- Members Only, Cambridge Meet Up (later moving under a heat lamp)
- Members Only, end of year recruitment dinner
- TEAM members (and ex members) meet up, Devon
- Clarity and friends Christmas afternoon tea
- TEAM conference dinner (Back in 2018!)
- Real Talk with Clare Morris, Duxford
Why Networking Matters & How to Excel at It
I've struggled with the whole blog-writing thing in past weeks. It happens from time to time.
Defeated, I thought I'm just going to regurgitate an old one. This one. Written in October 2018.
Except it turns out it's about 90% new since the world has changed a bit.
My networking is more about countryside walks and nice pubs. But genuine networking, and proof 2023 and beyond is not all about stuffy business meetings.
Before 2018, I had been attending a lot of formal networking groups locally, often national franchises, and religiously networking with local business owners from all walks of life and industry sectors.
BNI, B4B, Chamber of Commerce, 4Networking. You name it.
And then decided that was not for me and reined it in, choosing to network exclusively* with people in my own industry, getting more from it than I could imagine.
*There's one exception I'll share in a bit.
Networking, if done purposefully and consistently can be transformative.
You could be expanding your network too. But why? And how?
Being Connected is Critical to Being Successful
Brilliance rarely develops or exists in isolation and connecting with the 'right' people will help you achieve your potential.
Every time you're going into your local pub, providing you're talking to other people, you're networking.
Or on those dog walks.
(Although I'm reliably informed that many months of talking to dog owners can result in the name and intimate details of the dog, and failure to gather meaningful information on the human being walking the dog).
But building a meaningful network requires researching local business groups and events and attending regularly to take time to build relationships.
Doing this can provide job opportunities, new clients, news and industry developments and advice and support.
Breakfast meetings and briefings; conferences; meet-ups; drinks receptions; and dinners all count and provide meaningful opportunities every day of the week.
Even training courses.
And recently I have taken to walking and talking. This has become popular post-pandemic, a great way to get outdoors and meet like-minded folk.
Find your people, give lots of things a try but remain selective.
- who else will be attending - if the organisers can't tell you who is attending, ask for companies and job titles or the attendee lists from previous events.
- whether the people you will likely meet there will:
- further your understanding
- lead to new business or other valuable introductions
- influence your credibility and/ or career or
- simply be interesting and fun
- what the event format is
- what any speakers are likely to talk about and
- any costs.
Feeling Comfortable at Networking Events
While few people initially feel confident at networking events it is a skill that is easily learned.
Typically you can expect welcome drinks and wandering around for informal intros on arrival before taking a seat and doing more formal introductions, but formats are different depending on the group.
Some are 100% casual, buying yourself a drink at the bar and mingling. And this might sound lovely and relaxed but bear in mind without structure you might be wasting your time - there are occasionally people who will accost the new arrival and you'll spend your entire time talking about Aloe Vera.
Trust me, every time that happens a little piece of you dies inside and you'll stop going.
Remember, "Lovely to meet you, I'm just going to top up my coffee..." Top up your coffee and find someone else who'll listen.
I made a habit of arriving a bit early to events so I could find people to talk to with relative ease. Arriving later often means many are already chatting and it's difficult to muscle in. Oh, and the pastries have all been eaten.
It's worth perfecting an Elevator Pitch in case the organiser asks to go around the room, with everyone expected to share who they are and what they do in sixty seconds.
"I'm Clare Wight of Clarity Appointments. Clarity's a specialist accountancy recruitment agency helping businesses to solve their hiring problems."
OK, I'm rusty but you get the gist.
Otherwise, remember no one will bite, they'll want to know a bit about you and will share some information about themselves. A natural conversation should follow.
If you find a group where you can see potential, go back, and reconnect with people you met last time but also broaden your reach to others.
Over the months you'll find you get to know individuals on a deeper level, trust is built and wonderful things can happen.
You'll maybe even look forward to going to those groups, people will approach YOU, you'll very much feel part of the event and amongst like-minded people on the same page.
Before you know it you're swapping a homemade loaf for a chilli plant. Or replacing your rubbish IT service provider with a brilliant one.
Equally, if you find somewhere your brain (or skin) screams 'no', don't waste your time.
I can think of two groups that were horrible, including one where I had a hand placed on my bottom.
Discretely, so only he and I knew.
But my colleague who was facing me knew something awful had just happened and refused to come to an event like it ever again.
I, personally, never went to another new group where I'd be meeting men who were attracted by the prospect of alcohol.
As I said, pick your events. They should be grateful for your attendance. You've taken time out of your busy schedule, gone out of your comfort zone and you're an expert in your field.
Any professional group which diminishes that isn't good enough for you.
Keeping Your Network Alive
Your network is only of value if you nurture it.
You are much more likely to do a favour for a contact you are in regular touch with than one you met once six years ago at an awards dinner. Nurturing a network takes effort but it will pay itself back.
When you're done at the event, link up with people on social media including LinkedIn or send a quick email.
Then keep your network alive by making sure that (at least) every month you:
- share an interesting or valuable article either via email or social media.
- write something yourself that shows your depth of knowledge and insight. Again share it with your network as they will be unlikely to come and find it.
- let your network know when you will be at events and suggest you could meet up.
The Proof it Works?
I have had genuine ROI - deals have been done and invoiced. That's the really good stuff.
Money should and does flow the other way, with me finding brilliant suppliers in this way. People I couldn't run my business without.
But to this day we still get enquiries from people who email or call and say "Pass my regards to Clare. I've known her and Clarity for over insert scary amount of years."
People I haven't seen in person for a long time sometimes but still feel connected from those days of sharing a coffee and now see me on LinkedIn.
They still feel like we're in each other's network and remember me when they have a need. Likewise, I often feel the same way about them.
I was also able to start an email publication, a collection of blogs each month aimed at SME owners and compiled using expert articles from people I met networking.
To subscribe, please use the link
Love networking or fear it, many, many years after you made those first steps, you'll reap rewards.
(And I am now armed with a brilliant way to deal with unwanted hands).
See the attached pictures, all genuine networking events I have attended in the past months including a get-together I was responsible for hosting and attended despite recovering from Covid. Can you guess which one?!
And a cheeky one from late 2018, when the original blog was compiled).
Evidence that building professional relationships does not need to mean an unpleasant slog.
I can call many of these people friends.
Thanks to Clare Morris for the fantastic walk and talk I attended in May. A group of small business owners in the countryside. With nettles. The group solved a couple of challenges over coffee afterwards too.
Thanks also to Simon Lewis and Grant Bristow of MembersOnly - the recruitment leader network, who have introduced me to some brilliant, supportive people over recent years. We have some amazing events coming up.
And before that, I have friends for life, via Jackie Torr and the TEAM network which I was proud to be part of.
By the way, are you hiring?
Would you like to learn more about opening up your talent pool?
Contact us now for a free, no-obligation chat. Contact Clare here.
She believes business owners are more fulfilled and higher-performing when they provide emotional and professional business support to other business owners, even those they deem to be competitors. She does this actively, whilst challenging and updating her skills and knowledge of the recruitment sector, enabling her to offer the best advice to firms looking to make their next hire.