I loathe it. No punches pulled, it’s just not something I enjoy. I’m an introvert by nature, so even the thought of all that awkward small talk gives me the jitters.
Odd then that I facilitate Does My Business Look Big in This? by Flourish Unlimited; a successful networking and membership group for female founders and women in business, right?
Well, no actually. Because when I first started out in business I soon realised that ‘old school’ networking events weren’t for me. I didn’t want to try to hold a conversation, whilst also trying to juggle holding my bag, drinking a cup of coffee, and eating a bacon sandwich at 7am every Tuesday morning. I also didn’t want to refer business to other people in the room, simply because they were in the room. It seemed to lack integrity.
So as many of us start to plan for 2022 with renewed vigour; setting resolutions and intentions that apply to our business development, as well as our personal lives, here’s seven New Year’s Resolutions you could make to ‘do’ networking differently, and in a way that will work for you:
No woman is an island. We all need support, advice, referrals, and great role models and mentors to learn from and to emulate. Indeed this can be the difference between sink or swim for your business – especially in the early days.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t give as much as you get, simply make sure that you feel aligned to those you are engaging with, that they’re driven by the same values as you, and that you have a mutually agreed way of supporting and ‘marketing’ each other.
Now I realise I’m using the word ‘network’ here, and you may be wondering how that even applies to you as a newly set-up freelancer, or an early growth stage micro business. So let me explain.
If you were working for a corporate organisation you would have an organisational structure. You’d ring HR to discuss a staffing issue, or Tech Support to resolve an issue with your emails. If you think of your network as your organisational structure – even when there’s only you IN the business – then you can’t go far wrong, and you’re never alone.
Of course you may be a tad nervous about picking up the phone and speaking to people at first. (In my experience, phone calls to arrange a coffee – in person or over Zoom – always have a better outcome than sending an email or LinkedIn message.) However, you’ll soon learn that people actually like you reaching out to them to pick their brains and ask them for their opinion, because it boosts their confidence to know they are considered to be an expert in their field. It also gives them an opportunity to explain to you more about what they do, which is great for both of you.
Soon, whenever someone asks you if you know someone who?… you have a real live person whom you know, like, and trust that you can recommend. And while you’re recommending them, they’re doing the same for you!
I can honestly say that this way of developing relationships got me where I am today much faster than suffering through endless networking events, having business cards shoved into my hand, and watching people glaze over the moment they realised that I wasn’t going to buy from them that day.
I’m not saying that all networking events are the same. Nothing is created equal. But the lack of authenticity and integrity I felt when attending many of these events, pushed me to do more for other women like me.
For me, there are two main things to find when searching for your network, or finding the right type of networking group for you:
It’s important that in any networking environment, or when engaging with anyone you want to be part of your organisational structure, that you feel confident and comfortable in being yourself and expressing yourself freely.
Once you are able to express yourself and your needs with confidence and in comfort, you are in a much better position to ask for what you want, and explain what you can offer in return. You discover a natural flow, and future conversations with other potential network members become easier and less nerve-wracking.
Once your vibe and your flow align, you’ve cracked it. You’ve found your tribe; that group of people who always have your back, and who always have your name on the tip of their tongue when they are asked if they know someone who?..
Make – and don’t break! – these resolutions in your business, and you’ll never short of referrals in 2022…and beyond!
Lucy Patterson is an acclaimed Business Strategist and Coach. She founded Flourish Unlimited (An Institute of Enterprise & Entrepreneurs Approved Academy) with a clear mission; to support individuals and teams to embrace the principals of design thinking, in order to solve complex business and life problems with creative ease.
One of only 16 people in the world to have completed Babson University’s Inspiration USA Business Growth Program, Lucy is regularly called upon by the media for her opinion and expertise in this area.