Always Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open By Susan Johnston

Recently I attended a networking event for women entrepreneurs. Now, I’m not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense. I’m not looking for venture capital and I don’t need a manufacturer who can produce purses or kitchen gadgets inexpensively. But something told me that it would be a worthwhile event.

Instead of reciting my elevator pitch and handing out business cards to anyone who would talk to me (as some networkers are prone to doing), I asked several women about their businesses and listened carefully for details that would make an interesting story. During the panel discussion, I scribbled notes about each speaker and talked to a few of them after the event.

The next day I pitched one of the women as a profile article, which my editor quickly assigned. I then pitched a profile about another woman I’d met that night and landed another assignment.

As I interviewed the women, I thought about the themes that had emerged during the panel. Each of the women was in a different stage of her business, but as I replayed their comments in my head, I realized that many of them shared the same challenges.

One challenge in particular inspired a feature article for a website I’d always wanted to write for. It was a long shot, I figured, but I also knew I could use the query for another market if this one didn’t bite. Within a week, I received the assignment.

Admission to the event cost $35, but with the money I earned from writing about it, the ticket paid for itself many times over. As writers, we’re reminded to put ourselves out there and seize every opportunity to market ourselves. Marketing is important, of course, but so is listening. Try shutting off your inner marketer for a few minutes and let other people share their stories. Inspiration is everywhere, but sometimes we’re too busy to listen.

Susan Johnston is a full time freelance writer who has contributed to The Boston Globe,, and Self magazine, among other markets. Learn more at: