13 years. That’s how long I’ve been at this entrepreneurship thing. For 10 of those years, I’ve been using social networks (Happy Birthday, Twitter!) to connect, share and build my brand. Ugh. That sounds so pretentious.

The truth is, there was a group of us doing that connection thing online well before the social media gurus came along and gave it fancy names. I didn’t know when I was one of the first 100,000 people on Twitter that I was using it to build anything, let alone a “brand”. I was just hanging out there because I had these new friends I’d met and I wanted a way to keep up with them. I joined Facebook because it seemed like a good way to reconnect with people I grew up with. I started blogging out of sheer love of writing, and out of a desire to get better at it.

None of this was intentional. But here’s what I know now, that I didn’t know then.

Figure out who you’re talking to. Granted, the online world is a much bigger place now than it was in the early days of 2006. But the same holds true. You have to know whose attention you want to get, if you’re going to get anyone’s attention at all. How do you do that? You listen. You hook up your HootSuite with a pile of searches around keywords and hashtags. You join groups and like pages on Facebook. You search on Instagram and Snapchat and whatever other tool you think your audience might be lurking around on. Then you walk in the room, and you listen. And then, after you’ve listened for a while, and you feel like you have something relevant to say, you start talking.

But I’m shy to talk to strangers! What if nobody likes me? I don’t care if you’re shy. I’m shy. But if you’re going to succeed as an entrepreneur these days, you have to get over yourself, and learn to talk to people you don’t know. That holds true in person as well as online. The fact is, the online world is generally a friendly place. If you extend your virtual hand and say hello to people with common interests, you’ll probably be greeted warmly. So just do it and stop hiding behind your shyness.

Create content. Then create some more. Here’s another hard truth. If you’re going to build trust in your community, if you’re going to get people to respect what you have to offer, you have to show them what you’re capable of. It’s the only way these days. So blog. And if you’re not a writer, start a podcast. Make YouTube videos. Draw pictures. Create something that speaks to your talents, and then just hit publish. And when people start to take notice, talk to them. This is the only way I know to really get people to know who you are and what you do. It’s the primary way to build credibility in today’s entrepreneurial world. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Make the ask. My parents taught me from a young age that if I want something, I’m to ask for it. That lesson has served me well as an entrepreneur. The online world is not “if you build it, they will come”. You have to pursue the things you want. That means, if you come across an opportunity, you need to find the people making the decisions and talk to them. After you’ve been providing great content and talking to people for a while, you can feel more comfortable making the ask. But don’t forget to make it! Otherwise your bank account will be miserable.

I’ve learned a lot these past 10 years. Above all, I’ve learned that being able to connect and share with people all over the world is the biggest opportunity we have as business owners. It’s an amazing thing, if you’re willing to embrace it.

Now go forth and prosper!

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