In my new role with Business Doctors I’ve become the queen of networking. It’s a whole new world for me and it’s been fascinating. I’ve never had to network before; not actively in the way I do now and I’ve had to navigate the myriad of networking options available.
The key, if you’re new to business networking, is to go to as many different meetings as possible to start off with to find which ones suit you best. If I’m really honest, I was dreading having to network; the thought of having to go into a room of strangers terrified me. When I die and go to hell (for surely I shall) my eternal damnation will consist of every day having to get up at 5am, spend the day cold calling people who absolutely don’t want to speak to me and then spend my evenings at endless cocktail parties where I know no-one. So maybe you can understand my slight trepidation about going to business networking.
Happily I can report, it’s nowhere near as bad as I had feared. Most meetings are structured so you aren’t having to stand around trying to muscle your way into small groups of people who’ve known each other forever. There is usually some form of standing around chatting, but swiftly followed by sitting round a table where you each get to do your 60 second pitch (top tips on how to do your 60 second pitch can be found here – How to make the most of your 60 second pitch )
Where to start? There’s BoB (Business over Breakfast), BNI, 4N, Fabulous Women and Marvellous Men, Women in Business, Trusted Contacts, DRFC, Bravo, Surrey Chambers, Leatherhead Chambers and a whole range of others that I’ve not found yet or had time to visit. There are breakfast sessions, lunchtime meetings and evening events. You could network all the day long if you so choose. I aim to go to around four meetings a week – but that isn’t necessarily the same for everyone.
My next blog will give you a blow by blow of each meeting group; how they operate and how much they cost…
Most groups require you to pay membership fees if you decide you like what you find, but you generally get to visit three times for free. But note, not only could you spend all day long at networking events, you could find yourself spending a fortune joining lots of groups and not only are there membership fees, but you have to pay usually between £10-£15 per meeting to cover the room cost and food (some charge even more). So budget wisely. Find the ones that you think will work for you before you cough up!
I’ve learned that it’s important to give them at least three goes. There was one national group I tried (that I shall refrain from naming to protect the innocent (me!)) and was about to abandon as we got off to a bad start with one meeting cancelled, another meeting which I got up at 5am (before the crack of the crack of dawn!) to get to, only to be met by a blank face by the manager of the pub who knew nothing about the meeting. And then when I finally got to a meeting, there were only six people there and it was a decidely poor session. I got talked into going to one more, at which there were more people and it ended up being a really good meeting. As a consequence of that meeting and going to a couple of others at different venues, I not only got persuaded to join the group, but agreed to help with the marketing of the Dorking group! A result I would not have predicted three months ago. So do give them three goes.
As I mentioned earlier there are variations on the theme of what goes on at each meeting. The majority of them give you a 60 second slot to tell them about you and your business and what you are looking for.
One group organises ten minute slots with three people of your choice to learn more about them and what they do, others have four or five of you sat round a table and spending ten minutes talking and then they swap you round so you get to talk to another four people. These are great as you really get to find out more about people and their businesses.
What you don’t want to do is actively sell. There’s nothing more tedious than someone who plugs their business shamelessly and then hounds you afterwards with emails. One particular gentleman wouldn’t take no for an answer and bombarded me with email after email as to why I should join another group he was working with – with mixed fonts and colours that affronted the eyes! When I invited him to a seminar, he even used that as an excuse to push his group. It is very unlikely I will refer any business to him.
Other groups expect a weekly commitment which can be quite onerous, but the quid pro quo is that I get to be the only business coach in the room. This group actively encourages referrals and you are measured against the number of referrals you give. This again can sound quite daunting, but it at least encourages you to think about what business you can give others.
And this is also important – networking is all about what you can do for others. Business Doctors heavily subscribes to ‘paying it forward’ and this is encouraged by many groups. The idea being that if you help others out, hopefully some of them will then start helping you out by referring business to you at some stage in the future. Of course, you need to trust the people you are referring into your customers and know that they can do a good job, otherwise your reputation is at stake.
So for me networking has a number of purposes:
- Get known in my area for what I do
- I get to meet a lot of people – most of whom are small business owners or people who work with small business owners.
- Helps me build my database of contacts who I can invite to my (free) seminars
- I meet people with whom I may do business directly
- I meet people with whom I may collaborate and refer business to. My aim is to have a power group around me of people I really know and trust who I can have complete confidence that if I refer them to my clients they will do a top job.
I have already met some great people along the way and it has definitely got easier the more I’ve done it as I’m starting to meet the same people at different meetings and I’m starting to relax and show the real me rather than the slightly frosty businesswoman I can be perceived as on first viewing. I’m not like that at all, just shy when I first meet people and I cover it behind a veneer of professionalism. The added bonus for me as I am new to the area, is that I will probably end up with some lovely new friends too.
Business networking is starting to become an enjoyable activity for me and even having to get up at silly o’clock a couple of times a week is less of a chore.