Just how important is it for us to network?
Meeting new people in person may be daunting for some, exciting for others - whether or not you are a new VA stepping out to test the waters or a seasoned business owner that has ‘been there, done that’ for the last 10 years.
So why is it that ‘networking’ is promoted to us, as business people, so enthusiastically?
No matter how unsociable we (okay, me!) think we are, the simple fact is is that we need human interaction.
As humans, it has been designed from year dot that we need each other to function.
I am not a Sociologist, have absolutely no formal education on sociology, anthropology of any other learnings on us, as beings, and certainly won’t presume I know much about the five types of social interaction: exchange, competition, conflict, cooperation and accommodation.
My lack of sociological knowledge means I am even less versed on the four fundamental social interaction forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, the weak interaction and the strong interaction.
However, I do know how I feel when preparing for an event and walking into a room full of strangers for the first time, or at the present time, on screen, so I base my opinion on my experience, and those of others that I have spoken with on the subject.
The First Time
That fluttery feeling of butterflies literally batting around in your tummy, half excited about what this new experience could bring and the other half a nervous awkwardness, like the new person in a school during the middle of a term where, inevitably, the cliques have been formed (despite everyone saying “it isn’t cliquey”).
Imposter syndrome, together with tiredness, kicks in.
Why am I here? What do I know? What do I want to get out of this? Who will make me feel comfortable? Do I have to mingle or can I stay with the first small group of people I find?
For those that don’t know me, I have been described as a fairly sociable person, someone that is seen as confident and at ease interacting with other people.
Largely, those descriptions are right. However, I think anyone says they don’t get nervous of a new situation is not telling the truth. Humans naturally seek comfort and putting yourself in the midst of a number of people that you don’t know is unfamiliar.
The purpose of this is not to put anyone off networking, quite the contrary - but my point is that it is natural to feel a little on edge, uneasy and a bit nervous as well as feeling curious, excited and hopeful.
So which networking event or group is right for you?
The good news is that there are several options that suit differing characters and their needs so it is all about finding the right one for you.
I am focusing on regular networking groups rather than one off events.
Online networking (and not just because of Covid-19) is the norm at the moment so that, in itself, can be tiring and a little awkward. Meeting scores of people on screen is a whole different experience. Once you have done it a few times, you will come away feeling quite pleased with yourself if you are anything like me. I did it, I managed it well and I even had a number of positive comments and leads on my 60 second pitch!
There are plenty of networking groups and forums for small businesses, some local to where you are, as well as industry focused support groups where you will find a library of information, with help, guidance and support.
Connecting with likeminded people in these groups takes little effort and is worthwhile and a small support network can be built quite quickly.
It is cheap (usually free), you can dip in and out as you like and contribute as much as you wish. There are some that have strict rules in not promoting your business, unless specifically invited to on certain days, and it is always advised to check them out before you spam people with things the group has not been set up to accommodate.
At a cost, regular networking with a group of people that you come to know creates a sense of community.
Provided you join the right networking group for you and your needs (that means researching and dipping your toe in a few before committing) investing in yourself will reap rewards.
By that, I don’t necessarily mean financial ones.
Although I have had the pleasure of working with the majority of my Clients through networking referrals, these social interactions are more to me than just that.
I shortlisted my networking membership choices to two (based on the financial and time restrictions I face in my new business at this time):-
One networking group required weekly commitment with strict rules that if I missed a few weeks within the annual period, I might be asked to leave! I have done my years of school and strict, enforced discipline, thanks.
With very early starts, a sales orientated culture referring people that I hadn’t necessarily worked with myself, didn’t work for me. The early morning meetings didn’t fit in with the school run, one of the things I relish doing during my day, which I can do, without a second thought, running my own business!)
Don’t get me wrong, the said networking group is hugely popular, extremely successful financially (they grade their members on how much money they earn, how many referrals they land, etc); it just wasn’t for me at that time of my business journey.
I found an all-female networking group (those of you that know me will know I don’t necessarily agree with segregation of sexes!) that offers monthly meetings at your ‘home group’ (with as many others you wish to visit at different times).
For now, the ‘visits’ to other groups within the network is easy because it is all online (I just need the time away from doing Client work - no, I am not complaining!)
I felt so drawn to this networking group that I signed up, having never attended one in person, as I joined in April 2020 when Covid-19 restrictions had been put in place. The reason for this is because it offers so much more than just meeting people, exchanging business cards and actioning things because you are supposed to.
What I get out of this networking group is much more. These ladies are my mentors, my support group, teachers, students, collaborators, developers and partners. They push me to think and make me realise I miss things that I am capable of. From Day 1 I have never felt inferior, too young, too old or anything other than being me. They are fast becoming my friends.
The formal development training I receive at every meeting is always interesting and educational. It is delivered by an existing member (from and of the regional groups). Again, for those that know me, because I genuinely love learning, this is right up my street.
Despite me not particularly liking single sexed anything (having gone to an all girls’ boarding school for 8 years may have influenced this feeling!), I have never felt the networking group is an all-female group, only professional business people that aren’t out for themselves alone.
I love that my core values are synonymous with theirs.
We act with integrity and build a relationship through trust before recommending anyone to others. We genuinely want people to do well and undertake business the traditional way: meet people, interact with them, build trust with one another, work together, recommend them because they are good at what they do.
What is important to me, and I believe should be for anyone taking the time and effort to join, invest and get as much out of a networking group, is making sure it is the right one for you. Everyone is different and at different stages of their business journey.
Turning up for the sake of ticking a box and because you feel you have to is not going to do you any favours.
Being a member of the right group so that you show up, involve yourself, help and support others and come away from each session feeling good about what you are doing and where you are heading is key.
Networking groups that might be right for you:-
Ashoka - for social entrepreneurs and changemakers
The Athena Network - for female executives and entrepreneurs
BNI - referral networking
British Chambers of Commerce - connecting companies of all sizes
FSB - for the self-employed and small businesses
IOD - run by directors for directors
The Supper Club - for founders of fast-growing businesses
4Networking - regional, national and international networking
Are you ready to widen your network? Contact me for a free, no obligation chat.