I recently went to the annual St George’s Day lunch event from the St Albans Chamber of Commerce. Unlike a lot of regional Chambers it’s very pro active and this lunch is the local business event of the year. 345 guests enjoy much jollity, networking, good food, plenty of liquid refreshment, a guest speaker and a charity auction and raffle. The after party continued in a range of local hostelries.
It’s amazing how much goodwill such an event can create, yet I know many people are either reluctant networkers, or just avoid networking completely. I have been marketing my business through networking for over eight years, during which time I’ve had numerous profitable referrals and introductions.
But that’s not the only reason I network. It is a great way to improve so many of your skills, especially communication, comfortably talking to strangers, developing your listening and rapport skills, gaining confidence and of course, promoting your business. When I train people in public speaking I always let them know that afterwards they’ll find their networking activities will improve, mainly because of the confidence they will have developed in our training sessions to speak in public.
I’m lucky to have a found a weekly network group, Platinum Point , that really suits my personality as well as my business. It’s full of business owners at the top of their game and it won an FSB Hertfordshire Award last year for Best Networking Group. When I started up my business in 2010 I tried out numerous different groups, some for longer than others as a member such as Business 4 Breakfast, 4N and Netlinked. I’ve attended informal network meetings such as Business Buzz and Hemel-based A Little Bit of Networking as well as attending many Chamber events. I went to one meeting of the Athena network which had too many small ‘businesses’ for my services and I’ve been invited (begged!) as a guest to so many BNI chapters and have been to at least 6. BNI’s formulaic structure is not for me but I know lots of people say it works for them.
I had a meeting with a potential new client last week who said he hated networking and would never go again. It turned out he’d been to one network when he started his business six years ago and was so put off by the experience he hadn’t been to any network since. However, although his business was fairly successful he wanted to get more clients locally. His problem was that he didn’t have any local profile or contacts.
I told him a few pieces in the local paper won’t necessarily produce the results he wants. Instead I strongly recommended he goes back to networking and chooses groups which are informal and don’t require any membership fees, at least for starters. By the end of the meeting he realised it was shortsighted to wholeheartedly reject the most accessible opportunity in which to meet local business face to face and he’s already planning his first visit to my networking group.