Heather White has been described not so much as a person but as a phenomenon. As an authority on networking she sweeps aside much of the nonsense and focuses on what is authentic, practical and produces long term results. Her speaking approach is direct, interactive and fun. She gets straight to the issues which hold many people back and motivates them to want to get out there and start networking right away.
What made you decide to set up your company?
In 1998 I was sacked from my job because my face didn’t fit. I had just turned 40 ish and had this mad idea about starting up my own business. In those days I was a Private Medical Insurance broker and Employee Benefits consultant, so I thought I would set up my own brokerage and do my own thing. I moved from Southampton to London for 3 reasons; there are more businesses in a smaller area, I could easily do without a company car and one of my best mates lived in Sutton (where I now live). Just a tad simplistic I know, but that is where my mindset was in those days. So whilst I was clever in raising £10,000 from the bank to start up my big idea, I went bust in 6 months. I didn’t have clue about running a business let alone the importance of networking. So I thought I would learn this skill as quickly as I could and living off only £200 per month I kept on going to as many networking events as I could. Now bear in mind that some events cost £25 to attend. That is a big percentage from £200 per month! But it paid off as I just so happen to be in the right place at the right time one day, had volunteered to join a committee, when I met a chap who worked for London Chambers of Commerce who saw my potential and offered me a job to find and introduce businesses to the Chambers. My aim was to do a great job for them and learn about this thing called networking. 2 years later someone asked me to teach them how to network and so Smarter Networking, which was then called The Magic of Networking started.
What have been your biggest challenges so far in the company?
I have been running Smarter Networking since 2001 and each stage of its development brings new and fresh challenges. Moving from a sole trader to employing people, cash flow, finding new business, learning about web sites, personal branding etc. Some challenges are so exciting you want to burst with delight and others are totally paralyzing because they are so scary. So the biggest challenge has to be controlling and making friends with my mind and battling with the physiological side of running a growing business. For me it is knowing what triggers confidence in me that pushes me swiftly onto the next challenge. But as important knowing what triggers a negative that stops me dead in my tracks and I want to dive under the duvet. Over my desk I have a few saying that helps me, these are pieces of paper torn out of magazines or books. “Success is a mind game”, “Be the change you want to see in the world” – Ghandi, “how high is high, how far is far” – Jay Abraham, Marketing Guru. These help me a lot on a daily basis.
If there was one thing that you could say was a great success, what would it be?
I have now been running Smarter Networking since 2001 but self employed since 1998 – 11 years. I find that staggering in itself. Did you know that over 75% of businesses go bust in the first year. Whilst my first business went bust in just 6 months, Smarter Networking has been growing since 2001 – 8 years. So whilst I am very proud of growing through everything so far the economy has thrown at me what I am most proud of is my networking. Networking has brought me in contact with some extraordinary people and these people have introduced me to some amazing experiences and that in return has expanded my confidence, knowledge which leads me onto meeting more new people etc, etc. When we train people to network I know that ultimately we are slowly changing the world. We are bashing through all the dark side of networking and bringing back honest relationships, relationships based on integrity and trust. That is what I am most proud of and would say is our biggest success.
Why do you believe that networking is key to success?
Where do I start on such a wonderful question. I don’t believe networking works, I know it works. The proof for me was always seeing how successful others were in their careers. OK some people used it a manipulative way, negative way. But most of my role models used networking in an extraordinary way. So I followed them. Wow! Networking is a personal thing everyone has to find the benefit for themselves. I so often hear people saying “prove it works”. I would say to them, please look around you and find what will work for you and don’t let others put you off. You know whatever I want to learn about, get an introduction to, gain experience in…it is just sitting there waiting for me to ask. Of course I don’t always get it, I have to be patient and prove myself. But I know where to find it and therefore can learn stuff to finally get access to it. I am driven by ‘experiences’, pushing myself that little bit further and it is only through my connections, relationships do I find such opportunities. What do you want from life, your career, your world? Go and talk to someone about it then – that is all I do.
If you could go back to when you started the company would you change anything?
No, its been a trip of a lifetime. This business has afforded me so much personal growth and it is often the biggest challenges that has enabled me to grow the most. I often walk down the street with a grin on my face, which in London is not a good thing. I smile because of all the amazing things that have happened to me and I know will happen to me. And all because I am willing to say hello to someone and see if I can help. And I get paid for this too. Life is a blast!
When and if you get the time, what do you like to do in obtain a life balance?
Ha ha good question. My passion is mountain bike riding, road cycling, walking up mountains, abseiling off cliffs…well anything to do with being outdoors. I also like writing and have several books planned…well one day.
Can you share any tips for any members for improving their careers through networking?
Educate yourself through reading, observing and testing what you have learnt. Be patient because networking isn’t going to provide all the answers immediately – it takes time. Be disciplined to do something for someone everyday. Get clear about what you want your networking to do for you AND for others. Know that you have an imagine/brand if you like within your community, know what it is and if you don’t like it, change it. Write down everything that you hate about networking, what scares you or takes you out of your comfort zone. Then challenge your thinking about networking and instead become the type of networker you would feel proud of. And everything that scares you, take it on, practice getting good at it.
Click here to find out more about Smarter Networking.