This week, I have a guest post from Michelle Jackson Rowe, all about networking (something I know a lot of us struggle with).
If you were to ask me what has had the biggest impact on my business(es) since I launched, I would say networking.
Back when I was thinking of becoming self-employed I attended my first event, a Women’s Business Club lunchtime event. There were about 8 of us sat around a table; we introduced ourselves, we ate lunch, we talked about business issues, it was OK. I wasn’t blown away by it, but I enjoyed it and I made one good contact.
We were encouraged during the event to arrange a ‘one to one’ with another member so to get to know each other better. Which I did; over coffee I discovered this lady was a ‘veteran networker’ and she suggested another group that I might like to join.
The other group was still all women, they met from 9am to 11am each fortnight. The event itself followed a similar format, although this time, there were around 15 of us and standing up to do my ‘one minute’ I was a little more nervous.
I was a member of the group for a year, I made a huge number of contacts and sat and had coffee with each of them at least once. During that year, I quit my job and set up three businesses. The women I met at that event, were a huge source of support, both during the networking events and if I needed additional support outside of them. And I hope that I was able to help them as well.
Building websites, finding an accountant, designing and ordering stationery, sorting insurance, answering my phones, testing products, legal support and my first 20 or so clients. If the members themselves couldn’t help, they would ask around and find someone who could.
They suggested other networking groups, which I attended and made even more contacts and so on and on. As my network grew, so did my businesses, my confidence, my knowledge and my love of networking.
You’ve probably heard before that networking isn’t about selling stuff and it really isn’t. Increasing your sales should be a natural by-product of having a good network.
Here are my five tips for starting networking:
Go to different types of groups; the chances are you will enjoy some formats a lot more than others. I can’t stand the kinds of group that push referrals, things like BNI, but I know others who swear by them. Each group and format will be different, try them all at least once so you can learn what you like and what you don’t like.
Tell the person running the group that it is your first time or that you don’t know anyone in the room and ask if they can introduce you to someone. And then tell the person that you’re introduced to that it’s your first time and so on – people are generally very nice and will go out of their way to introduce you to others.
If at the last minute, you’re too nervous and you don’t want to go, then set yourself a target; make yourself stay until you have spoken to five people or collected five business cards, after that if you want to stay great, but if you’ve had enough, you’ve got five more contacts that you didn’t have yesterday.
Wear something memorable, I’m not talking about a hat in the shape of a panda bear, but wearing something bright will help people remember you, it can also be a good ice-breaker to have be wearing an usual necklace – I find a lot more people will come and say Hello, when you have something easy and friendly to say and “I really like your necklace” is a great opener.
Hover around the food or drink – If you are nervous about approaching people, hover around the coffee, with a smile on your face. You’ll soon find other people will grab a cuppa and then come and say Hi.
Hopefully once you’ve been to your first couple of events you will find them a huge boost to your business and like me, five years later, you’ll have some fantastic stories of the people you have met while you were there.
Michelle Jackson Rowe offers freelance sales, marketing and promotions support. You can find out more and read her blog by visiting: www.michellejacksonrowe.com.
This guest post was part of Operation Entrepreneur.