The word itself, networking, was enough to send shivers down my spine a couple of years ago. The mere thought of walking up and start talking to people I didn’t know was utterly terrifying and forcing myself to do it felt like completely violating my natural instincts.
The few times I for some reason agreed to go along to one were far from pleasant for me. Usually by the time I managed to drag myself, brain kicking and screaming, up to a group of people to introduce myself I would be so exhausted from worrying what to say or ask, that I forgot what I was there for. All I could think was “Don’t leave, please don’t leave. I don’t want to stand here by myself again” and nod away without really listening, hoping the ground would swallow me up and get me out of there.
This was before I started my own business and before I realised that networking can, believe it or not, be a real pleasure, and usually is. These days I’m gutted if I miss out on a networking opportunity. Not only can these events, usually based around a talk by someone relevant to your business, be hugely inspiring, they are also a great opportunity to spread the word about your own venture as well as for gathering useful information.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve recommended a product or a service to friends and family, purely because I liked the person initially telling me about it and representing it. I’ve personally bought several products and services introduced to me by their inventor/provider. It really is all about the people. People buy stuff from people they like. It’s as simple as that.
There are of course different ways to network, and if you don’t like being in a room full of people inhaling questionable canapés, cheap wine and the occasional nutter following you around, Facebook, Twitter and similar online networking websites are perfect for you. They can’t replace the real thing though. If you’re serious about your idea/business you need to get out there and talk to people as well. Once you start doing it regularly, and realise just how good for business it is, you will love it, no doubt.
Family Friendly Networking
My first ever (voluntary) networking event was in December 2008. I came across a small ad for it one day while flicking absentmindedly through a local magazine while breastfeeding my 5-month old daughter. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to go. It was local. It was during the day. It was for women. For mothers who were allowed to bring their babies. It was for mothers with ideas. It was for me. It was Motivating Mum.
I went along, sleep deprived and a bit nervous but mostly excited. As luck would have it, my daughter magically slept through all three hours of the event, which allowed me to speak with at least ten of the brilliant women there. The event included lunch, a brilliant talk by Sarah Tremellen of Bravissimo and the pleasant company of 35-40 women at different stages of setting up business. I brought along rough prints of ideas I had for a social stationery range (i.e. greeting cards, notebooks etc) and got so much feedback and inspiration that I felt my head was exploding by the end of it – in a good way! I danced home that afternoon, full of new ideas, and I haven’t looked back since.
A couple of weeks after the event I decided to put my other ideas, including the greeting cards, temporarily on the shelf (a children’s book, mother/baby event photography, a baby toy, and a graphic design studio were other ideas, to mention a few…) because on my baby’s pram was what turned out to be my Big Idea (and coincidentally also the reason my daughter had let me enjoy all 3 hours of the networking event).
It was a pram cover I had designed to protect my daughter against the sun. Fed up with flimsy pegged muslins, impossible to position parasols and big black UV covers that didn’t allow me to see her while on the go, I took matters into my own hands. Well, my mother’s hands actually. I made the drawings and sent them to her, and she made me my perfect pram sun cover. Peace of mind at last.
By then summer was over, and the sun wasn’t bothering her so much anymore. Besides, she was getting old enough to have sun lotion put on, so in theory I didn’t need it any longer. But I left it on the pram because it had another great benefit I hadn’t initially thought of; whenever I lowered the cover, either fully, halfway or with the peep hole open, it seemed to make her sleep much better and longer. This is when I realised what my business was going to be based on; making life easier for new parents, one pram cover at a time.
Since then I have acquired many a great contact through networking, especially through Motivating Mum and also through British Library’s IP & Business Centre. My connection with Motivating Mum is the direct reason that I had the opportunity of being included in a book (Mum Ultrapreneur, written by Susan Odev) and in a national television show (The Next Big Thing, to be shown on BBC2 in Spring 2011, hosted by Theo Paphitis), not to mention the most important opportunity of all; to fulfil my dreams and potential.
So go to that networking event, even if the thought alone makes you break out in a cold sweat. You’ll get used to them – the great connections that is. Because networking definitely works.
This article first appeared on Motivating Mum a few years ago. Now that I have merged Motivating Mum into Mum’s the Boss, I am reproducing some of the best posts from that site, and this is one of them….