Let’s rewind the clock to early 2011.  I was working as a Receptionist/Admin in a local serviced office building.  My colleague was given the task of going in early – I mean, really early – once a week to open up the building for a “networking” meeting.

What is this? Who has meetings at 7 am?  Why does this weekly event have to take place at such an ungodly hour?  Is she getting paid extra to open up in the dark?  (she wasn’t!)

I was still working part-time when I attended my first ever networking event in August 2011.  It was a breakfast meeting in my home town.  To say I was nervous would be the biggest understatement ever uttered.  I didn’t sleep the night before, and actually threw up before leaving the house on the morning of the meeting.  It was like driving lessons all over again!  All I can say is that I wished I had a Harry Potter invisibility cloak to hide under – but at the same time I didn’t want to be left standing on my own like Billy No Mates.  As it turned out, I survived the morning, bumbling my way through a 60 second pitch for a business that (at that time) didn’t exist, I had no business cards, no business name and a part-time job I hated.  But everyone was incredibly friendly and encouraging.

I was hooked!

Back to the present day and I’ve had quite a journey where networking is concerned.  I’ve been a member of national networking organisations, local independent groups, women only groups ….. I’ve tried them all.  I even ran my own group for 3 years on a voluntary basis (Cannock WiRE) but had to give that up when Tao work needed my time. 

It really is a case of shopping around to find the group (or groups) that feel right.  If you’re not an early morning person, avoid breakfast meetings! Maybe you feel more comfortable in an all-female environment if you’re a female business owner.

The key to successful networking is not to expect work to come pouring in on your first visit.  Be a farmer:  sow your seeds, nurture their growth and cultivate relationships well.  You will then harvest your rewards once people get to know, like and trust you.  The bane of every networking circuit are the hunters:  they visit every group in the vicinity, hand out flyers, promote courses/books/seminars, glean free information at an alarming rate of knots …. but sadly never commit.   It’s the hunters who have a bleak outlook on networking, adamant that it’s a waste of time and it doesn’t work.  I can’t imagine why ……!

Five Top Tips For Successful Networking:

  1. Be prepared. Before you visit a group, do you know where it is, where to park, who the other group members are, the financial commitment if you decide to join ….
  2. Prepare a stellar 60 second pitch, rehearse it beforehand and deliver it with gusto!
  3. Take plenty of business cards – but don’t force them on people
  4. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.  Listening is a good skill to possess
  5. Don’t forget to follow up after the meeting, connect on social media etc. The end of the meeting is just the start of new relationships

I am proud to be a member of three very proactive business networking groups.  If you would like to learn more, or come along to any of them as a visitor, just let me know and I’ll arrange it.

I can categorically state, first hand, that networking works but yes, you have to work at it.  Don’t be a hunter – go build your farm!

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Heath Hayes Staffordshire WS12