What and why….
The dictionary definition of ‘networking’ goes something like this:
‘interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’
As definitions go it’s actually pretty good! Clear, precise and all encompassing. The world tells us that as professionals entrepreneurs we should be networking, but the question I ask is:
What if networking doesn’t work for you?
If you are a small business owner, it can be really easy to get sucked into your own work bubble; only to emerge tired, inward looking and unable to communication with actual people. Networking in its traditional sense is great if you are an extrovert! You can confidently talk to a group of strangers about your business and the things you feel passionately about without batting an eyelid. You can hand over business cards and come away with a few potential leads and recommendations with your eyes shut. If you are an introvert, then this becomes very difficult. Me? I am an ‘extrovert’ and would never pretend to understand what it is like to be an introvert – although I can emphasise massively on this subject as I have a lot of friends who are in that camp.
As an aside, if you want to learn more about what it means to be a introvert then I would highly recommend reading the blogs of Quietly Fabulous
I realised early on that ‘networking’ is just yet another way of marketing yourself and creating opportunities. There are many many other ways of doing this. Networking it is not compulsory it has to work for you!
How and what to expect….
Each networking event differs in style and content. I have had experience in attending events run by 4n
4n is national company that runs breakfast and lunch events all over the country. You are able to try before you buy (3 times no less!) and your membership is not restricted to your local area. You can attend wherever you think would be useful. A typical breakfast event runs a little bit like this:
- Teas/coffees and chat
- 40 secs to introduce yourself and what you do (whilst breakfast is served)
- Comfort break and a chance to swap business cards with three other people for the 10 minute business meetings
- 4sight – A 15 minutes ‘non selling’ presentation from one of the members
- Three 10 minute business meetings
- Informal chat!
When do they run?
You can find one pretty much every day of the week across the country.
How much time does it take?
Allow 2 hours plus extra for additional networking.
Not especially and it involves public speaking.
How much does it cost and what do I get…
There are a number of membership options and on top you need to pay between £13 – £15 each time you attend for breakfast or lunch.
You get food and an opportunity to talk yourself up to local people. I liked 4n because it gave you the opportunity to try the events before you commit to membership. I also liked it because you are limited to 40 seconds in the ‘introduce yourself’ section – therefore impossible to waffle on!
What should I do to prepare:
- Practice your 40 second introduction. It is harder than it seems.
- Take as much promotional materials as possible – Business cards, leaflets etc
- Plan your route, there is nothing worse than arriving late
I want to get it right – help!
My 5 top tips for networking:
- If public speaking is involved – PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!
- Be prepared to talk to people who are not necessary potential clients. Everyone has friends, business acquaintances etc – the power of word of mouth cannot be underestimated.
- Eat breakfast /lunch before you go, then you can focus on talking to people rather than trying to contain a rumbling stomach
- Allow more time than is allocated. If you have made an connection with someone, it would be useful to be able to stick around and chat rather than rush off
- Take someone with you – useful for introverts and also for those moments you just want a 2 minute break without having to stand on your own
What is right with it?
- For the most part the costs are tax deductible, although there are some exceptions to this. Rosie from One Man Band Accounting can explain more here
- Most events offer a try before you buy option. 4n is no exception.
- Becoming a regular increases your chance of referrals and recommendations.
What is wrong with it?
- Networking is not right for everyone. You do have to have a certain confidence to get the most out of it. If you feel like this after the first cup of tea then I think very careful before committing to join.
- There can be a lot of upfront costs involved.
- Know who your ideal client is and be confident enough to accept that you are perhaps not going to find them in a room full of web designers for large Corporations!
Start your own! If you want to meet specific people that why not try and tailor your own event. Meet up is a easy way of doing this and get it right means you will be surrounded by all your ideal clients and their friends – ideal!
Like everything networking is not always as black and white. You might not come away from the first meeting with 2 new clients and 3 new leads, but you could learn something or get advice about the best way to do something. Education never stops, especially when you start your own business. Be like a sponge, soak it all in!
What do I do now?
If you have never been to Networking event, GO! Read this blog before you can go in and then afterwards in the car park. Take a notebook and right a list of the things you thought were bad/good/helpful/useless about the event.
Networking is like anything in life, if it works for you and your business DO IT, if it doesn’t DON’T!
Finally try writing your own dictionary definition of networking, it will help you refocus your thoughts on it and remind you why should go. My personal definition of networking looks a little like this:
‘Creating opportunities to meet people you wouldn’t necessarily meet. Remember everyone needs a ‘me’ in their lives. You just have to point it out to them’.
Go forth and network lovely creative types!