Hour Hands co-founder, Christine Frith, shares her thoughts on what she found useful when she started networking for the first time, plus we’ve got a list of local networking groups to get you underway.
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Having made the jump from a big London corporate employer, starting a small local business was a very different experience. I was used to managing internal relationships but never had to find clients before – that was a job for the sales team! After persuading a few friends to sign up for our services, we realised that we’d have to cast our net wider and the subject of networking came up. This was new to us – we knew about advertising, we had a website, we’d printed and distributed leaflets, but how could we make networking work for us?
Three years on, and we’ve got more out of networking than I ever thought possible. Although we are still learning, and this year’s resolution is to do more! Here’s what I’ve learned, since starting from scratch, and you can find more tips here. And keep an eye out for our exciting expert guest blog on this topic, coming up later in the month.
Find a group that suits you
There are many networking groups around, and some very different to others. Don’t forget that networking will help you find contacts as well as clients, so it pays to visit the groups that suit you and your business. We found this list by the St Albans Enterprise Agency (STANTA) to be a brilliant starting point.
We started with the very friendly St Albans Businesses Jelly, even though we didn’t have a clue what a jelly was. We were hoping for ice-cream! But it turns out that a jelly involves bringing your laptop to the event and working alongside other likeminded people. It also turns out that the St. Albans Business community are incredibly friendly, helpful and supportive. To be honest, if you get any work done at a jelly then you’ve probably missed an opportunity to get to know some really useful people. We’ve met a wide range of interesting contacts, including the web developer and graphic designer who helped us with our brand and website.
There are also more formal groups – to be honest, I have yet to have to try them out myself as it doesn’t suit my approach (see above) – where you pay a significant fee and must fulfil obligations to attend every week, refer appropriate contacts etc. Now, I have heard good and bad things about these. If you’re looking to engage with a specific type of contact and have the time and money to invest in the opportunity then this may be successful for you. I think the answer is to try and see.
The other option that has worked brilliantly for us is becoming part of a co-working space. The Harpenden Collective has been truly fantastic. I work there once a week, and we go to workshops and events when we can. We’ve made some great connections, and I can even speak German with a friendly German lawyer I have met there. The Village Workspace is another excellent (and friendly) option in St Albans. Have a look and try it out for yourself.
Now I love this – you sit on a table with 4-6 other people. Everyone says what they do, then you all move around until you have met everyone. Much easier than standing up in front of a big audience – try it!
The advice I was given by an expert is to pick a few events, try it for a few months, and see if it works. That approach made sense to me, and that’s what we’re doing.
If you’re an expert at networking and have read this far – be nice! Be patient. I will never forget the man at one of my first events whose eyes glazed over and started looking for a more interesting person to talk to, the minute I told him what I did. How rude! His loss.