The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a network as "an extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support."
In this context, the word extended means large and diverse. In other words, your network should include a lot of people of varied backgrounds and careers, not only those in the drapery industry. When these people interact, they reciprocate, exchange or even barter ideas, services or products. Why? To help and encourage each other.
In our industry, this last concept has been a notorious stumbling block. The comment I hear most often from small, usually home-based drapery workrooms is, "Nobody wants to share!" I understand because I've experienced this sad situation. Even if you are willing to share and do so, if there is no reciprocation the meaning and value of networking is lost.
I am a loyal believer in two natural laws: First: If I am using my natural, God-given talents and abilities, and if I am continually honing and perfecting those talents, I will be successful. There will be plenty of business for me and everyone else who believes and follows this law. Nature has a way of balancing everything perfectly.
Second: Give and you shall receive. This statement is not to be confused with the Biblical passage, "Ask, and you will receive," which is another powerful law. It also does not necessarily mean "Give to receive," even though that's what would happen in a barter situation. The statement's true meaning is just to give with no expectation of receiving anything, much less anything specific. You will be rewarded for your efforts.
If people in this industry had not been so fearful of giving away secrets, we would be far more educated and advanced today and making more money than we ever dreamed of. It has always mystified me why so many workrooms will not share their price lists. I had a new workroom in my area call me and ask if I would be willing to share my price list. When I immediately agreed, there was stunned silence on the other end of the telephone. The caller had been rejected so many times, she didn't know what to say.
If your competition guesses at a price and it is way below your price, the competition undoubtedly will get some of your business. On the other hand, if the competition's price is much higher and she is able to get that price and stay in business, then you are working too hard for not enough money.
When I suggest sharing your prices, I'm not talking about price fixing. Those who are just getting started need some idea of where to start for pricing.
We've all been at the starting point of our businesses. If you were fortunate enough to be able to network with experienced business owners, you know how valuable their input was. How many mistakes did they help you avoid or rectify? How much time and money did their hard-earned education save you?
Wouldn't you like to continue to pass it on? And if you weren't so fortunate as to have had such help, wouldn't you like to have that deep down good feeling of having made life easier for someone else?
Make the effort to network with your competitors. If they are reluctant, try to give something of yourself first. You may even want to consider starting a local workroom organization or a chapter of the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA). Membership in this organization will give you national contacts as well.
If local industry affiliations are not an option, try other business organizations. Most every area has a Chamber of Commerce and many have a Business and Professional Women's Organization or a National Association of Female Executives (NAFE). If these types of business organizations don't appeal to you, try the Lions Club, Rotarians, etc. Most every organization is made up of business people who enjoy helping their communities and each other.
Whatever organization you choose, join with a commitment to get involved. It does you no good to carry a membership card in your pocket. Rolling up your sleeves and working side by side with other business people creates a bond of friendship and mutual respect. When you need help and an emotional boost, your co-members will gladly assist knowing you would do the same for them.
Seminars and Shows
The great advantage of seminars and trade shows is that you learn about the new products and services available in our industry while you meet and network with peers from other areas. Regional and national shows and seminars are perhaps the best investment you can make for your business.
Many one-person or slightly larger business owners would like to attend shows, but use these excuses:
You don't have time. If you really can't manage your work flow to take off three to four days in a six-month period for education, then that's all the more reason you need to attend. While you are letting your business run you, your competition is attending the shows and learning how to work smarter not harder and how to offer their customers more for their money.
It costs too much. Of course it costs a lot! You are getting a very valuable education in a short period of time for that investment! The best advantage is you don't have to go to night classes every week for 12 weeks, or study in between jobs or take final exams! You can go straight home and make that investment start paying for itself immediately. The key is to plan your strategy. Know what you must get from the show to make it worth it and plan how you will get it.
You have no one to go with you. This one may not be vocalized because, for many, there is a very real fear of stepping into the unknown alone. It is a very frightening experience to go off on a plane by yourself, arrive in a strange airport totally unfamiliar with transportation means to get to a strange hotel and then join a sea of hundreds of unfamiliar faces searching for the exhibit hall or seminar rooms. It's OK to have those feelings. The sharp pangs in the pit of your stomach will pass. I know!
What you don't realize is that this experience gives you distinct advantages. For years, I always traveled with at least one other person. It wasn't until that first time I traveled alone that I discovered how handicapping it had been to have someone with me. Having to rely on my own resources stretched me beyond my comfort zone and made me grow. This personal growth gave me added confidence that allowed me to present a more professional image to my clients.
Being alone, I went out of my way to talk with other attendees and to find out more about them and their businesses. Of course, in that process, I shared my experiences with those I met, too. We all came away richer, more knowledgeable about the industry and with some new friends. These new friendships meant we now had someone we could call with problems and questions. They were also friends we might see again at a show and perhaps even room with to cut expenses. These are the fruits of show networking.
This is the networking of the future. Although this avenue is in it's infancy, it is really very exciting. Not only is there a wealth of cold, hard information from anywhere around the world, but you actually can talk with and communicate with people all over the world.
The Internet cannot replace attending trade shows where you can develop a one-on-one relationship with many other professionals and where you can get all the latest products and services and education not available on the Net. However, the Internet certainly compliments the shows because by networking on the Internet, you can learn about what's available at the shows.
In a very few years, as a drapery workroom you will find it necessary -- not optional -- to have a computer just to do business. Whether you like computers or not, you will have to adjust. The sooner you make the decision to join the computer age, the easier it will be for you.
Right now is an excellent time. Why? Because we already have many industry professionals on the Internet participating in e-mail correspondence and live on-line chat rooms. And what are they doing? Networking! They are helping each other learn to use the Internet services and helping each other find answers to questions and solve problems.
By using e-mail alone you can communicate with professionals in other fields and in other industries. Recently, I was able to communicate with a consultant that writes for AIM (Apparel Industry Magazine) by way of e-mail.
Draperies & Window Coverings is on the Internet or, more specifically, the World Wide Web. This makes it very easy to print out your favorite articles, or you can just look them up on the Internet when you need them. Besides that, when you have questions or concerns, you can communicate quickly with the D&WC staff.
The beauty of e-mail is the speed of communication. Not only is mail received quickly, but due to the convenience, it is answered quickly. In other words, you have pronto networking available to you.
What is even better than e-mail are the chat rooms. These chat rooms not only allow you to ask and answer questions, but you form friendships. For those of you who work out of your homes and rarely see other people, this is a wonderful social outlet as well as a business outlet. This is networking -- exchanging ideas and sharing.
There are three chat rooms on America Online: DesignerPro, DraperyPro, and WindowPro. (Yes, for now you must be a member of AOL to participate.) The participants of the DraperyPro chat room call themselves the "softees," because most are drapery workrooms. Pam DeCuir, a DraperyPro member, developed a mission statement for the group. I would like to share it with you: We are a group of professionals who share ideas, solutions and our commitment to the best work we can do. We support each other by listening and offering help when we can. We know that this is a "safe" place to be. We are all interested in learning more about our profession, and actively seek ways to do that. Many of us have met in person and have enjoyed the friendships that we maintain here. We are not out to "get the other guy," we are not here to take and not give, we are not here to belittle others, nor are we here to "steal" information. We want others to know us as people who can be trusted to give the best advice we can and to share our triumphs and our disasters. We only ask that, in return, those joining us be willing to make this same commitment.
And that's what networking is! See you on-line or in person.
For more information on chat rooms,
check these Web sites:
If you have any questions or comments about this article, previous articles or any topic if interest to workrooms, please contact me at:
Workroom Operations Draperies & Window Coverings 666 Dundee Rd., Ste. 807 Northbrook, IL 60062-7913. Fax: (847) 498-0231 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.workroomconcepts.com
Kitty Stein is a 20-year veteran of the drapery workroom field, having owned and operated her own business for 16 years and having taught classes on window treatment construction. Until 1990, Stein and a partner owned a workroom with nine employees. She since has opened her own smaller workroom, Workroom Concepts, that has just one employee. She also does workroom consulting, seminar speaking and is the author of Order in the Workroom available through Draperies & Window Coverings.