Michael Adams

Trying to make each day better than the last and writing about it.

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3 Sure-Fire Ways to Fail at Networking

I went to the second annual LaunchVT Finals yesterday (Congrats to IrisVR — super-bright guys from Middlebury who’ll blow your mind with what they’ve accomplished for architects and virtual reality). I won LaunchVT last year so I know what Nate and Shane are in for – mass craziness, and a TON of networking opportunities.

A great network is the most valuable asset of any entrepreneur.

You have to know how to work a room, put the phone away, start chatting with anyone you can – and just own it. Own what you’re doing, who you’re doing it with, and where you’re going. Be the most interesting person in the room. Pretty easy for many entrepreneurs as I’ve written about before.

But some entrepreneurs aren’t the best. That’s why I decided to write this post – to give you (and other aspiring networkers) tips on what to avoid – plus how to network better. Let’s do it.

3 Sure-Fire Ways to Fail at Networking

1. Talking about yourself the whole time

Ever get the sense you’re doing all the talking? If you do, well, be quiet. Good networks are good communicators – but they’re also fantastic listeners. How do you know if you’re talking too much? Look at the person’s body language. If their eyes are wandering, they’ve lost interest. If they’re shoulders and body are turned away from you, it’s time to end the conversation – they clearly don’t want to be a part of it.

The fix: Start the conversation off by asking about what they do or why they decided to come to the event. This way, you immediately make your mini meet-and-greet about them – not you.

2. Not talking to anyone

The whole point of networking is, well, to network. And networking involves conversations. Nothing is going to happen if you’re in the corner on your smartphone checking Facebook. Put the phone away.

The fix: Pick anyone to talk to – literally anyone. They feel awkward standing there alone – just like you do. Get involved into a conversation because you know what? You never know if the person you’re talking to will become your next business partner, advisor, or investor.

3. Not following up

The second everyone leaves the event, they don’t remember you. After all, they’ve met a handful of other people that night. That makes follow up important. Without it, all the efforts you put into “networking” are out the door.

The fix: Keep business cards you get in your back-pocket. I have one pocket for my cards – and another for cards I get. When you get home, put them in-front of your laptop. That way, you see the cards when you first sit down to your desk for the day. Get the follow-ups done first thing. Include what you talked about and next steps you both talked about if you’d like to work together.

Those are my three tips. And don’t get me wrong. Everyone once in a while, I do all three of these things. And I’m certainly not going to win an award for best follow-up. I’m working on it, using the strategy I wrote about above.

I know a lot of you are super-awesome at networking. What are your networking fails? Or, on the positive side, how do you make network work for you when you’re at an event?

How to recognize when you need help (Entrepreneur edition)

It was Friday night. I was sitting at my dining room table, in front of my laptop. The white glow illuminated my face as I typed away. I wanted to finish a couple things before I called it quits.

But I couldn’t.

I just could not get anything done. Why? There was this voice in my head saying “What are you doing? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you just got a full-time job again? You’re literally putting yourself to the grind on a Friday night. And you’ve been working since 7am. It’s 10pm. And this isn’t the first Friday night you’re working.”

Reality check: Entrepreneurship is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Seriously. You need to have an iron fist, full armor, and the sharpest sword you can find to get through the first few years. It’s certainly not TechCrunch magic all the time. It’s a hell of lot harder.

As a result, I’ve been battling my own mind.

Sometimes it feels like I haven’t done anything to build my business. Other times, the highs are so fantastic, I ride the coattails of Tuesday all the way to Friday. And then crash and burn when I don’t hit projected sales for the month. That was Friday night.

I came to a point where I truly questioned what I was doing. It was around 9:30pm when I realized I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I had no motivation. No energy to push through and get work done.

It was then I decided to lay down. My head hit the pillow on my couch for the first time in close to 4 months. I wondered why I didn’t do this more often. Couch cushions are so comfy.

Humor aside, I was in a bad place mentally. A bad place.  And no one knew. The contributing factors went far beyond my work. It was life in general: The pressure to find new/more friends. The pressure to “do something that isn’t work”.  And the pressure to believe that work/life balance actually exists (and no, going to networking events only to talk about my business, wasn’t exactly work/life balance).

No one knew I was crumbling under the pressure until I told my business coach a few weeks ago.

“It’s been a hard few weeks. I don’t know how I’m going to make this work. I’m barely scraping by. My living costs are increasing (I’m looking at you, health insurance) and I feel like I’m falling behind everyone else. My friends are successful in their careers, making good money, getting married, and what am I doing? For some reason I believe I can build a mustard company.”

She listened as I continued.

When I was finished, she reminded me I wasn’t alone. That a lot entrepreneurs go through this period of uncertainty, regret, and the feeling of failure. It was normal.

It’s normal to work 7-days a week? It’s normal to turn down social engagements because you’ve “got to get some work done”? It’s normal to have a 78-item to-do list?

This wasn’t normal. A negative transformation was happening. I was becoming introverted – too introverted.  A homebody. Nothing was fun to me anymore. It was just a matter of trudging through things. Sleep. Repeat.

It was then that I realized something needed to change. I needed help. And I needed to admit it. Out loud.

I wrote a 68-item to-do list. Everything I wanted to accomplish. I have since written another 37-item to-do list. With some simple addition, that’s over 100 things I felt were priority.

Another reality check: I’m not superman.

I can’t do all this. Something  had to get knocked off the “priority” list (as an entrepreneur everything becomes priority). I needed to start bringing in a team to take my business to the next level. A team of young, talented people, passionate about a disruption in the condiment category (they’re actually pretty easy to find).

Before I get to how I’m making  change in my business, I want to help you identify if you need the same help.

5 Signs You Need Help (Entrepreneur Edition)

1. When your to-do list is over one page – the whole thing is never getting done. Just face it.

2. When you can’t sleep a solid 8 hours – I’m still working on this. I get six if I’m lucky.

3. You think you’re Superman - no you’re not. No phone booth is going to help you get more done.

4. When your friends start to notice - my best friend calls me out all the time. Thank you, Britt.

5. When you realize you do nothing but work – Last year I fell into this trap. I was out for a couple months. And now, I’ve fallen back in it.

If you are experiencing anything on this list, you need help. When I hit all five of them, I shut down my computer and binged watched three TV shows for three hours straight. Pure trash. It felt like eating an entire pint of ice cream. It was that good.

After realizing I had a problem, I needed to find a solution. Here’s what I did:

 So, how did I figure out what needed to get delegated?

I looked at my huge list and identified what wasn’t getting crossed off:

  • Small retailer follow-up
  • Event planning & public relations
  • Small graphic design projects & blog posting

It’s not that I don’t want to do these things. I love graphic design. I love hunting for media lists. And nothing gets a smile on my face like landing a new retailer. But, I needed to put more time in elsewhere.

I needed to hunt the big whales.

You needed to what? Yes, hunt the big whales. Last week, I had an impromptu meeting with one of my favorite advisors. When we get in the same room, it’s far too easy to just shoot the breeze with him, but we eventually get down to business. He’s incredibly good at asking the hard questions. And one of them was:

“What the hell are you doing? You’ve got to spend more time landing the big accounts!”

He was right. I needed to devote more attention to landing bigger accounts. So, that’s what I’m doing. (PS: He had a lot of other thought-provoking questions I’ll address in future blog posts).

What about that other work?

I’m pulling on two interns (maybe three) from two local colleges: A sales & events intern, an online marketing & PR intern, and I’m considering hiring a graphic design intern (believe it or not) who’ll work remotely from New Jersey and even abroad this summer. I didn’t think I needed the third intern until I realized how much time that would free up for me to get more sales calls done.

More sales calls = bigger business.

While I wish I could actually pay my interns, they realize how unique of an experience they get – and it’s one heck of a portfolio/resume builder. I had unpaid internships in college and quite honestly, they were better than the paid ones.

Side note: My parents are stepping up their game, too. Dad helps me build things and sells mustard at events – and Mom, well, she does everything in this blog post.

Overall, I’m happy with the changes I’m making to my business. It will free up some of my time, give me an occasional Saturday off, and the chance to build a personal life back into well, my life.

Finally, I realized I needed help and decided to do something about it. Do you need help, too?



What I told 255 High School Students About Entrepreneurship

I recently spoke at the Vermont Entrepreneurship Week lunch in front of 255 high school students. I was one of four entrepreneurs who were selected to tell their story – how we got started, the importance of business education,  a couple networking tips, etc.

I had nothing prepared.

I ran out of time. I had no notes. Nothing. I totally winged it. And it paid off. After admitting I had nothing prepared, I set into what felt so natural to me: story-telling. I could tell the students were connecting with what I had to say.

Oh, you’re wondering what I said? Here’s the gist in a neat, organized list of 7 things:

1. Network up

Your friends only know, like, five people. But, everyone else in the room with glasses, semi-gray hair, and well, they look older. They know everyone. Network with them. It’s just more efficient. Why network with someone who knows no one when you can network with people who have already done what you’re looking to do and know the people who you need to connect with to make something happen? Seriously. Network Up. It’s going to be your best asset moving forward.

2. Done is better than perfect

This tip (which I recently learned) has helped increase my productivity ten-fold. If you know me at all, you know I’m a type-A, detail oriented, semi-control freak. But, being able to say things have been completed is so liberating. Sure, there isn’t a cherry-on-top, but it’s done. I can move on to the rest of my mega to-do list. The Vermont SBDC president loved this so much, she even wrote it down. Awesome. Now, if all the other type-A students could do the same thing, we’d get a heck of a lot more accocmplished.

3. If you don’t build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs.

I ended with this quote. It’s what I have hanging in my office, just above my monitor. It keeps me motivated to never want to go back to corporate America, wear a suit every day, etc. I want to build my dream – not yours. You can certainly help achieve mine – that’s what a great team is for – but, I’m going for my dream first. The earlier you realize this, the earlier you can get started doing what you love and building your own dream. And it doesn’t mean you can’t do both. In fact, I recommend working full-time until you can break away and devote full-time resources to your dream. But, at least take the step to realizing your dream. Life is too short to not be going for your dreams.

4. Take psychology classes

Getting into the mind of your customers is so important. You need to know what pain points they suffer from (yes, even for gourmet mustard). You need to know the colors that create certain emotions. This is all consumer psychology. And it pairs beautifully with marketing. Neuromarketing is the future. If you’d like to read more about neuromarketing, this book will completely change your mind about marketing (pun intended).

5. You can’t do it alone

My parents are the glue to my business (remember this post?). For larger businesses, it’s their team (remember to always hire people smarter than you). Even solo founders have help – from family, friends, advisers, consultants, you name it. They’ve received help along the way. That’s what is so great about entrepreneurship. You build a network worth its weight in gold. Start building your network right now – oh, and re-read lesson #1.

6. It’s a roller coaster and when you go down, you go down.

A teacher asked me what some of my challenges were. And I was honest. One of my biggest challenges has been trying to keep myself emotionally balanced. I almost cried this week. I ate straight from the peanut butter jar multiple times. In the last two weeks, I’ve been over-whelmed, stressed, and pushed to my limits.  This is the bad of entrepreneurship, but I’m trying so hard to focus on the good. The good helps me grow. The good helps people believe. This is what it’s like owning a business. When you go down, you go down, but when you go back up – it’s so, so worth it.

7. Just try and make a couple hundred bucks.

A student in the back of the room (who I knew) asked a question about where we produce mustard, and I answered it, but I took the opportunity to turn it into an inspirational story about how he launched a small side project refurbishing old Nike shoes and making $450 in one week. If he could do it, any one of the students in the room could do it. Just get started. Have a small goal to make a few hundred bucks. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll achieve.

How’d the talk get received?

Super-well. I had multiple people come up to me afterwards to let me know how dynamic I was, how engaging I was, and how real it felt. I got that last comment a lot, actually. Many students appreciated how raw my talk was. How I was just so honest about my struggles. This was my response:

I used to sugarcoat everything. Things were always great – just peachy, if you will. The second I started telling it like it is, being honest, and raw, I got more respect, I built my credibility as an entrepreneur, and I got people to champion what I believed in.

Following the talk, I testified in-front of the House Commerce Committee at the Statehouse about the importance of entrepreneurship in school curriculum. I was passionately honest (if that can happen) about what I needed as a small business owner to take my company to the next level, too. All the legislators were thankful for my honesty. And that leads to the 8th tip, I wish I could have told those students:

Be honest. In fact, be brutally honest. Sugar-coating gets you nowhere. Plus, sugar is bad for you, so you should eat less of it.


Thanks to everyone who made Vermont Entrepreneurship Week possible. It was a blast speaking to over 250 high school students. I’m happy and honored I got the chance to make a difference in a least some of their lives.

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