In episode 21 of The Sew Much More Podcast: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech (air date August 14, 2019), Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock talk about building a support network of friends and colleagues within the industry.
You can listen here: Episode 21: Building Relationships to Build Your Workroom Business
Your Network Begins at Home
Being self-employed can be lonely at times and running a business has so many challenges. We can’t do it all alone. Start with the people closest to you; friends and family. "I don’t think any of us would have started our businesses without some kind of encouragement or support from our loved ones. I started my workroom with my Mother’s help and support. I could not have done it without her", Susan shared.
Susan is pictured below with the two most important people in her life; her mother Irene Eagles, and husband, Rodger Walker.
If you are starting out, help your friends and family to help you by teaching them how to share your business with others. Give them an elevator pitch to share! Educate them about what you do and the value of your products and services. Don’t expect them to know this. Your family can be supportive in other areas, too – whether that’s with helping to run the household, or helping out in the workroom.
Whether you are just starting out, or have been in business for a long time, it’s important to build friendships with other workroom professionals. It’s much different now that it was just 15 years ago, Susan said. "In the early days of my business, I only knew of a few other workrooms. I personally knew two other workrooms because I worked for them! Any other workrooms that were out there were hidden. This was before internet and social media. Back then workrooms didn’t want to share with their competitors and honestly, neither did I. It just wasn’t how workrooms operated then".
"What changed?" Ceil asked..."When did you start to connect and build relationships with other workrooms?" Susan shared that the one thing that changed her business, and opened up a world of opportunity was the internet, and the ability to meet others in the workroom industry through online groups. "Being able to share was a turning point in my career", Susan said. "If I had never joined and shared with other workrooms, what would my business be like today"?
Pictured below is Susan with Margie Nance. Susan credits Margie for the opportunity to teach at Custom Home Furnishings School.
A World of Support
Another resource for connecting with other workroom and design professionals is the Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA).
Susan and Ceil shared the benefits of belonging to a local chapter of the WCAA, and the personal and professional friendships that have developed from chapter meetings. You can learn more about the WCAA and find a local chapter near you at www.wcaa.org
One of the first seminars Susan taught was for a WCAA chapter in northern Virginia. "That was really something because Kitty Stein was there taking notes, and she used my seminar as the topic of one of her magazine articles", Susan said.
Pro-Plus members of the Curtains & Soft Furnishings Resource Library can see a recorded video of Susan reading the article by Kitty Stein under the Classic Writings Revisited tab.
Companies that provide services, tools and supplies are valued business partners. It is important to build good relationships with vendors.
It can be more difficult now, than in the past. Online networking groups have helped build relationships in some ways, but online shopping has hurt vendor relationships because we don’t interact on a personal level.
It seems like many companies do everything they can to encourage customers to order online, and not interact with a sales representatives. "I do like working with companies that have a contact person who I can call by name, and check in with when I need to order, or if I have a questions, or need a quote", Susan said. "I want to feel like the company I am working with is on my team"!
One important resource for making personal connections with other workroom owners, and suppliers is the Custom Workroom Conference, an annual trade show and educational event for the workroom industry.
Relationship building at CWC…
Meeting vendors in person
Meeting other workrooms in person
Face-to-face with facebook friends
Interaction with industry leaders
Feeling valued as a workroom professional
Finding a Mentor - Being a Mentor
Finding a mentor is a great way to learn and grow. Being a mentor is also a great way to learn and grow! Although having a workroom mentor is wonderful if you are a workroom owner, they don’t necessarily need to have a workroom background. A mentor should be someone that you trust and admire for reasons that are important to you. Maybe it’s someone who is really good at time management, marketing, or they inspire you by the way they conduct themselves and their positive attitude. It could just be someone to hold you accountable!
It takes confidence to ask someone to be a mentor. What if they say no? It’s only a bad thing if you take it personally. The person you asked is going to be flattered. You don’t want anyone to accept the responsibility of being a mentor because they feel obligated. If they say no then they are doing that for the right reasons.
If you are acting as a mentor, be sure to set boundaries. Feeling overwhelmed could hurt the mentoring relationship. Schedule online meetings or calls, and ask for a list of questions, or discussion topics so you can be prepared.
Susan shared her experience as a mentor, "I love helping new business owners. Often all they need is a quick confirmation - to let them know that yes, you are doing that right! The best part is when you see people you mentor gain confidence, and then they start sharing and helping others, too. That’s what this podcast is all about. Building relationships and helping others."
Tips for working with a mentor:
Don’t be impatient and expect immediate replies. You shouldn’t have mentoring emergencies.
Be concise and thoughtful with your questions.
Do a little research on your own before asking a question.
Share some things about yourself so your mentor knows more about your background, family, and personality, and not just your business life.
Get to know what resources your mentor has that are available to you. Your mentor should not have to tell you that “you can find that on my website”.
It’s a give and take, not just take. If you mentor is giving, what can you give back? Everyone wants to feel appreciated.
Telling your mentor that you only want to “pick their brain” doesn’t make them feel valued.
Expect to do some work! Mentors don’t always tell you how, they might tell you how to learn how.
Building Relationships by Building Others Up
Helping others is a sure way to build your own confidence, and support network. Be positive. If you can share, motivate, and inspire - then you are building others up. The workroom industry is filled with people who want to help others. Seek them out and be one!
Pictured below are Ceil DiGuglielmo, Elki Horn and Cynthia Bleskachek, industry professionals who build others up by teaching and sharing with an encouraging spirit.