I Can’t Believe it, I Like Networking!
Well who knew? I can't believe I am saying this, but I actually quite like networking!
Being honest I put off what I thought would be the most horrendous way to sell for as long as possible. Finally a good friend gave me a big kick & told me to just do it, after all I didn’t get to launching a business without taking a huge leap of faith in the first place.
So I went along heart pumping, palms sweaty & feeling like I was going into the Dragons Den. The reality was I was greeted warmly by some smiling faces & as soon as I said this was my first meeting there was huge empathy & I was taken under their wing- what I discovered to my relief was everyone in that room had felt terror on their first meeting. Mission one complete, I managed to walk through the door without tripping & actually spoke to people- go me!
There are a growing number of networking groups; men only, mixed, women only, open networking where you ‘work the room’, networking where you meet in small groups every month & some where you are even targeted to refer business to other members of the group. But how do you choose what’s right for you? My first piece of advice would be to think of your target audience, are they likely to be there & also assess the style that you feel most comfortable with & just try them you will soon find out what’s right for you.
As a first time networker I chose to join my local women’s only networking group; the Athena Group. For me this was about getting to know really well a small group of really supportive ladies & their businesses & they get to know me by attending a monthly meeting over lunch. Since then I have been to other meetings that are more open but that confidence has only been gained though confidence in me, my business & my speal.
Here are some of my key learnings:
1) Be clear on your goal or goals & how they correlate to the people in the room. There could be a number which will likely vary over time:
- Who are you looking to meet? Clients, suppliers, business owners for support- are they there?
- Do you want to meet people in your own industry or stay away from the competition- one thing I would say on this is that those in seemingly competing businesses may be great to get to know for example pass work between you, suggest recommended partners where you don’t have the skillset. Please don’t think of them as the enemy.
- Is it a way to practice your pitch to customers in a safe environment
- Do you think the people in the room could help you find your ideal client?
- How ‘business’ focused are the meetings for example some are less formal chat over coffee v some you are targeted on supplying leads & there are a wealth of options in between. How important is that to you?
2) It isn’t about a quick sale- like anything you’re unlikely to buy from or recommend someone if you don’t like them or trust their credibility. Not only that, but it might not be someone in the room that has a need for your product or service but the people in the room might know someone who does. Of course ultimately the end game is sales but for me networking has been so much more than that. As has been proven; keep the faith, invest in relationships by follow up 121s, people will get you & doors will be opened.
3) Finding your ‘Tribe’- This is truly one of the extremely powerful joys of networking. For me, this has been like finding my mums NCT group. When you have had a bad day they can pick you up, when you have won a piece of business they celebrate with you, if you need someone to partner with on a piece of work they are in the room with you or at least know someone you can. In the world of being a lone business owner this is a huge plus because there are lows & highs & you need people around you to help with that.
4) A space to learn- At each of the meetings I go to there is a presentation. The content varies from someone sharing their business journey & imparting great advice through to, tips for GDPR compliance, tax advice, posture & stress relief & I personally spoke at one about Social Media. The content is largely driven by the members in your group & some proactivity of the group leader finding some interesting speakers. I always take something from these sessions & it is nice to have this time out to learn.
5) How much?? The prices vary depending upon the group. It is easy to be put off by the price tag of some of them however one sensible way to think is that how many sales would you need to make to cover your cost? Look at the potential opportunities & always try before you buy- most networking groups allow you to do this. You also need to think about the cost of your time. You need to deliver quality to your clients so ensure that there is an appropriate balance of networking & client delivery. There are so many networking opportunities out there you could be doing it all day long!
6) Don’t go with a friend- a strange thing to say if you are out of your comfort zone as a friend can provide support. If you go with a friend you are more likely to stay & talk to them & therefore not meet new people. Keep friendships to a coffee shop or pub. Having said that people you network with are likely to turn into friends but the point is you need to get out there independently to spread your wings wide.
7) A place to be inspired- I have learn't from and been inspired by the wonderful ladies I have met & I am excited by the possible collaborations that could follow.
So I say, if you haven't tried it before, give networking a go. I was terrified but I am now beginning to realise the benefits to be gained from doing it.