I was recently invited to take part in a panel discussion alongside five other owners or representatives of business networks from the East Midlands and I have to be honest my first instincts were to say thanks but no thanks, I’d rather not put myself in a situation where I imagined I may effectively have to ‘pitch’ my business against others in the room who would no doubt be classed as my competitors in a dragons den style format in front of an audience- why on earth would I put myself through that, when I am secure and confident in the service I already provide?
So in short my initial response was no thank you. However after some thought I remembered what I teach within my workshops- the power of gratitude and opportunity and how I actually should be grateful that I have reached a position in my career that sees me as a leader in my industry and that to be asked to be part of a panel of leading experts in the field of business networking is quite an honour…as well as the fact that there hasn’t been one situation I have been in that I haven’t created a positive opportunity from…and so I thought why not it can’t be that bad!
I was right, it wasn’t at all bad- in fact it was quite the opposite and so interesting to hear how similar we all thought on the subject of networking, the power it has to connect you with the right people, how it is not just about monetising opportunities but learning from others, gaining inspiration and helping others to build upon your own reputation as a leader and as a connector.
Above all by the end we all agreed that each of our business networks have something individual to offer that is different from the next and that there really wasn’t any conflict of interest between us all, because we all focused on different aspects, had different formats from one another and varied demographics and came away respecting one another for the work we all put into achieving what ultimately is the same goal- bringing people together to bring positive results through the platforms we provide.
The audience threw questions at us, all of relevance and in answering these questions, it made me stop and think about why I am doing what I do – again something I teach in my lectures to University students who are embarking on the world of business, but something as a ‘busy’ business owner you can often forget in everyday life.
One question that was asked was “With all of the many business networks out there now, how do you know which one is right for you?” – Great question and observation; there are so many networking events out there now, whether they be as a product of a business network/club, independent network, business organisation, non-profit or adhoc one off events sold through Eventbrite- either way you could quite literally be attending one every day of the week if you were so inclined (Quick tip- don’t).
My response was that, yes indeed there are many to choose from and many aspects come into what constitutes the right networking event for you; demographic- are they your people? Geographical location- is it convenient for you to attend at said time of day e.g will you get stuck in traffic from city to city and so is it realistic for you to get there on time without being stressed from the commute/ do you have time to deduct from your working day to attend? Format; is it your style, do you prefer relaxed or more structured, speeches or no speeches? Do you prefer listening to a presentation even if it’s not really relevant to you or do you prefer the relaxed mix n mingle part at the start of those kind of events? Ask yourself these questions and filter it down- even make your own pro’s and con’s list if you have to… but ultimately make sure you enjoy it. What is the point of taking time out from your busy, valuable lives to attend a networking event with complete strangers, if you are going to dread attending/not enjoy it? And yes you are allowed to enjoy networking- yes it is part of your marketing strategy and yes it is work at the end of the day, but networking is the new cold calling- we should rejoice in the fact that gone are the days when we have to pick up the phone and call companies/offices trying to work our way up the ranks to speak to the decision maker only to be fobbed off by the secretary, to then resort to creative direct mail tactics to get their attention- don’t get me wrong direct mail is still golden, but business networking has given us a free pass to override all of this stressful lead generation and simply have conversations, face to face with complete strangers in a relaxed environment and it be okay- completely normal In fact. So take it with both hands and run with it whilst you can, try a few out there to see which float your boat, make sure you are associating with your market, decision makers, those you can learn from- remember if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room- aim high and be around those who inspire you, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone and above all make sure you have a great time in doing it!
Fiona Duncan-Steer, RSViP Business Network