Can I avoid networking?

networking

This was the question I asked myself when, earlier this year, my business coach advised that this was a necessary next step for me.  My only experience of networking to this point was a meeting of my local Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and I had felt so out of my depth that I didn’t relish the thought of having to do that sort of thing on a regular basis.  I can tend towards being an introvert, particularly in new situations where I feel out of my comfort zone, and I have generally avoided speaking in front of groups of people, so networking was rather unappealing and my brain was frantically trying to think of excuses and alternatives to avoid this situation that it predicted would end in embarrassment and discomfort.

My coach, however, persuaded me to join her at her next 4N breakfast meeting.  This was a more informal setting and I had more of a chance to speak with the other attendees and realise that they were regular human beings.  They were a lovely bunch and welcomed me with open arms, but I still didn’t feel that I really fitted in.

I then remembered another group that a recent contact had recommended to me.  I felt that she and I worked in similar fields and were also alike in disposition so I thought I’d look into the group that she belonged to.  This led me to visiting my local Women Mean Biz group.  It’s not actually the one that my colleague goes to but it’s about 10-15 minutes from my home so I thought I’d dip my toe in the water there first.

The group was very welcoming and also very relaxed.  It was smaller and more intimate which suited me, and as it turned out I already knew one of the members.  I was still nervous doing the 60 second presentation about my work, but I got through it without major incident and survived!  I wasn’t sure that there were any businesses there that I could immediately connect with – my work is very niche and very different from the accountants, solicitors and estate agents represented there – but I felt more comfortable with this form of networking and actually considered becoming a member of Women Mean Biz.

I returned home and decided to visit their website to explore this further.  While browsing I spotted the group that my colleague belongs to and thought I could visit them too.  I had discovered that the format used by Women Mean Biz felt like a good fit both for me and for my business and knowing that a colleague in another group was working in a similar niche convinced me that it would be worth visiting there despite the fact that it’s about an hour’s drive from my home.

As soon as I arrived at the venue I knew I was going to enjoy the meeting!  The group meets in Combe Grove Manor Hotel on the outskirts of Bath.  The grounds of the hotel are stunningly beautiful with woodlands and spectacular views.  The hotel itself has recently been refurbished and boasts some amazing artwork and furnishings.  In addition the food is delicious – even for me as a vegan!

combe grove

As soon as I entered the room where we were to have lunch I was greeted warmly and made to feel at home.  I instantly felt that this lovely group of women was a ‘fit’ for me.  It is very relaxed and, well, cheerful!  The group leader, Maria, is a perfect example of this – always upbeat and very easy to talk to.

I joined Women Mean Biz a few months ago and in that time I feel that I have benefitted so much from being a part of the Bath Combe Down group.  We meet on the second Tuesday of every month and it’s wonderful to have that opportunity to share time with such an amazing group of business women.  They might be relaxed and cheerful but they are also focused and proactive.

wmb

Our meetings start at 12:00 with the chance to catch up and do some informal networking for half an hour.  We then sit down to a ‘working lunch’ where we go round the group, each giving our ’60 seconds’.  There is then a Member’s Slot followed by a guest speaker and then the opportunity to raise any issues that you might be having with your business to see if others can offer suggestions or advice.  We finish with a ‘Thank you’ round where everyone has the chance to thank others for referrals, contacts and 1:1 meetings.

I was rather taken aback to be approached by Maria to be the ‘Member of the Month’ a couple of months ago.  As I said earlier I am not comfortable speaking in front of people.  I can get through the 60 seconds – still with some nerves but knowing that I can read from a script if I choose – but a whole 10 minutes!?  I think I’d been assuming that as I was relatively new I would have several months – hopefully a year or more – before this was asked of me.  But how could I refuse?  Wasn’t this what I was there for?  To challenge myself and to reach out and make connections (which included letting people know more about what it is I actually do)…

I convinced myself that as this is a small group of lovely women who have become good friends it was a ‘safe’ environment in which to speak, but as it turned out there were lots of guests that particular day and so I was faced with a larger than normal sea of faces, many of whom I didn’t know.  I was extremely nervous but quitting would be more embarrassing than trying!  I was acutely aware that the information I would be sharing was probably very new to most people there and perhaps not even in their area of interest.  All those faces seemed to be staring blankly at me as I ploughed on through to the end of my slot.  When I finished there was a pause… and then lots of questions poured forth!  I learnt a valuable lesson that day – blank faces does not mean people have switched off!  They were just taking it all in and processing it.  It was such a great confidence booster to hear all the positive comments and also to get people signing up for the taster sessions that I offered.

We also meet outside of the group, for 1:1 sessions, to find out a little more about the other members and their businesses.  This is the part that I like best and where I feel I get the most benefit.  It feels like an extended family where everyone is supporting everyone else and willing you to succeed.  The organisation also provides great training – often for free – on things like creating a compelling ’60 seconds’ and how to get the most out of a 1:1.  I also recently attended a workshop on how to use Facebook to help grow your business.

Through this process I have discovered that there are lots of networking options out there and there’s bound to be one that suits you.  They range from formal to informal and from large to small.   I can now say that I’m glad I didn’t listen to my fears and excuses.  It took a while but I’ve found the group that works for me.  So if you’re setting up a new business, or wanting to grow the one you have, I recommend trying out some groups until you find the one that is right for you.

If you think our group sounds like one you’d like to try then you are very welcome to pay us a visit.  Why not come along to a meeting and enjoy the glorious scenery, the delicious lunch and some fun social time – with the added advantage of it being ‘work’ towards building your business!  To see the dates of our upcoming meetings follow this link: Bath Combe Down meetings

There are several of these groups already up and running and there is a new one launching in Shepton Mallet on Monday 3 October from 12:00 – 14:00 at Bannatyne’s Charlton House Spa Hotel.  Click on this link for further details: Shepton Mallet launch

In addition the organisation is now branching out to run groups to include men as well.  These will be called We Mean Biz and will be launched at the Radisson Blu hotel, Broad Quay Bristol on Monday 26 September, again from 12:00 – 14:00.  Click on this link to see more: We Mean Biz launch

 

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