Networking. Love it or hate it, you probably need it.
The thought of networking absolutely terrified me – how would I hold my own in a room full of people who (I assumed) were more knowledgeable, experienced and confident than me? But I knew I needed to do it. Starting my own B2B business meant if I never spoke to anyone, I’d never work.
A Gentle Start
The first thing I learnt is that networking doesn’t have to be those big, scary rooms full of people. I enrolled on a basic business course to learn how to handle all the paperwork and rules which come with running your own business. I met a small group of lovely people who were all starting out themselves. They weren’t scary, were willing to learn too and had their own experience to share.
After gaining a bit of confidence (and sorting out the dreaded elevator pitch) I started looking for more formal groups. I discovered quite a few local networking groups with active social media pages. I love these. You can be incredibly active or watch from the sidelines depending on how much you want to do and what you have to offer, and start building your reputation.
Face to Face
Lurking in these groups convinced me I had something worthwhile to offer, so I took the leap and attended something in person. Don’t be put off if your first event isn’t quite what you’d hoped. I tried a few different groups before settling on a couple of networks which suited me nicely.
Some allow parents to bring children, some take the form of after-work drinks, some are pure networking, some offer training or guest speakers – there’s bound to be something out there to suit you.
Once you’re there, it’s just a question of striking up a conversation. I noticed that people who go straight into a sales pitch don’t get a very warm reception in general. Ask questions, listen to the answers and add to the conversation where you can. It may not be immediately obvious as to the benefit of particular businesses or people, but you never know what’s around the corner.
Keep it going
When you’ve found the people you’re comfortable with, stick with them! Whether it’s face-to-face or online, groups or individual chats, keep the conversation going. It’ll keep you and your business in people’s minds and will help you develop the relationships which everyone in business needs.
Someone recently introduced me as ‘Networking Queen’. I can assure you it doesn’t feel like that from this side, but it is true that pretty much all of my work to date has come as a result of networking in some form.
So take part, chat to people, share your knowledge. What have you got to lose?
What are your experiences of networking? Did you take to it like a duck to water? Or did you find yourself floundering? I’d love to hear! Either comment or get in touch directly.