The Art of Networking
As an entrepreneur, I have used networking to my advantage in so many ways. I truly feel that networking is vital to the success of a business, particularly mum own businesses. It is for this reason I set about organising The Mumpreneur Conference, and I now also run my local Mums the Boss group (Warwickshire) to bring child-friendly networking to Coventry and the surrounding areas.
When I started in business 4 years ago, the word networking made me shudder. Had you told me I’d be writing this article, I would have laughed in your face. I wasn’t very confident in the big wide world, particularly the world of business. I was a million miles away from the ideal “business woman” stereotype. I was a teenage mum, who lacked confidence around strangers, who couldn’t pick up the phone if it was an unrecognised number, who definitely wouldn’t walk into a room full of people, alone. Many would say that over time my confidence has increased, thus allowing me to network effectively, but that isn’t entirely the case. Over time I have gained a better understanding of what networking means, and what it can do for you both personally and for your business.
Instead of starting at the beginning, I’m going to work my way back. I want you to see the impact networking can have before I bore you with the finer details.
So… What has networking done for me?
Making Friends: By the mighty wonders of networking, even just meeting people once, I have made friends. Most recently I have started networking with local people through twitter (we’ll come to that later), and also through local events (we’ll come to that later too). Here is one example of many… An event I had organised took place on Sunday 6th December 2009. On the Tuesday before, I had a call from someone I networked with once who then became my friend. Andy told me to turn the news on, and to my horror, our venue had gone into liquidation just days before the event was just to take place. On the Wednesday before, I had sent an email to a few more local people I’d networked with once, who had since become my friends. I had emails and calls from people offering to help within minutes of my plea, giving suggestions and clubbing together to ensure the event went ahead. That evening I had a call from a new venue (courtesy of my friends, and their contacts they’d networked with once), and by Thursday the final arrangements had been made. By Friday we were on several radio stations, through people we’d networked with once who then became our friends. I also then picked up the newly printed leaflets from a local printers who I’d networked with once. On Sunday the event went ahead, with thanks to all of my friends… people who I networked with once.
Making Wishes Come True: A few months back I sat at home wondering about what the day had in store for me. It was 10.04am. I really fancied a cupcake. So many people are making cupcakes these days, and I hadn’t really ever had a PROPER cupcake. So onto twitter I went and announced to the world “Can someone bring me some cupcakes please?!”. At 10.19am, the door knocked. I had a package arrive via courier. I opened it with interest, and to my utter surprise, inside lay 6 shiny, delicious, edible cupcakes. Now, clearly this wasn’t following my request 15 minutes previously. But it became clear that I talked about wanting cupcakes a lot on twitter. One follower wanted to thank me for something, and another follower made cupcakes… and the rest, as they say, is history.
Making Business Happen: With networking comes a real positive outlook for your business. I have had people purchase announcements from me, have logos designed by me, worked together with businesses to offer unique packages for clients, and also found a business partner. I was exhibiting at an event in May 2009. It was a 3 day event, so at the start of the first day I felt it would be wise to have a browse around the stalls and introduce myself to the people standing behind them. I overheard a conversation between two stallholders. About pregnancy, if I remember rightly. “I love being pregnant!” one woman announced. “Me too!” I piped up… and from here on in a new business partnership was born. I now work with Laura on a number of projects, and together we run Mumpreneur UK. Had I sat behind my stand that day, and not ventured out to speak to anyone, I would never have met Laura, and we would never be in a position of potential world domination.
So… What’s networking all about?
Networking isn’t as frightening as it sounds. It’s not walking into a room full of random people who have nothing in common, standing in a circle, and saying your name and where you come from. It’s a group of people getting together in some way, who have something in common, and who have a chat about anything and everything. It’s not scary, it’s certainly not boring, and it’s so beneficial to your development as a business woman.
There are dedicated networking events all over the UK. There are events for all business people, or if you’re more comfortable networking with women there are events for business women. In many places now there are networking events solely for business mums too. It’s good to find local, regular networking events, to start to build up friends. Some events are national, such as The Mumpreneur Conference. I remember at our first event in 2009… when the ladies walked in, they all looked somewhat sheepish, not knowing where to stand, or who to talk to. By the time we had to gather for the welcome, we couldn’t get them into the room. They were nattering away (even the shy ones!) and thoroughly enjoying being in the company of like-minded individuals.
Some things to remember for attending networking events:
- Wear a name badge, and make sure everyone can see it
- Try and stand in a semi-circle rather than a circle, so people can join in
- Practise your introduction in the mirror before you go to prevent you getting tongue tied, as you’ll be asked several times “so what do you do?”
- Take business cards, so when you get home you’ll remember who you spoke to.
- Plug yourself and your business. If you think you can help someone, tell them.
Networking at Other Events
Dedicated networking events are just one small part of real-life networking. You can network at ANY event you visit or exhibit at, as my third example above proved. If you’re at a fair of any sort, get around and visit all of the stallholders. Introduce yourself, and invite them to come and look at your stand later. You will naturally get networking with the stallholders either side of you. You’ll be spending the day next door to one another, so make sure you introduce yourself during set up.
The more events you go to, the more people you’ll get to know, and the more relaxed you will inevitably be at the next event.
Here’s how to ease yourself into networking. Online. Noone can see you. There’s no awkward silences. You can discuss what you want, when you want, with who you want. You can get to know people before you meet them in person. This is what worked so well with the Mumpreneur Conference.
My one recommendation for this would be twitter. Telling your story in 140 characters or less. Having shrot sharp conversations with people. Butting in without it being rude to do so. Talking over one another without being stared at. Only saying 3 words and it being deemed acceptable. I’ve seen all of these happen in real life networking, and it’s not appreciated much, so twitter is the key to solve this. You can find out news, see new products, hear what everyones having for dinner, listen out for a birth announcement, and even chat with celebrities. Twitter is the core of my networking life. Join.
So… What IS networking?
My own personal definition of networking is chatting to, and getting to know, other like-minded business people in a variety of different ways. It’s connecting with others. By doing this, you’ll enhance your own personal confidence, you’ll enhance your business life as you’ll find many opportunities in which you can help one another, and it might even get you some cupcakes.
by Amanda Farren, Mumpreneur UK