I hate to admit that I am over 30 or even 40, ok slightly over 50, however with age comes experience and what an experience networking has been. Let me take you on a journey. It all started back in my IT days, I was in sales and marketing and sent out to 'network'. Network surely was how computers connected and communicated, I really wasn't sure how people were supposed to do this. Armed with only courage and chopsyness (Welshism for chatty), I ventured out.
Lesson 1 - arrive early. When I turned up people were in little groups all gassing away and I couldn't see how to join them without looking like an interloper and no-one came to my rescue. I decided to arrive early and welcome others as they turned up, thus ensuring I wasn't left on the sidelines. I loved projects so when early on a fantastic project came together with funding from a number of big players, I offered my support in running it.
Lesson 2 - get involved. Ok you don't have to sit on a committee, but it is really important to understand the concept of the network you belong to and to really embrace its ethos and be a part of it. Back then getting to know people was mostly around the coffee pot when you arrived, and I needed more. To feed this desire to get to know people I went along to dinners and lunches, which were wonderful. In this relaxed environment with food and good conversation you could really connect with others.
Lesson 3 - get to know people not just their business. It is really important to work with and recommend people that you know, like and trust. For me I need to know the person, understand their values and passion, what their vision is and how they are going to get there. If I take time out to discover this and perhaps a little more about them, guess what, I will know if I can recommend them to others with ease. Later as my career changed and I started to work for myself, networking became an essential part of my marketing toolkit and I worked very hard to build a team of trusted partners around me, but as time went on the networking circuit became jaded, uninteresting and more about the owners than the members. It was as if it was more about the brand than helping the members learn how to connect and share in an authentic way. I can remember joining one such organisation and after 2 events, I complained that other members couldn't be bothered to return calls for 1-2-1's. And the few that did, wanted to share their personal trials and I mean very personal. Whilst I love chatting about personal stuff, because it is after all how to understand someone, but a whole conversation about orgasms???? (yes, I know I should have left the room, but it was where the event was being held - no escape...) After 3 months of trying, I gave up.
Lesson 4 - structure your meetings This goes without saying, have a structure and set some outcomes. Action what you say you will do straight away and stay in touch.
Lesson 5 - pick the right network Ok so how do you pick the right one for you? This comes down to personal choice, you may prefer mornings to evenings or you find a mid day lunch the most productive. With the time of day out of the way, what next? Personally I would try it out and chat to the organisers to get a feel for it and them and have a few 'practise' 1-2-1's. When I say chat to the organiser / owner I do mean have a 1-2-1, if they have the membership form open and pen poised before you speak .... run! You must be very clear what you want from each network that you join. I have one network that I go to because I love the hotel, food and people and simply it is time out, my outcome is enjoyment. There are many more lessons as you will discover, which is why it is vital that you get it right, or at least as right as you can.
Why did I join Women Mean Biz? It all started with an invitation to speak. I loved everything about the meeting and the culture. It was well structured, the environment was conducive to a working lunch and the people knew why they were there for business. After my second speaking opportunity I sat down with Philippa for a 1-2-1. She was delightful, authentic and passionate about creating a wonderful experience for her members. I left knowing I wanted to be a part of this. Fast forward to April 2014 and I am now lucky enough to be a part of Philippa's leadership team and in March we launched the first WMB group in Cardiff in the beautiful Parc Hotel. This without doubt has been a long journey and I feel like I have come home.