The Benefits of Getting Involved

Get Online NOLA President, Wendy Dolan, recently contributed to “In Good Company,” the members magazine for LCI Workers Comp. She was asked to write about how she first became involved in the New Orleans business community and share advice for other business owners who want to find their place as well. See the full edition of In Good Company here.

The Benefits of Getting Involved

Like so many entrepreneurs, when I first started my company, I knew very little about running a business. Having just moved back to Louisiana after almost a decade away, my professional network was almost non-existent. Never-the-less, I was determined to combine my marketing experience, design education and love of the internet into a successful business.

That lead to a crash course on just how challenging a new venture can be. I sought advice from anyone with business sense and the willingness to share. Over and over, they said, “get involved.” So, within the first few months of founding Get Online NOLA, I made a conscious effort to find my place in the local business community. Visiting as many organizations as I could – from business breakfasts and lunch and learns to happy hours – helped me get a good overview of what was available.

Finding a Place to Grow

I began to identify groups that felt comfortable, and overcame my anxiety about delivering an elevator pitch to a room full of accomplished professionals. New Orleans Chamber president Ben Johnson often says that networking is a great excuse for grown ups to talk to each other. Taking that advice to heart, I talked to as many people as I could. I made a point to follow up, said yes to coffee meetings, and seized opportunities to make new connections.

Gradually, a small but sincere network developed. Soon, one of my new business buddies extended an invitation to join the American Business Women’s Association executive board. Serving as Vice President of Marketing for ABWA was a milestone in my professional development. Most of my background was in smaller organizations, so the position offered a much-needed opportunity to work with experienced women who provided mentorship and guidance. I gained access to all the professional resources the organization had to offer, and got some good PR to boot.

Being a Student and a Teacher

Around the same time, I started attending Stay Local’s business workshops. Becoming a regular at their educational events, I learned about everything from Human Resources to Tax Planning. When first asked to deliver a digital marketing presentation at a Stay Local Lunch and Learn, I felt a disorienting mix of adrenaline and anxiety. It was then that I got my first real taste of imposter syndrome. After all, my business was still young, and I was scared that I wouldn’t be taken seriously.

It’s often said that the best way to learn is to teach. Compiling the slide deck for that first presentation helped hone my message and refine my delivery. I walked away not only with increased credibility and new leads, but also a better understanding of my own value as a marketer. The success of that seminar inspired me to develop a website workshop for another non-profit called New Orleans Women in Technology (WIT), that helps women gain high-paying technology skills, a mission I’m particularly passionate about.

Gaining More than Giving

Getting involved in business organizations and nonprofit groups has been one of the most important factors in Get Online NOLA’s growth. It has introduced me to new ideas, and I am constantly inspired by the people I meet who are willing to go beyond their job descriptions to help everyone succeed. Sure, there are financial benefits to “getting involved,” but the real value is harder to measure. It comes from developing authentic relationships, and the sense of fulfillment that evolves from helping build an engaged, eclectic, and thriving community.