments, such as when her elevator pitch inadvertently offended someone else in the room.

Brenda runs an after school tutoring program, and she knows that going out and meeting with principals would be the best way to get the word out about her company.  But she said she will never do it, because she is so uncomfortable getting out there and talking about her business.

When I asked her if she would ever consider going to a class on how to network, she seemed reluctant about it.  She said that maybe if she had a buddy to attend events with, she wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable going to them.

In a way, I could relate to Brenda’s reluctance.  Before I started going to networking events, I looked at them with a sense of panic.  Putting myself out there seemed really scary.  But once I got out there, I realized that meeting people is actually fun and expansive.  I wonder if there is some way to show reluctant networkers that it can actually be a really positive activity.

Brenda’s business is multifaceted.

She started with an after school, supplementary education program, which is how I met her. eXL Learning sent certified teachers into schools in Aurora, Denver, and Cherry Creek to work with students before and after school on reading and math.  But SES programs are funded by the government.  At first, eligible schools were required to offer SES programs, but now they are allowed to opt out. Every year, the number of schools that choose to allocate funds toward SES programs dwindles.

So Brenda opened an after school program in Lowry. The program offers tutoring and homework help, in addition to enrichment classes.

She also invested in a program to do online tutoring, and even trained tutors to use it, but then realized that the market was saturated.

eXL Learning also offers a summer camp for kids in their Lowry office.

Brenda also mentioned a homeschooling group that uses her space, but I couldn’t tell the scope of what they are doing there.

Every single entrepreneur I talked to so far has more than one thing going on in their business. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if this is really a good thing.

Brenda struggles with systems, and having so many different business activities going on at once seems overwhelming.  She’s tried to hire people, but has had difficulty finding someone who can do a good job and stick with it.

When I asked Brenda what she talks about with other entrepreneurs, she seemed taken aback. “Everyone I talk to is an educator,” she said.

It really struck me that although entrepreneurs go into business from all different perspectives and backgrounds, we all have to become business people and sales people as well. I thought that Brenda may have been struggling less if she did seek out and talk to some other entrepreneurs, because, while educators have plenty to deal with, the perilous path of entrepreneurs is very different.

My takeaways:

Up to this point, everyone I talked to was a skilled networker.  I realized that it was very important to initiate conversations with people from all different sources, and not just networking events.  Brenda’s perspective was very different from that of others I talked to, and that is valuable to me.

Entrepreneurs want to pursue so many different projects, and it is a constant question of which to keep and which to drop.

Because Brenda hasn’t gotten out there and met other entrepreneurs, she is unaware of some of the tools she could be using in her business. I realized that networking is not only good for expanding connections, but also for learning about the field of entrepreneurship.

In summary:

Brenda is a very dedicated, passionate educator whose shyness keeps her from getting the word out about her business. She is doing many exciting things, but they can be overwhelming for her, because she hasn’t figured out a way to put effective systems in place. I wonder if she would be less overwhelmed if she talked to more entrepreneurs.

Brenda wants to connect with:

Parents in the Denver area who want after school tutoring or enrichment for their kids.

Someone she can contract to help her organize her business.

Skilled tutors and teachers to work in her learning center in Denver.

Want to connect with Brenda?  Check out her website here.

1 step you can take to grow your network today:

Nervous about going to a networking event? First, make sure it’s worth going (i.e. that your “people” will be there), and then bring a buddy!


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